Champions League defenders Liverpool lost 1-0 to Atletico Madrid in their last leg and may need to summon another famous European comeback at Anfield next month.
Spain midfielder Saul Niguez scored the winner in the fourth minute by shooting into the net from close range after a corner. Scoring from that position is fast becoming a tradition in recent years.
Liverpool missed a whole lot of golden chances to shoot in equalizer with Mohamed Salah and captain Jordan Henderson making series of close attempts but with no luck at all.
“We gave them the best possible start and that gets the fans behind them and then they start falling over and getting under the skin a bit,” Liverpool defender Andrew Robertson said.
“We put in a decent performance and we know we can be better. We’ve got a second leg to put it right. They celebrated as if they won the tie after the game. They are coming to Anfield and we know our fans will be there.”
Diego Simeone’s men have looked nothing like the sides that reached the 2014 and 2016 Champions League finals and challenged Real Madrid and Barcelona’s duopoly of La Liga for most of this campaign. They trail league leaders Real by 13 points.
Atletico Madrid on Tuesday produced a more defensive display, making it deeply impossible for Liverpool to have any space for their attacking trident of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane to perform their usual magic.
“This is the result of hard work and what happens when you never stop believing but keep on going,” match-winner Saul said.
“We have kept on working even though no-one believes in us and wants to bring us down. I celebrated the goal with so much passion because I was so up for the game, we have been criticised a lot but luckily I was able to help us out.”
Atletico Madrid Wanda Metropolitano stadium was the scene of Liverpool’s 2-0 triumph over Tottenham Hotspur in last year’s final but it seems a very different type of atmosphere on Tuesday.
Atletico Madrid graciously allowed Liverpool to dominate ball possession but despite having 73% of the ball, Judges Klopp’s team did not manage a single shot on target, although Atletico defender Felipe did block a goalbound shot from Salah in the first half.
Atletico Madrid only had one other attempt aside from their goal, when Alvaro Morata fired straight at the legs of Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson.
Liverpool Sadio Mane was fortunate enough not to be sent off late in the first half after clashing with Sime Vrsaljko while on a yellow card and he was quickly substituted for Divock Origi.