Jurgen Klopp issued a clear warning to Atletico Madrid after their scrappy 1-0 win over Liverpool, saying “it’s not over yet,” with Anfield awaiting the second leg.
It was one of the first things Klopp sought to change after taking over as Reds manager.
A month into his reign on Merseyside, with his side falling to a 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace at home, he turned to the stands and saw the crowd thinning rapidly.
“After the goal on 82 minutes, with 12 minutes to go, I saw many people leaving the stadium,” he said after the game. “I felt pretty alone at this moment.”
It took months, and sparked criticism from those outside of the club—most notably for celebrations in front of the Kop after the 2-2 draw with West Brom in 2015—but Klopp turned that resignation around.
Now, the fans are regularly cited in his pre-match press conferences, with the manager calling for a “special atmosphere” ahead of games.
Klopp was smart to address this early, as it is one of Liverpool’s biggest strengths; regardless of how often fans of other clubs will refute it, Anfield is one of the most influential stadiums in world football.
It ensures being drawn away first in two-legged ties is almost an unfair advantage which, Klopp believes, Atleti will fall foul to on March 11.
The overriding message in his and his players’ post-match interviews were that “it is half-time,” and Andy Robertson noted the celebrations at the end of the game at the Wanda Metropolitano with bemusement.
“They’ve celebrated as if they’ve won the tie after the game,” the left-back told BT Sport.
“So, look. Let’s see. We’ve got a couple of weeks, we’ve got Premier League business to take care of, and they’re coming back to Anfield.
“We know our fans will be there, we’ll be there, so it’s up to them to come as well.”
Klopp echoed this in his press conference, saying “the whole stadium only wanted a result,” and “they got the result, so they are now happy in this moment and we are not.”
But on a night which, for the media, pitted two of football’s most eye-catching touchline managers, despite his yellow card Liverpool’s figurehead was decidedly muted next to his Atleti counterpart.
Diego Simeone is rightly acknowledged as one of the best in the world—his honours in Madrid attest to that—but on Tuesday night his role was more cheerleader than tactical mastermind.
It paid off, with the Wanda Metropolitano a different beast to the sticky, end-of-season enclosure the Reds visited for the Champions League final in June, roaring Atleti on as underdogs.
Atleti worked on muscle memory, with fortune aiding their intense start to gift Saul Niguez a fourth-minute opener, before sitting back and occupying their own half for the majority of the game.
With a result the only objective, it worked: Liverpool had 72.6 percent of possession, and played 726 passes to their hosts’ 276, but failed to register a single shot on target across 94 minutes.
Simeone’s side outnumbered the Reds in terms of successful tackles (21 to 18), interceptions (14 to 10), clearances (21 to three), blocks (10 to eight), aerial duels won (25 to 20), while interestingly, they penned the Reds into the middle third.
It was a plan worked to perfection, and Saul’s goal was almost an added bonus, with Klopp telling reporters after the game that he was “not sure if it’s 0-0 tonight if that would have changed the game of Atletico.”
The more robust midfield of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum struggled to create chances (zero between them), and calls for the introduction of Naby Keita were perhaps justified given the lack of dynamism in such a congested area.
But the result should still work in Klopp’s favour, as the factors he cited as allowing Atleti to undermine his side’s largely positive performance will be dampened in the second leg.
“It was clear the crowd wanted to help tonight, in a different way to how our crowd helps us but it is still help obviously,” he explained, noting referee Szymon Marciniak’s weak performance in the Madrid cauldron.
He later continued: “Imagine in the home game, we could score a goal whenever and then the atmosphere will help us as well because emotions are important.
“Tonight they were obviously completely on the side of Atletico. That’s why I say I’m really looking forward to the second leg.”
As Barcelona found out in the second leg of last season’s semi-finals, when already 3-0 up from a similar clash for the Reds at the Nou Camp, the Anfield crowd will not allow histrionics to dominate the game.
Los Rojiblancos made for a suffocating atmosphere on Tuesday, but that Atleti’s conservative approach only saw them come away with a 1-0 win could been seen as a disappointment by most managers.
Perhaps not Simeone, but despite reaching the final of the Champions League in both 2014 and 2016, there is more recent evidence to suggest his side are not ruthless enough on the road in Europe.
In this season’s group stage alone, Atleti’s only away win came with a 2-0 victory at Lokomotiv Moscow, while close-fought home meetings with Juventus (2-2) and Bayer Leverkusen (1-0) were then overturned on their travels, with 1-0 and 2-1 defeats.
Last term, they only won one away game in the Champions League, that being a 2-1 victory at Monaco, while they were pummelled 4-0 by Borussia Dortmund in the group stage and 3-0 by Juventus in the second leg of their last-16 tie.
Since reaching the final in 2016, Atleti have won just 31 percent of their away games in the Champions League, and 38 percent in Europe overall; they have lost 33 percent.
Meanwhile, Liverpool have won 73 percent of their European home games over the same period of time, losing zero.
Few, if any, of the stadiums Atleti visited in that time have the same allure as Anfield; perhaps only Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion, whose Yellow Wall bears clear, mythical similarities to Liverpool’s own Kop.
Of course, they only need to avoid defeat in the second leg on March 11, and that does suit Simeone’s defensive outlook, but Klopp is clearly pinning his hopes on a side boasting England’s best-ever domestic record being able to undo this at home.
Anfield will be influential, but Liverpool’s assertion that this is only “half-time” is as much a statement of their self-belief as it is a hopeful nod to their return to Merseyside for the decider.
Like Barcelona back in May, Atleti will be confronted at Anfield by an angry Reds side, and though the lack of an away goal is frustrating, Liverpool will be confident of righting their wrongs in Madrid as the defence of the European Cup continues.
As Klopp concluded: “Welcome to Anfield, it’s not over yet.”