Liverpool suffered a first defeat—with senior players—since the early season trip to Napoli. Steven Scragg is reminded what a loss feels like.
So, that’s what defeat tastes like then?
Liverpool were caught by a quick start by Atletico Madrid, upon our return to the Wanda Metropolitano on Tuesday evening, the scene of our sixth coronation as champions of Europe.
This was never going to be an easy task. Diego Simeone and his team were never going to roll out the red carpet and offer us their tummy to rub, no matter what generous lip service was delivered in the buildup to the game.
An unprecedented pyrotechnic welcome was afforded the team buses, which did however speak of a fear and respect that Atletico’s supporters have never before displayed. Simeone claimed not to have previously witnessed the likes of it.
We should take it as a compliment.
An evening of frustration, but not one that need be a terminal blow, when it comes to the defence of the Champions League. It all just depends upon what approach we take to the second leg.
It is fair to say that we departed the Spanish capital a bit wound up by a variety of things.
Simeone’s touchline antics antagonised, but come on: we are led by Jurgen Klopp, a manager that lets it all hang out when it comes to touchline body language.
The balance of the referee was questionable. Any contact by a Liverpool player was pulled up, while a blind eye was turned in reply, added to by a peculiar interpretation of the concept of ‘playing the advantage’, when a free kick is the greater gift.
This clash of perspectives eventually resulted in Klopp being brandished a yellow card.
Beyond this, Atletico gave no quarter in the challenge, although it was a physical approach that was cleverly kept to an enthusiastic simmer, rather boiling over.
In summary, there was an erratic ref, some top-quality shithousery and pure hard work from Atletico to earn a narrow lead and our failure to convert the chances we did chisel out. Events occurred that sets it up nicely for the return game.
Drawing the Sting
We moved the ball quite well at times and the narrative of Liverpool being outfoxed by an act of Simeone genius is an over-exaggeration of the night. Their goal was procured via a set-piece that leaned heavily upon opportunism and good fortune. There was little Fabinho could have done, as the ball essentially hit him.
It will all be about drawing the sting in the return game. It will need an act of Simeone genius for Atletico to reach the quarter-finals, but this is something he is capable of.
Yes, there is great value in stopping us snaring an away goal, yet when push comes to shove, that was a monumental amount of Atletico effort to garner such a slender lead to bring to Anfield.
The trick for Liverpool to master, is to break this last-16 tie in half. Do not allow the first leg to flavour the second leg. No personal aspect to it. Make it a fresh, one-off game and do not be drawn into a feud that Simone will attempt to create between now and then.
I’m looking at you, Andy Robertson.
Random Acts of ‘Kindness’
Simeone killed with kindness in the build-up to the first leg but will predictably look to engender rancour prior to coming to Anfield. Football management in a painting by numbers method. We can either fall for it or do something different.
Our biggest concern should be the injury sustained by Jordan Henderson. Something of a worry, given the growth of his influence, but added to this is that Fabinho, Naby Keita and James Milner are all at the formative stages of their respective comebacks from injuries of their own. It usually takes around six games before a player is flying again, after a prolonged absence.
Gini Wijnaldum or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain might well be the pivotal element to any second leg success for Liverpool.
Aggressive street football, football entirely within the image of its architect, will be what Atletico bring to Anfield in three weeks’ time. We just need not to be tempted into a fight.
Keep it to football, our interpretation of football, and we will be going through to the quarter-finals, because when Liverpool are ‘on it’ nobody can live with them. It is all about frustrating Atletico, and to do that, you refuse to give them what they want.
Give them what they want, however, and our defence of the Champions League will be over.
So, back to domestic matters we go. David Moyes and West Ham roll into Anfield on Monday night, and the need to channel our negative energy in a positive manner is given the perfect environment with which to do it. Neither Moyes nor West Ham historically do well at Anfield.
This is where it is vital that we don’t let Atletico play on the mind. We have a job to complete in the Premier League and it will require focus.
It might well be Moyes, it might well be West Ham, but they are desperate for points and will be hoping that they catch us on a night when our thoughts are somewhere else.
It is time to crank up that relentlessness.