Atlético Madrid – Liverpool: Majestic Mo Seals Victory In Testing Trip To The Wanda (2-3)
Fifteen minutes into this contest, Liverpool were odds on to run riot over the hosts. But the stardust of Atlético Madrid’s brightest talent, their growing threat on the break, and an array of officiating decisions came together to produce a dramatic five goal spectacle that pushed Jürgen Klopp’s men to the final whistle.
Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.
Atlético Madrid are a team in search of their best form. Marquee signing Rodrigo de Paul and the return of Antoine Griezmann on loan have raised the ceiling for this outfit, but they are yet to click into gear, bagging a mere thirteen goals from their ten games so far in all competitions. Sitting on the coattails of their leaders both at home and in Europe, their reputation for suffering to victory remains intact. Now, Diego Simeone’s men had to show they were worthy of that tag as a beast awaited them.
Liverpool came into this contest as one of the best teams in Europe. Carrying on their form from the end of last season into the new campaign, they are yet to lose a game. Moreover, at the heart of their success is Mohamed Salah, whose form finds no rival in the eye of his manager. So having already gone toe to toe with England’s top teams, they hoped to make light work of the best Spain has to offer.
Simeone went for a 3-5-2 formation. He made four tweaks to the starting eleven that beat Barcelona 2-0 in the side’s last match. Three of these alterations were in the defense where Felipe and Kieran Trippier made up the right edge of the back five, flanking Geoffrey Kondogbia, who started ahead of José Giménez. Griezmann then came in for Luis Suárez, featuring in the front two with João Félix.
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp deployed his men in their usual 4-3-3 shape. He made one change to the starting eleven that played in the 5-0 rout of Watford last time out. Alisson made a return between the posts, where Caoimhin Kelleher had deputized on the weekend. Hence, Roberto Firmino held onto his spot after bagging a hat trick while Jordan Henderson sat at the base of the midfield once more.
Kopites storm fortress Wanda
From the off, Atlético sat off in a centrally compact 5-3-2 formation. Yannick Carrasco held back to cover the right winger, seldom pressing Trent Alexander-Arnold. Thomas Lemar then diagonally moved out from midfield to close down the fullback. On the other hand, Kieran Trippier advanced much more from the right flank towards Andy Robertson, alternating this responsibility with de Paul.
Liverpool’s 4-3-3 offensive structure against Atlético Madrid’s 5-3-2 defensive block
Klopp’s men then looked to make the most of their territorial dominance. James Milner made several evasive movements to give width on the left while Salah stayed wider than Sadio Mané on the right. Firmino then dropped back into the midfield, roaming from one halfspace to the other in an attempt to find pockets of space. In the end, their efforts did not take long to find their reward.
Robertson’s overhit delivery ended up on the right flank, where Salah picked up the ball and chopped inward onto his left foot. In his run of form, the rest was history. He blew past Yannick Carrasco, then shimmied away from Lemar and Koke before aiming a shot at goal. His effort then nicked off the boot of Milner, whose deflection left Jan Oblak stranded, diverting the ball into the net. Eight minutes in, Liverpool had raced into yet another early lead on a Champions League night. And they smelt blood.
Five minutes later, a switch teed up Alexander-Arnold to whip in a cross from the halfspace. Firmino could not trap the ball, but Felipe’s hooked clearance gifted the away team a second chance to double their lead. Keïta obliged, slamming a fierce volley past Oblak.
A half of two halves
But twenty minutes into the game, Atlético handed themselves a lifeline. Off the back of their first prolonged spell on the ball, the hosts won a corner. From the set-piece, Lemar faced up Keïta one on one, beat his opposite man, and drilled a cutback toward the edge of the box. Koke then found himself in acres of space, sending the ball back into the penalty area, where Griezmann steered the play home.
19th minute: wide dynamics on the left with Hermoso deep, Carrasco high and wide, and Félix receiving the ball between the lines
Indeed, the pivotal aspect of their periods in organized possession was the structure on their left side dynamic. Here, Atlético deployed a slight asymmetry on the ball. Mario Hermoso offered stayed deep and wide, operating in the position of a fullback. Ahead of him, Carrasco caught the attention of Alexander-Arnold while still hugging the touchline. Since Salah had to run back a long way to close down Hermoso, the defender had ample time to find Félix. The double width then stretched the right side of Liverpool’s 4-3-3 block, leaving his teammate to weave his magic from the left halfspace.
Proving too elusive for the visitors once, Félix repeated the feat in the 34th minute. He glided out to the left wing, inviting Keïta to duel for the ball. But the forward ghosted out of his reach, squaring up to Liverpool’s back four. He then found his partner Griezmann, whose first touch took him away from van Dijk before placing the ball into the bottom right corner of the net beyond the reach of Alisson. Doubling his tally on the night, Griezmann had pulled the home team level.
Liverpool’s threat in the final third had ground to a halt while Atlético’s front two had more joy on the break, finding swathes of room in the halfspaces to exploit a stretched back four. In the end, half time could not come soon enough for Klopp, who needed to put his men back in the driving seat.
Atlético show their resolve
At the start of the second half, Atlético would have fancied their chances of taking all three points out of this match. However, seven minutes after the restart, they had run into another obstacle. Griezmann looked to fight for a loose ball, contacting Firmino’s face with a high boot. Even though the incident lacked malice, the referee brandished a red card to Griezmann, leaving his side down to ten men.
"45 minutes was absolutely right"— Liverpool FC News (@LivEchoLFC) October 20, 2021
Jurgen Klopp on his decision to take Naby Keita off at half-time - and what changed in the second half of the win over Atletico Madrid.
An interesting watch... pic.twitter.com/xHrNYVF6V4
Klopp had already introduced Fabinho to replace Keïta straight after half time, looking to shore up the middle of the park. But soon after Griezmann’s dismissal, he then made two further changes. Milner made way for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield while Diogo Jota replaced Mané on the left of the front three. From the other dugout, Simeone moved to a 5-3-1 block, leaving Félix alone upfront.
Klopp had adjusted some roles after these substitutions. Oxlade-Chamberlain mainly stayed in the left halfspace rather than drifting to form overloads as Milner had done. Henderson now briefly held the width on the right, making up for Salah’s growing central presence. But Atlético held firm, harnessing Carrasco’s dribbling on the break to give the back five relief. Cue a hectic final quarter of an hour.
A tale of two penalties
Chasing down a long ball from Alexander-Arnold, Jota drew the attention of Hermoso. Barreling recklessly into the winger, the central defender gave away a penalty. Salah stepped up to take the effort, rolling a strike to the right of Oblak from twelve yards into the net to restore Liverpool’s lead.
Simeone put all his cards on the table, making a quadruple substitution following Salah’s penalty. One of the four men to come onto the pitch was Renan Lodi, whose first contribution was a cross from a free kick. His delivery sailed to the far post, where Jota clumsily knocked over Suárez, conceding a penalty. But, in a cruel twist of fate, VAR overturned the referee’s decision, robbing Atlético of a golden chance to equalize. Liverpool took the hint, seeing out the danger to seal the three points.
This display was far from Liverpool’s best, but Klopp will be glad to have seen his men get over the line. A five point gap over second place at the halfway mark of the group stage has left the team in an ideal spot to progress. Hosting Atlético next time out in Europe, a win would all but seal the top spot.
Atlético Madrid will rue their misfortune in crucial moments, but they rose aptly to the task of facing a high-quality outfit, making the most of their guests’ weak spell after the second goal. Above all, Félix and Griezmann cashed in against Liverpool’s back four, and they will fancy their chances of causing them more problems in two weeks.
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