liverpool: Liverpool were hit early in the first leg of their round of 16 tie against Atlético Madrid and never recovered.
The final 15 minutes told you everything you need to know: Jürgen Klopp’s team vacillating between a slow, lethargic pace intercut with moments of frenetic individualism; Diego Simeone’s side shuffling from side to side in two well-orchestrated, deep, giddy blocks; Liverpool strung apart, without any kind of discernible shape.
There were issues from the get-go. Simeone’s high-paced 4-4-2 overran Liverpool’s midfield trio. Fabinhon, Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum were overrun. Atleti struck early then sat back. They kept their hallmark, high-octane pace but did so out of two deep defensive blocks.
Simeone was willing to concede the flanks high up the pitch as long as they could maintain a solid central block, with defenders then jumping out to close Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold whenever the pair of fullbacks got close to the box, forcing the pair to turn the ball inside. With the lead in hand, Simeone withdrew Thomas Lamar, a speedy, wide outlet, and added Marcos Llorente to a crowded middle — added legs, added intensity, added know-how in the central spaces.
Frustration grew. The Henderson-Fabinho-Wijnaldum axis lacked the creativity to unlock such a sophisticated defensive structure. It’s not an overly press-resistant group at the best of times, but they’re at their most mundane when challenged to try to wiggle between the lines. Any chances came of nicks and clips: A ball bouncing through to Salah; Henderson bundling into the box.
Liverpool have been defined by their patience in possession this season more than anything else. All the bombast that came to define the early Klopp period is still there in spells, but more commonplace these days are long stretches of tippy-tap play with the ball rattling from sideline-to-sideline and between the lines.
A bunch of opponents have tried to sit in against Klopp’s men this season, but they’ve never lost their heads or wavered. They’ve kept the ball moving, at pace.
That wasn’t the case in Madrid. Atlético suffocated any space and Liverpool abandoned any of their shape. Worse, the patience that has defined them this campaign escaped them when they needed it most. Divock Origi dribbling down a corridor here, Fabinho taking a pot-shot there. The team failed to register even a single shot on target despite dominating possession.
The team looked disjointed. As Henderson and Robertson (and later James Milner) tried to establish a steady rhythm, others would suddenly dart in sudden, singular jolts. Bodies wound up flying everywhere, but more through confusion than design. Trying to be inventive in those circumstances is nigh-on impossible, particularly against a side that so loves to defend.
It’s the kind of performance an away trip to Atletico can draw out of even the best side in Europe. The rabid fans. The post-whistle nonsense. The impenetrable block. Are their 13 guys on this pitch?
Tuesday night was the first time frustration beat this team’s new-found patience. Now, they will have to wait three weeks to put it right.
Source: Published by liverpool