Any early Liverpool hopes of a comfortable evening against Atlético Madrid were quickly dashed, as a two-goal lead evaporated before half-time. However, Jürgen Klopp’s side eventually emerged on the right side of an absolute classic.
A reunion with Luis Suárez was talked up pre-game. Earlier in the day, an Atlético youth side with Fernando Torres on the touchline inflicted defeat on the young Reds, but it was not to be a double for the former Kop darlings.
Suárez had to settle for a place on the bench as his old team shot out of the blocks, led by new Anfield hero Mohamed Salah. In the Uruguayan’s absence, Antoine Griezmann led the line to devastating effect, spearheading a rapid Atlético Madrid comeback.
However, in a night of twists and turns, the Frenchman’s night ended early after a straight red card for a nasty high boot on Roberto Firmino. Liverpool ultimately made their advantage pay, although it was far from straightforward.
Here are six things Liverpool.com spotted:
Don’t leave a winger to defend Salah
Diego Simeone is a manager with a reputation for defense above all else, but he opted for a natural winger at left wing-back. Perhaps borne more out of necessity than anything else, the selection of Yannick Carrasco nonetheless caused a wealth of early problems for Atlético Madrid.
Anybody tasked with defending Salah is in for a torrid 90 minutes at the moment – just ask Danny Rose, who is at least a full-back by trade. However, Carrasco looked out of his depth from the first minute, and it was no surprise when the opener came through the Egyptian’s brilliance.
Skipping inside from his starting position on the wing, he pulled the trigger from the edge of the box, finding the back of the net courtesy of a deflection. Once the goal was eventually credited to him, it marked the ninth game in a row in which he has scored: a Liverpool record.
Keïta needs more than party tricks
Naby Keïta got his second goal of the season when he doubled Liverpool’s lead after 13 minutes, and it was a second screamer.
Much like his goal against Crystal Palace, it was an instinctively-hit strike from the edge of the box. He caught the loose ball on the volley, bending it away from Jan Oblak and into the corner.
The man who inherited the number eight shirt is developing the Steven Gerrard knack from long range – a useful dimension to bring to a typically functional midfield. However, defensive duties are first and foremost for Klopp, and the manager will have been unhappy with how easily Thomas Lemar skipped past the midfielder for Atlético Madrid’s first goal.
João Félix then repeated the trick in the build-up to the second. What started so well for Keïta began to resemble his last ill-fated trip to Madrid.
Alisson return welcome but Fabinho missed
In between the two Atlético goals, there was a third instance where Keïta was caught out. Antoine Griezmann was put through after the midfielder was dispossessed cheaply – however, on his return to the starting line-up, Alisson bailed him out.
The goalkeeper stood tall as Griezmann looked to chip him, ultimately blocking the effort with his chest to keep Liverpool’s lead intact. However, the narrow advantage did not last, and only smart saves to deny Félix and then Lemar prevented Simeone’s team from going in at half-time with a hugely unlikely lead.
Alisson had missed out on the Watford game due to his involvement with Brazil over the international break, a fate shared by Fabinho. Klopp opted not to throw his midfielder straight back into the action in the Champions League, but the openness of the defense in the first half only served to reiterate his importance. It was no surprise to see him replace Keïta at half-time.
Traditional front three preferred again
For a long time, the trio of Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané were effectively a certainty on the Liverpool team sheet. Those days are gone, with Diogo Jota disrupting the established order, but it was the classic ‘fab three’ who Klopp picked for this one. All three of them scored in the previous outing against Watford, repeating the trick from the most recent Champions League fixture away at Porto.
The benefit of rhythm was apparent as the Liverpool attack made a blistering start. They were helped in this respect by Keïta’s brilliant strike, of course, but the attack completely swamped the five-man block erected by Simeone.
However, as Atlético seized the initiative, the influence of the front line faded. With the opponents down to 10 men, Klopp turned to Jota in place of Mané for the final half-hour …
Jota the hero
While the front three are in fine form, Jota is a very handy player to be able to call upon from the bench. He was not at his best against Atlético, but the nuisance factor was enough to win a penalty from Mario Hermoso.
In truth, it was a moment of madness from the defender as much as anything else, but the persistent pestering of the Portuguese no doubt helped to force the (glaring) error.
Unsurprisingly, Salah made no mistake from the spot. While the first goal was disputed, there could be no doubt that this one confirmed the continuation of his nine-game scoring streak.
Jota then had to survive a penalty scare at the other end after a coming-together in the box, but a VAR intervention ensured that the spot kick he won at the right end remained decisive.
Lemar is still a handy player
Liverpool and Lemar nearly crossed paths in the summer of 2017, when Philippe Coutinho was agitating for a move away from Anfield and FSG were casting around for a potential replacement. Interest from Arsenal priced Klopp’s team out of a move, before Lemar ultimately stayed at Monaco for a further season.
Atlético signed Lemar the following summer. In his three full seasons to date, he has failed to live up to his £ 65m transfer fee, but he has been in sparkling form at the start of the new campaign. That continued with a neat piece of play to create Griezmann’s first goal.
Still only 25, and with Liverpool looking to refresh the front line, perhaps Lemar could be a target FSG revisit in future.