Atlético Madrid scored early to beat Liverpool, 1-0, in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 Tuesday; spoiling the reigning champion’s return to the place where it had won the European title last year.
Midfielder Saúl Ñíguez netted in the fourth minute. Thereafter, Atlético’s defense successfully held off Liverpool’s powerful attack to give Coach Diego Simeone’s team the edge; going into the second leg on March 11 in England.
It was at Atlético’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium that Liverpool defeated Tottenham, 2-0; last June to lift its fifth Champions League trophy. Tuesday’s line-up was nearly identical for Liverpool; with defender Joe Gomez the only player who did not start in last year’s final.
Atlético, enduring one of its worst stretches under Simeone; came in as a heavy underdog against the thriving European champions.
“It’s not the best night ever because we didn’t win a trophy,” Simeone said. “But there are nights you don’t forget. The best team in the world came here, and we beat them. But it’s only one game. We still have one to go.”
Liverpool controlled possession throughout. However, they could not find a way to break through the tight Atlético defense.
The hosts pressed early, and it did not take long before they had opened the scoring. Ñíguez netted from close range after picking up a loose ball inside the area following a corner. The ball appeared to touch Liverpool midfielder Fabinho; before reaching Ñíguez for an easy goal.
Liverpool, who have not trailed in 15 matches in all competitions; quickly worked their way into the game. But it took nearly half an hour for the visitors to have an attempt on goal.
Atlético had a good chance to add to the lead in the 26th when striker Álvaro Morata; making his 50th Champions League appearance; had his shot blocked by Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
A goal by Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah was ruled out for offside moments later. Salah again came close to equalizing in the 36th with a shot deflected by Atlético defender Felipe; in front of the goal.
“We had the ball most of the game,” Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk said. “We couldn’t create massive opportunities. But we have another 90 minutes to set it straight and should be full of confidence.”
In the night’s other game, hosts Borussia Dortmund beat French champions PSG 2-1 in Germany. Teenage sensation, Erling Braut Haaland was responsible for both goals for Dortmund; netting either side of a Neymar strike.