Liverpool seek home comforts after Atletico wake-up call

Liverpool’s Brazilian midfielder Fabinho heads the ball during the match on Tuesday. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 19 February 2020

Liverpool seek home comforts after Atletico wake-up call

  • There is no need for such a dramatic turnaround when Atletico visit on March 11

LONDON: Liverpool’s return to the scene of their Champions League triumph last season was not a happy one.

A 1-0 defeat by Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their last-16 tie on Tuesday leaves the European champions relying on another Anfield comeback to progress.

Jurgen Klopp’s men famously thrashed Barcelona 4-0 in their last knockout tie at home to overturn a 3-0 deficit in last season’s semifinals.

There is no need for such a dramatic turnaround when Atletico visit on March 11. But after being frustrated by how an intense atmosphere at the Wanda Metropolitano affected the performance of Polish referee Szymon Marciniak, Klopp is keen to harness the power of Anfield.

“We speak from time to time (about) the power of Anfield and the power of a stadium and what a stadium can have, tonight we saw it,” said Klopp.

“The whole stadium only wanted a result, the stadium was not here for seeing sensational football. They wanted a result and they got the result, so they are now happy in this moment and we are not.”

Liverpool were unhappy at the award of a throw-in which led to Saul Niguez’s fourth-minute opener, while Klopp replaced Sadio Mane at half-time for fear Atletico’s play-acting would earn the Senegalese star a second yellow card.

Defeat was just the Reds’ second all season with a senior team. A near flawless Premier League campaign has them 25 points clear at the top of the table and romping toward a first league title in 30 years.

The Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup have also been won along the way, but there is a pattern in the European champions struggling to hit top form on the road in the Champions League.

Liverpool have lost seven of their last 11 away games in Europe’s premier club competition — more than they have lost in their last 106 Premier League games.

For all its TV-revenue fueled wealth, that raises questions of the overall quality of the Premier League, particularly with the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal at a low ebb.

Yet, even amidst that run, Liverpool have reached back-to-back Champions League finals and have never lost a two-legged European tie in four seasons under Klopp.

If travel sickness has been a problem, fortress Anfield has always more than made amends.

Roma and Manchester City were also blown away in the latter stages in recent years before the miracle of Barcelona.

“The second half will be played in a different stadium, in our stadium, and that will be different as well,” added Klopp. “Atletico will feel that and that’s what we are looking forward to.”

Three weeks from now Liverpool will also be fully up to speed. They were also sluggish in a 1-0 win at bottom-of-the-table Norwich City on Saturday after a two-week winter break.

A similar 11-day break last year due to an early exit from the FA Cup allowed Klopp to take his players on a warm-weather training camp. On their return, they drew five of their next seven games, which ultimately cost them the title.

However, they finished the season in supreme form, winning 14 of their last 15 matches to be crowned champions of Europe and register a club record Premier League points tally of 97.

As long as they find their groove in time, Klopp’s men will be confident of breaking Atletico’s resistance on home soil.


Real Madrid aim to put crisis behind them

Updated 31 October 2020

Real Madrid aim to put crisis behind them

MADRID:  Real Madrid will be hoping to leave their sticky patch behind them when they play Huesca in La Liga on Saturday, with an early six-point lead to preserve over Barcelona.

The resignation of Barca’s club president Josep Maria Bartomeu has overshadowed what has been a dramatic week for Madrid, who barely salvaged a 2-2 draw against Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Trailing 2-0 with three minutes left, Madrid were facing a defeat that would have squandered the momentum gained from last weekend’s Clasico win at Camp Nou.

A late double from Karim Benzema and Casemiro ensured Zinedine Zidane’s side snatched a draw that felt like a win but to consolidate that positivity, they cannot afford another slip this weekend.

“The team is what it has shown, it’s about a reaction,” said Zidane. “The first half was very good, we played well. The pity is we conceded the first goal, but we continued to think it was possible, even at 2-0.

“That showed the character of the team and I’m very proud of them. We are not happy because we want to win, but we must be happy with the performance.”

Madrid play a Huesca side that is yet to win this season, as they followed four consecutive draws with a 4-1 loss away at league leaders Real Sociedad on Sunday.

Zidane could also hand Eden Hazard his first start since August, after the Belgian came off the bench in midweek.

That was Hazard’s first appearance of the season as he tries to overcome his latest injury setback, which the club have only described as a muscle injury.

“It’s good. I’m here to play football,” said Hazard on Wednesday. “After two or three months off the pitch, I’m so happy. I just want to play football, that’s why I’m here.”

On the last-gasp draw in Germany, Hazard said: “We showed great character, to be 2-0 down with five minutes to play, I think we could have scored one more, I could have scored one more, but I missed. It’s not three points but it feels like a victory.”

Zidane was determined to give Hazard time to recover fully and he believes the club will have to be cautious.

“He’s just started playing. It is his first game after a long time away,” said Zidane. “The plan was for him to try to play but little by little is what we have to do.”

A Madrid victory against Huesca could send them back to the top of the table, above Real Sociedad who are the only team to have retained top spot in consecutive rounds so far this term.

Real Sociedad play away at Celta Vigo on Sunday, just before third-placed Granada host Levante and struggling Valencia play at home to Getafe.

If Atletico Madrid win their two games in hand they will go top, with Diego Simeone’s side away at Osasuna on Saturday.

Barcelona, who beat Juventus on Wednesday, also have two games in hand but are seven points off the lead. Their new era without Bartomeu begins in La Liga away at Alaves on Saturday night.