Liverpool 2 Atlético Madrid 0
One of the best sides in the world, one of the best organised and one of the best motivated. That was how Jürgen Klopp described Atlético Madrid prior to his latest encounter with Diego Simeone but only one team merited those accolades at Anfield and it was not the tormented, ill-disciplined and soundly beaten champions of Spain.
Liverpool cruised into the knock-out phase of the Champions League courtesy of a fourth consecutive win in a group that was supposedly fraught with danger when the draw was made. No Liverpool team had won its first four Champions League group matches before but first-half goals from Diogo Jota and Sadio Mané made this an unexpectedly comfortable night for Klopp's team.
Atlético were reduced to shots from inside their own half long before the final whistle while Mohamed Salah toyed with their defence and Virgil van Dijk strolled forward to take a shot from 30 yards. Liverpool players faced minimal opposition as Simeone's side, reduced to 10 men when Felipe was dismissed for violent conduct with only 37 minutes played, resembled a pale imitation of the obstinate, dangerous foe that triumphed here prior to lockdown in March 2020.
The spoils of victory for Klopp’s team improved before a ball had been kicked at Anfield. Porto’s draw in Milan meant Liverpool would not only qualify with two matches to spare but also win a heavyweight group with uncharacteristic speed courtesy of another defeat of the Spanish champions.
As at the Wanda Metropolitano two weeks ago, they set about the task with immediate intent and ruthless efficiency. Liverpool were two goals ahead inside 13 minutes in Madrid. Here the cushion arrived inside 21 as Atlético's famed defensive organisation failed to legislate for the somewhat predictable source of piercing Trent Alexander-Arnold crosses from right back.
The Liverpool defender instigated the breakthrough when bringing the ball into the Atlético half unchallenged. Jordan Henderson and Salah continued the attack before Alexander-Arnold, receiving his captain's return pass in space once again, sent a fine delivery bouncing behind two visiting defenders for Jota to beat Jan Oblak with a diving header.
Jota was completely unmarked when he converted thanks to Felipe stopping in his tracks and allowing the cross to sail past him. The central defender’s Anfield ordeal was under way. Mané was a clear target for Atlético’s wind-up merchants, his heels in particular, and gave some back to collect an early booking for a foul on Ángel Correa. He meted out a finer punishment when starting and finishing the move that doubled Liverpool’s advantage.
Receiving a flick inside from Kostas Tsimikas, selected in place of Andy Robertson at left back, Mané shrugged off two Atlético players to release Henderson in space. A familiar routine unfolded. The Liverpool midfielder found Alexander-Arnold unmarked, the right back drilled a low cross into the heart of the Atlético area, Felipe lost his man yet again and the man in question, Mané, applied a polished finish past Oblak.
Not content with trailing by two early goals, Atlético managed to replicate another feature of the teams' last meeting when going down to 10 men courtesy of a straight red card. Almost inevitably Felipe was the recipient, although he could argue he was harshly dismissed for what the Dutch referee Danny Makkelie deemed a dangerous tackle from behind on Mané as the Liverpool forward broke from an Atlético corner. Felipe did not help his cause by ignoring the referee's order to return for a dressing down and, to the disbelief of Simeone and his players, a straight red duly followed.
Without the suspended Antoine Griezmann or a partisan crowd behind them Atlético displayed none of the menace or fight that underpinned their recovery from two goals down in Madrid. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain flashed a free shot wide from the edge of the area and Oblak parried a shot from Salah plus another Jota header as Liverpool ended the first half in absolute control.
The lack of resistance in the visiting ranks was epitomised by Liverpool’s “third” goal minutes after the restart. Joël Matip stepped out from central defence with the ball at his feet and two banks of sky-blue shirts backed off in unison.
The centre half made full use of the time and space he was granted to thread a delightful pass through the centre of Atlético’s midfield and defence for Jota to sweep a low finish under Oblak. Anfield’s celebrations were cut short by VAR’s detection of a marginal offside against the Portugal international.
VAR compensated the home crowd when it denied Luis Suárez a goal on his Anfield return for a similar infringement. Suárez, his every touch jeered, scored with a half-volley that deflected off Matip and wrong-footed Alisson.
José María Giménez, however, was just offside when challenging for the header that teed up Suárez's strike and Anfield revelled in their former striker's final disappointment before being withdrawn. The substitute Héctor Herrera should have at least tested Alisson when released clear on the left by Rodrigo De Paul but dragged his shot well wide of the Liverpool goal. – Guardian