Atletico Madrid 1
A fair result in the end. But it’s a measure of how we started, and dominated for long periods, that many will see this game as two points missed rather than one gained.
We were better in the first half but in the second Atletico rallied and pushed us close right to the end. However, talk will still be about us letting it slip. Atletico were there for the taking but we didn’t administer the killer blow when we had the opportunity. Perhaps our thoughts were on the wider picture? Every time a substitution was made Chelsea came to mind even though this game was far from over – were such thoughts being entertained about us at Stamford Bridge?
Although things are never that simple many will conclude that if we’d kept the likes of Gerrard and Alonso on we would have won? Was Rafa was justified in taking the risk? None will want him to make a habit of this but on this occasion the circumstances surrounding his approach tonight dilutes much of the criticism? If we have fresher players on Sunday, Rafa complained of tiredness, and beat Atletico in two weeks time at Anfield to secure qualification to the knock out stages, no harm done?
Rafa bought in Benayoun and Mascherano. Kuyt and Pennant made way. Atletico made seven changes from their weekend derby defeat to Real. Even allowing for any experience these changes might bring, this was a gamble, not to mention a desperate knee jerk reaction from an under pressure Javier Aguirre. Opportunity knocked for us.
It was windy night and any advantage this might bring was handed to us as we called the toss correctly. After only fourteen minutes Gerrard threaded a ball through to Robbie Keane. Atletico committed the cardinal sin of stopping and appealing for offside. Although replays proved them to be right, the whistle was not played to. Keane scampered on to slot home a goal that reflected our early dominance.
Eight minutes later Gerrard did well to fashion a low cross into Atletico’s area but Keane failed to connect with an unnecessarily over elaborate attempt. Prior to this we had peppered the Atletico goal with a series of long range efforts particularly from Alonso. Forlan five minutes before the break gave us a sharp reminder that although we were having it easy, we shouldn’t take things for granted. However, for most of the half Atletico’s attempts to equalise were restricted to trying to win penalties via a series of unconvincing dives.
The second half began with Robbie Keane’s substitution – a groin problem which doesn’t bode well for Sunday. Atletico were livelier but unlucky. Forlan was stopped by the linesman when he was miles on side and in a good scoring position. A schoolboy error of a decision and not the first, Maniche and Benayoun’s both had “goals” incorrectly judged as offside. Soon after Atletico were in again. This time Simao produced a great save from Reina who finger tipped the ball into to the post. Rafa’s response was to substitute Gerrard!
Despite this, and the substitution of Alonso, we regained our composure and made a series of good breaks which suggested if anyone was going to score it would be us. However, we didn’t bargain on a long ball from the back which, with the wind in his face Carragher was unable to judge. Forlan picked up the pieces and squared to Simao who gave Reina no chance. Atletico finished stronger even though right at the death a Babel header could have edged us in front again.
Happy? Yes, three more games in the group left (two of them at home) and, probably, only three more points needed. It’s comfortable and thankfully, when one considers last year, in our hands!
Atletico Madrid: Franco, Seitaridis, Perea, Dominguez, Antonio Lopez, Camacho (Raul Garcia 72), Maniche, Luis Garcia (Aguero 46), Simao, Forlan, Sinama Pongolle (Miguel 75). Subs Not Used: Bernabe, Pernia, Heitinga, Paulo Assuncao.
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Dossena, Mascherano, Alonso (Leiva Lucas 75), Benayoun, Gerrard (Babel 61), Riera, Keane (Kuyt 53).
Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Aurelio, Pennant, Darby.