UEFA Champions League
Liverpool 1 Atlético Madrid 1
Liverpool and Atlético went into this match in the knowledge that victory would see them into the knock-out phase of the competition. Their meeting in Madrid had ended 1-1 and the two sides were separated only by goal difference at the top of the table. A draw would mean more work was needed, and resting players for at least one of the last two games wouldn’t be an option. A win for Rafa would allow him to try out some of the younger players who made the squad through their “home-grown” status – in theory at least.
From the start it was obvious Liverpool were hungry and desperate to banish that last-gasp defeat at White Hart Lane to the past. Within a couple of minutes of the start we saw a real chance for Liverpool, Agger screaming for a penalty as his marker took the ball off his foot as he was ready to strike from inside the box. Keane, who has been playing with niggles for a few weeks, hopped away from the incident looking to be in some pain.
With Torres still in the stands, still not recovered from the hamstring injury sustained on duty for Spain, Rafa Benítez waited to see if the Irishman could carry on despite the knock. He did, although his withdrawal twenty minutes from the end may have been because of the knock rather than just for tactical reasons.
Looking at Atlético’s formation before the game it suggested a defensive approach would be in force from the Spanish side, but after ten minutes of the game it was clear they were looking to score a goal of their own. They didn’t get a shot at goal, but were looking dangerous nonetheless.
In the twelfth minute Agger did get a decision from the referee, a free-kick outside the box. The Atlético goalkeeper looked worried as he batted the ball away from his goal. Liverpool needed to keep the pressure on and avoid giving Atlético – particularly former target Simao – any time on the ball.
Celebrations from the home fans began, for a split second, on 14 minutes when Keane chested down a brilliant Alonso pass, turned and shot powerfully at goal. It was wide, but only just, and with the net rippling some parts of the ground celebrated the “goal” momentarily. Keane turned away disappointed at his narrow miss, and again looked to be in pain.
Atlético continued to threaten, winning a corner on 18 minutes, but Liverpool turned defence into attack, a counter attack only breaking down with an unpunished Atlético handball. Liverpool appealed strongly, but the referee waved play on. Atlético did play on, catching Liverpool off guard, and Simao wasted a golden chance to put his side in front and blacken Rick Parry’s name a little more. Liverpool had tried to sign the player early on in the Rafa Benítez era, Rick Parry coming back empty handed from his talks – Simao scored Atlético’s equaliser in Madrid last month.
A hopeful ball into the box from Fabio Aurelio resulted in a Liverpool corner, which in turn resulted in Mascherano trying to curl one into the net from some distance. Atlético were restricting Liverpool to long shots, Liverpool seemed to be getting frustrated.
Just after the half-hour mark Robbie Keane was through on goal, but good goalkeeping and perhaps some of the effects of his confidence being hit by a lack of goals saw the number seven take one touch too many and the chance was lost. Continue reading Last-gasp Liverpool rescue a point