Jürgen Klopp had said Liverpool were unlikely to score three points at the Wanda Metropolitano, but in the end, that’s exactly what they needed to do. With 15 minutes to go on a wild, fun and unexpected evening, Mo Salah stood on the penalty spot, offering the chance to secure the victory for Liverpool. At two in 20 minutes, it was now 2-2, and nothing was certain. With the exception of course of the Egyptian who stepped forward and coldly selected what would prove to be the winner.
Even then, a victory at Liverpool did not seem certain, with Atlético almost immediately receiving a penalty and then withdrawing again, Luis Suárez left bemoaning that he would not have the opportunity that Salah had. Atlético lamented a reportedly incomplete comeback, with their hugely impressive resurrection attempt ultimately being cut short by a red card for Antoine Griezmann. Defeated, in the end there was exhaustion and applause from the home fans, as well as whistles for the referee. There was also a huge roar from the visiting supporters.
It was a night: five goals, two penalties and a lot of fun from start to finish. The clock had just passed seven minutes when Salah received the ball on the right, left four men behind and gave Liverpool the lead. Turning inside past Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Lemar, past Koke at the edge of the box, he had touched he shot just as Griezmann reached him. The hit, as it tends to do right now, found the net and the song came up. “Mo Salah! Mo Salah! He runs, although the replay suggested it was actually James Milner’s goal, straining a foot as the ball passed him and turning it into the net. It was deliberate, not just a deviation.
A moment later, Salah pulled away from Carrasco, the movement so smooth, and soon the lead was doubled when Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross was pushed back by Felipe where Naby Keïta crashed into a volley that overtook Jan Oblak. The guard was left shaking his head. Liverpool’s dominance had seemed total – 80% of the ball, two goals clear and quicker at all – but it didn’t last. Atlético scored their first cross into the box in the 18th minute, which wasn’t much but at least it was something, a sign of life, and it was greeted with a huge roar. It was also, as it turned out, the prelude to this completely changing game. The next minute, Griezmann’s cut delivery almost found Carrasco at the far post. Alexander-Arnold stretches to ward off the danger but from the corner, taken aback, Lemar turns Keïta and retreats for Koke, whose low shot is deflected by Griezmann.
The wait for the VAR was long, but not long enough to silence anyone here and the result did not stop them. Diego Simeone turned to the crowd and became a conductor. Koke was also waving his arms frantically, demanding a reaction. There has been a resurrection, led by Lemar and João Félix, emerging as the star here, but pushed by all. Alisson had to save from Griezmann, sent at full speed from the center line, Rodrigo de Paul’s pass weaving through space. The French then almost slipped to Félix, who then equalized soon after.
The goal came just as Simeone was preparing for a substitution. Félix turned away from Keïta, freed himself smoothly and slipped a ball. As Virgil van Dijk turned to see him, he saw only Griezmann pass, controlling with his first touch and leading into the corner. Simeone clenched his fists, this place was going crazy, and Renan Lodi was asked to sit down. Atlético was flying.
Twenty-two minutes had already provided 90 minutes of action and it was far from over. Alisson was able to attest to this, making two other great saves. To block Griezmann after Kieran Trippier’s cross pass, he also reached out a strong arm to deny Lemar after Mario Hermoso’s perfectly weighted pass. It was an impossible game to follow, with Oblak and Alisson both making saves within three minutes of the restart.
But that changed again when Griezmann reached for a high ball, his crampons hitting Roberto Firmino in the face. Simone smiles, shaking her head. His team had been so impressive at Liverpool. Asking them to keep doing it, a downcast man seemed like a big request, and yet they seemed determined that it wouldn’t just become an exercise in survival, waiting and resistance.
The burden of attacking was with Liverpool, a neat exchange between Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Salah opening up a chance and the direction of play pointing more and more towards Oblak. But the threat from Atletico did not go away, an admirable willingness to tackle opponents and engage men ahead despite growing fatigue. Carrasco, in particular, was tireless, making a trail in the grass. There were also fresh legs ahead, three men waiting on the sideline to be introduced – and all attacking players. Before Angel Correa, Renan Lodi and Marcos Llorente could line up, Liverpool were in the lead. Alexander-Arnold hoisted a long ball high into the box at Atlético to no one in particular. Diego Jota went there and Mario Hermoso went for him, cutting off the run and sending him to the ground. The challenge seemed unnecessary, even foolish, and the sanction clear. Salah scored and that change to three became a change to four, Luis Suárez joining the others.
Within a minute, the Uruguayan had the chance to level Atlético too – or thought he had. José Giménez had fallen as he chased a ball alongside Jota and the referee pointed to the spot only to be called up on screen while Suárez stood there waiting. By the time Sibert returned, he had seen enough to judge that Giménez had dived, an astonishing game turned down and even more remarkable up close.