Liverpool qualified for the last-16 of the Champions League and guaranteed top spot in Group B with two games to spare after a 2-0 win over ill-disciplined Atletico Madrid, who had Felipe sent off in the first half.
Trent Alexander-Arnold spearheaded a typically fast start from Jurgen Klopp’s team, providing the assists for Diogo Jota to open the scoring on 13 minutes and Sadio Mane to tap home eight minutes later.
Unlike the previous meeting in Madrid, there was to be no reaction by Diego Simeone’s men as Felipe was shown a straight red card on 36 minutes for a foul on Mane. It was unclear whether the defender was sent off for the foul or for dissent after refusing to acknowledge being summoned by the referee Danny Makkelie.
Liverpool somehow failed to extend their lead after the break with Joel Matip and Jota missing glorious chances while the returning Luis Suarez had a goal chalked off by VAR for offside, to the delight of the Anfield faithful.
Liverpool are now unbeaten in 25 games in all competitions (W18 D7), stretching back to a 3-1 loss at Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League quarter-final first leg. It equals the Reds’ unbeaten record as a football league club set between March and September 1982 under Bob Paisley.
Liverpool: Alisson (7), Alexander-Arnold (9), Matip (7), Van Dijk (7), Tsimikas (7), Fabinho (7), Henderson (7), Oxlade-Chamberlain (7), Mane (8), Salah (7), Jota (8)
Subs: Firmino (7), Thiago (6), Minamino (6), Origi (6)
Atletico: Oblak (7), Trippier (6), Felipe (5), Gimenez (5), Hermoso (5), De Paul (6), Koke (6), Correa (6), Carrasco (6), Felix (5), Suarez (5)
Subs: Vrsaljko (6), Cunha (6), Serrano (6), Herrera (6)
Man of the match: Trent Alexander-Arnold
How Liverpool stormed into last-16…
Just like in the Wanda Metropolitano a fortnight ago when Liverpool came away 3-2 winners, Klopp’s men dominated early on and were rewarded with a 13th-minute goal.
Liverpool team news
There were five changes for Liverpool from the side which drew at home to Brighton at the weekend, with injuries forcing Jurgen Klopp’s hand in some situations. In defence, Joel Matip and Konstantinos Tsimikas were handed starts while fit-again Fabinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played in midfield. And in attack, Diogo Jota started alongside Mane and Salah, with Roberto Firmino on the bench.
Alexander-Arnold provided the whipped-in, low cross and Jota delivered the stooping, close-range header.
Alexander-Arnold, for the first time in his career providing multiple assists in a single Champions League game, was also the creator of the second in the 22nd minute.
Mane was at the heart of this goal with his direct running opening up the visitors’ defence. Alexander-Arnold then had the space to fire in another wonderful cross that was expertly finished by Mane.
It means the Reds have scored two or more goals in 15 of their 16 games in all competitions this season, the exception being the 1-1 draw against Chelsea at Anfield on August 28.
Liverpool had found themselves in a similar position a fortnight ago only to squander a two-goal lead before snatching back victory, although the difference this time was Atleti were without their suspended two-goal hero from that night Antoine Griezmann.
Similar disciplinary problems were on show yet again though from the Spanish champions when Felipe kicked across the back of Mane’s leg as he tried to launch a counter-attack. Referee Makkelie deemed the offence worthy of violent conduct as Felipe was shown the red card – a decision perhaps influenced by Felipe’s unwillingness to acknowledge the referee when being called to him.
Unlike at the weekend against Brighton, there was no sign of the chances drying up in the second half and Joel Matip’s brilliant through-ball deserved a goal but Jota’s cool finish in lots of space was ruled out for offside by VAR.
Mohamed Salah and Matip should have scored but both contrived to fail from close range.
Liverpool almost were made to rue those wasted opportunities when Suarez’s strike deflected past Alisson Becker off Matip but that goal was also ruled out for offside on review.
The positive of Thiago getting his first minutes since mid-September was tempered by the loss of Roberto Firmino, who limped off after replacing Mane, who had been booked, at the break.
This fourth win from four games allows Klopp some much-needed breathing room in Europe as, with a seven-point cushion in group B, he can now afford to rest key members of his squad in the final two games against AC Milan and Porto.
Sky Sports’ Lewis Jones:
Is there a more deadly partnership down a right flank in world football than Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold? It’s enough to give opposition left-backs sleepless nights. West Ham’s Aaron Cresswell is the next man tasked with stopping them on Super Sunday and this will have been gruesome viewing for the Hammers defender.
Alexander-Arnold had hardly had a sniff of action for the first 12 minutes but all it took was one caress of his right boot to ignite himself into the match. The cross for Diogo Jota to head home was made to look simple from the playmaking full-back but not many in the world could have delivered it with such precision and pace. He wasn’t done there either, grabbing a second assist eight minutes later when finding Sadio Mane with what looked a more of a shot than a cross. But in reality, it’s hard to tell such is the type of creative artillery Alexander-Arnold possesses.
Since the start of the 2018/19 season, only Kevin De Bruyne (51) has more assists among Premier League players in all competitions than Liverpool’s world-class creator-in-chief (44).
It’s a scary proposition to think all of Liverpool’s key players are playing some of the best football of their careers. No wonder their unbeaten run currently stands at 25 matches.
Alexander-Arnold told BT Sport: “Me and Mo have got a really good understanding. It’s quite natural. We’re told to be flexible, not just stay in set positions to create confusion for the opposition. That’s what we do. We need to get on the ball and create things. And with the form our front players are in, it’s about getting the service into them. That’s what I did today.”
What the manager said…
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp: “In the second half that’s how it was [controlled and calm]
“We have had an incredible schedule and even with controlling the game we lost a player with injury, Bobby Firmino.
“I can imagine people wanted to see more goals but we created still many chances, we scored a goal that was disallowed, we had incredible chances in front of goal like, ‘wow, how could we miss them?’
“So I think the game was nearly perfect, like we want to have it. We scored the goals in the right moments.
“They were much more on the front foot than they were in the home game, how they started. But we defended that well and then two incredible balls from Trent. Fantastic finishes as well, especially Sadio’s one. I think Diogo will expect from himself that he’d finish that off. But Sadio keeps the ball, passes to the outside and is then greedy enough to get into the box and finish that situation off.
“Then with the red card, we don’t like that, we don’t want to play against 10 men. But then you have to be careful. They scored their goal and I don’t know exactly how it was offside, I didn’t understand it 100 per cent. But in the end it’s 2-0 and a great night.”
- This was Jurgen Klopp’s 200th win in his 334th game in charge of Liverpool in all competitions, making him the fifth Reds manager to reach the landmark, after Tom Watson, Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish.
- Atletico Madrid have lost back-to-back UEFA Champions League group stage games for only the second time under Diego Simeone, also doing so in November 2019.
- Liverpool have progressed from their UEFA Champions League group in all five of their seasons in the competition under Jürgen Klopp. They have also started a campaign in the competition with four wins in their opening four matches for the very first time.
- Atlético Madrid have had two players sent off against the same side in a single UEFA Champions League campaign for the very first time.
- Since his Liverpool debut in September 2020, only Christian Benteke, Edinson Cavani and Harry Kane (all seven) have scored more headed goals for Premier League clubs in all competitions than Jota (six).
- Since the start of the 2018-19 season, only Kevin De Bruyne (51) has more assists among Premier League players in all competitions than Trent Alexander-Arnold (44).
Liverpool travel to West Ham on Super Sunday in a bid to keep up their scintillating start to the Premier League season. Atletico take on Valencia on Sunday in La Liga.