Champions League, Round of 16 round-up: Liverpool hoodwinked, Valencia hobble, Tottenham tumble
The Champions League match between Atletico Madrid and Liverpool left battle scars in the literal sense to wear as medals and reminders.
Diego Simeone wouldn’t have dreamt it any other way. The Atletico Madrid manufactured a win over Liverpool in the most dubious of ways on Tuesday night. Elsewhere in the round of 16 in the Champions League, Borussia Dortmund recorded a competent win over powerhouse PSG. Tottenham lost to Leipzig and Valencia were humbled by Italian minnows and Champions league debutants Atalanta.
We look at some of the talking points from these matches, that form the stalk to the flower of folklore that are the final rounds of this competition.
A game of attrition: Atletico Madrid 1-0 Liverpool
People were wrong to think that Jose Mourinho was the anti-Jurgen Klopp. Yes, the Portuguese manager plays a brand of football that lives on the borderland of the badlands, with its sense of Darwinian pragmatism, but that is not its ultimate form. Simeone is.
Employing a game of attrition and annoyance, the match had more potholes and pauses than a drive to work in Mumbai’s peak traffic. The Wanda Metropolitano in that sense was purgatory for the defending European Champions. It was as if the bigger the giant to kill, the better Atletico’s odds are of an upset. Liverpool were once the Davids in a football landscape of Goliaths, but now the roles seem to have reversed and it was Simeone’s team that taught Klopp’s domineering Reds a lesson.
The match left battle scars in the literal sense to wear as medals and reminders. The Atletico team brought the distilled version of anti-football to the fore this midweek.
Liverpool’s player of the season and potential Ballon D’or contender Sadio Mane was hassled, harried and was ultimately forced to be substituted by the German manager. The usually jovial man from the Black Forest was visibly glowering with a dark frown, accusing the opponents of physically and mentally targeting the Senegalese captain. So much so, he was made to sit out the second half of the game. The Liverpool manager feared that it may have come to boil.
He offered post-match: “The plan (for Atletico) tonight was to get Sadio Mane out of the game one way or the other. They were targetting a second yellow card. I was afraid that Sadio’s opponent would go down if he sighed on him or something. I don’t want to have this situation and that is why I took him off.”
Things took a turn for the worse for Liverpool as their midfield enforcer and general, Jordan Henderson hobbled with a tight hamstring. The flow was fettered and the football was agonisingly forceful, like icebergs crashing — press and counter-press, but the chances were limited.
Klopp added: “We had not enough clear-cut chances, that is how it is. We had chances but not enough. We had games in atmospheres like this where we lost focus a little bit.”
For the home side, the delight came early with a Saul Niguez goal (4th minute), and the way the night petered out shall take the proportion of folklore. The stadium was raucous, inhospitable for the travelling team. Their influence coloured refereeing decision in favour of the red and whites. Simeone paid his tributes post-match: “I think we started winning the game when our bus turned and we saw the reaction of the people. It enthused us. Something beautiful woke up in us. It made me want to put my boots on and go on the pitch.”
Atlético Madrid supporters welcoming the team bus before tonight's game against Liverpool. pic.twitter.com/sliZtfRYo0
— Get Spanish Football News (@GSpanishFN) February 18, 2020
Klopp said, “Fans were here for fighting football, not beautiful football.”
Klopp and his charges will take this defeat as one to learn from. In a former Liverpool manager’s words, it’s a lot like building a space ship as you fly it.
For Liverpool, they have the power of Anfield to look forward to in the second leg. Klopp assured: “I say to all the Atletico fans who are lucky enough to get a ticket for the second leg: welcome to Anfield.”
Firing blanks: Tottenham 0-1 RB Leipzig
There’s a wee bit of a crisis of selection for Tottenham in the attacking half of matters. Fatigue has also started to set in the joints. The London-based team started with zero out-and-out strikers which enabled the German team led by Julian Nagelsmann to grind their threat to a stump.
Timo Werner, Leipzig’s spearhead notched a second-half penalty that assured that the team had a lead to take back home to Germany to defend. Despite the looming reality of playing the rest of their season without Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, Mourinho is admirably defiant about their chances. He said in the post-match conference, “0-1 is not 0-10. The result is open. It is really that simple. We wouldn’t be first or the last team to lose 1-0 at home and to win the tie away. Why shouldn’t we do it? Why should we worry?”
The Tottenham team will have to overcome the odds with a skeleton unit of attackers, with winger Lucas Moura, shoehorned into a centre forward role, with a recovering, rusty Erik Lamela providing the support.
Mourinho likened the situation as going into battle with a gun with no bullets. Adding to this he said: "The next match against Leipzig, the one thing I can guarantee is that, even with I don’t know who is going to be our attackers, but we are going there to fight.”
"It's like to go to a fight with a gun without bullets. We did all we could do."
Jose Mourinho on Tottenham's display this evening and injuries amongst the squad...
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) February 19, 2020
The abrasion that comes with things not going the way it’s planned showed on the pitch. Dele Alli threw a water bottle in anger when he was yanked off as a second-half substitute. Mourinho was not amused with the incident and maintained that the team improved having taken the England international off.
Credit, where it is due for Nagelsmann’s team for all of Tottenham’s agony, was not self-inflicted. The verticality of their tactics were unflinching, and they arrived as a team who were bent on creating history in the competition.
Which brings us to Atalanta.
No fear: Atalanta 4-1 Valencia
If you consider yourself as a Football Manager (the simulation game where you get to be a football manager) aficionado/connoisseur, you’d rate your knowledge about the obscure upstarts and starlets quite highly. Hans Hateboer, Josip Ilicic, Remo Freuler, are names even they might have not heard of, so you’re off the hook if you haven’t.
These were the scorers for Atalanta in a momentous night against Valencia. Those present at the 21,000 capacity Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia, their home stadium saw a night to remember for a lifetime.
Valencia were caught completely off guard by the intensity of the Italians. The town of Bergamo turned into a colosseum onto itself.
🏟 1st #UCL knockout stage win at the San Siro by an Italian side in 7 years...
⚫️🔵 Atalanta 👏👏👏 pic.twitter.com/SQqniMR5h7
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) February 19, 2020
The first goal was symbolic and set the tone for the rest of the night. Hans Hateboer slid in surreptitiously at the back post to convert a cross against the run of play in the 16th minute. The momentum that goal generated was like a constant billow of renewed breeze into the sails. Denis Cheryshev did notch the consolation goal for Valencia, but the game passed them by that point with Atlanta’s three other goals coming in at the 42nd, 57th minute, 62nd minute (Hateboer with the brace).
It was storybook. It was a football representation of cartoon mice tied the shoelaces of cartoon cats and tripped them over. It remains to be seen if the minnows can hold onto their happy ending in the second leg in Spain.
Too many head chefs spoil the broth: Borussia Dortmund 2-1 PSG
Erling Braut Haaland outdid Neymar on the night with a brace against the Brazilain’s single goal.
While Haaland was gleaming in the post-match pressers, gushing over his team-mates and the organisation of Dortmund as a whole; Neymar was bent on pointing fingers. He blamed the management, doctors and the decision-makers for his jaggedy, insular, un-coordinated performance.
“In the end, I’m the one who is suffering (now),” he said, churlishly presupposing that the loss has only hurt him the most. In a team filled to the brim with superstars, on the night, it was a competition among Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria and Neymar to grab the baton of the conductor to the detriment of better decision making and the flow of the game. On the other side, Dortmund functioned like a well-oiled machine despite minor glitches.
If the French side are to get anything at home in Paris, they’d be advised to remember that football, at the end of the day, is a team game, and everyone suffers together and wins together.
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