Liverpool is unstoppable even when confronted with low-level gamesmanship, a dark craft that Atletico Madrid has developed over the years.
Liverpool cruised into the last 16 of the Champions League with two games to spare, putting up a dismissively dominant display that will be noticed by the rest of Europe.
That is an incredible achievement, accomplished with a perfect record in a group that includes the Spanish champions, AC Milan, and Porto.
And it was still another win for Jurgen Klopp’s club, which has now equaled Liverpool’s record of 25 games without a loss in all competitions, set by the team coached by Bob Paisley in 1982.
After a questionable sending-off, Atletico was reduced to ten men for most of the match, but it was already gone — and the only surprise was that Liverpool did not score more goals.
Nonetheless, Liverpool’s 13 goals in this group are greater than the combined total of the other three clubs, which is 11.
The main worry was an injury to Roberto Firmino, who had entered the game at halftime but had to leave early due to knee pain.
Given Atletico’s reputation as a defensively stubborn team, and despite the fact that Liverpool had previously scored three goals against them in Madrid, it was surprising to see how quickly they went behind – and then crumbled. It was surprising how quickly they fell behind – and then disintegrated.
Even though Trent Alexander-pass Arnold’s from the right-wing was brilliant, sending the ball in beyond the Atletico midfielders and away from goalkeeper Jan Oblak, no one followed Diogo Jota as he met it and guided a header into the net.
At Mohamed Salah’s initial effort to push the ball past him, Mario Hermoso body-checked him; Angel Correa looked to step on Sadio Mane and Koke caught Jota late, while Luis Suarez was subjected to some theatrical booing that appeared to irritate him.
In the midst of it all, Liverpool continued to play football and advanced further. Mane began it, moving the ball across the field before handing it over to Jordan Henderson, who fed Alexander-Arnold, who sent another pinpoint cross for Mane to swipe in.
That was fantastic, and Liverpool was on top when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain sent a tremendous shot just past the post.
In March 2020, these two teams reunited at Anfield for the last game before the lockdown, and there were much fewer Atletico supporters this time. Despite Madrid being at the epicenter of the epidemic, just 200 people had made the trip — 3,000 had made the trip for the last-16 tie.
Liverpool, the holders, were knocked out, but it didn’t seem to matter considering what happened afterward.
Atletico didn’t start playing until they were 2-0 down, but that was short-lived. Felipe was sent off for a nasty trip on Mane, despite the fact that it occurred deep in Liverpool’s half. They were reduced to ten men.
Felipe rushed away from Danny Makkelie, the Dutch referee, and the official had already slapped him with a red card.
Despite Atletico’s fury, he had obviously seen enough, particularly with the way Mane had been harassed, and Suarez was eventually warned for his objections. After being challenged by Mane, Correa overreacted in an attempt to exact payback.
Despite all of this, Liverpool continued to play, with Oblak saving Jota’s close-range header as he met another cross. And to think that after conceding those quick-fire goals, Diego Simeone had urged his team to remain calm. Instead, they were obliterated off the face of the earth. Atletico had come back from a two-goal deficit against Liverpool a few weeks previously, only to lose, but this time the job was even more difficult.
Klopp didn’t want to take any risks, so Mane was replaced by Firmino at half-time. However, Salah came near again when he rushed onto Fabinho’s cross down the touchline, cut inside, and challenged Oblak within his six-yard area, only for the goalkeeper to block.
It was scrambled behind the goal and fell to Joel Matip, who pushed his shot wide as he looked to be on his way to scoring. Both teams had goals ruled out for offside, prompting Simeone to remove his Strikeforce of Luis Suarez and Joao Felix, while Klopp was free to reinsert Thiago Alcantara after a six-week injury layoff as Liverpool played keep-ball.
Even so, it was clumsy when Thiago was caught in possession, as Atletico broke and replacement Hector Herrera wasted a shot across goal.
Salah was on a quest to score, gliding into the Atletico area again and time as players rushed around him with Oblak claiming Henderson’s half-volley.
It didn’t matter that there were no more objectives. Liverpool has completed its group stage duties in the Champions League.