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Klopp has smile wiped off his face but Liverpool will believe they'll have the last laugh

It’s advantage Atletico Madrid as they score early and then frustrate the life out of Champions League holders.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp on the sideline.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp on the sideline.
Image: Nick Potts

JURGEN KLOPP WAS asked just before kick-off what he expected from the first leg of this last-16 clash with Atletico Madrid.

“A big fight,” the Liverpool manager replied in a flash. “It will be intense. That is in their DNA. It will not be easy.”

He was told that Diego Simeone had not lost a home leg of a knockout tie in the Champions League since arriving in the Spanish capital in December 2011.

“Realllllyyyyyy,” Klopp said, in that booming, jovial manner that has become his calling card.

He soon had the smile wiped from his face. Four minutes in and Saul Niguez was wheeling away in celebration after calmly sliding his shot into the far corner beyond Alisson.

The home side had flown out of the traps and their aggression was rewarded when Fabinho clumsily allowed a corner ricochet off him, falling kindly for Saul near the six-yard box.

The European champions were stunned and, while they soon found their footing in the tie, dominating possession but looking lethargic and lacking in ideas, Simeone’s charges had exactly what they needed: something to hold on to.

The 90 or so minutes which followed were a masterclass in defensive prowess and a willingness to snuff the life out of the contest.

Liverpool loyalists will rue the dark arts on show, the men in red and white rolling on the turf whenever necessary just to frustrate and annoy.

It worked.

spain-soccer-champions-league Saul (second from right) celebrates after scoring his side's goal Source: Bernat Armangue

The pained expressions on the faces of Liverpool players were a common sight on the night. And Klopp’s annoyance resulted in a yellow card of his own for vociferous complaints before the end.

And yet, no one at Anfield will not believe that they will advance to the next round. They will not need a miracle on their own patch to overturn a one-goal deficit but there can be no underplaying how difficult it will be to progress.

It won’t be on the same scale as that historic Barcelona comeback but if they can get one over Atletico it will feel just as sweet considering the way in which this contest went.

Atletico are the poster boys for pragmatism, hardened professionals who will not wilt at the prospect of one of those famous European nights at Anfield.

Songs and flares and impassioned cries of You’ll Never Walk Alone will not deter Simone or his men. 

This was only the third time Liverpool have tasted defeat this season – a second in Europe following a loss in Napoli – so of course it will sting.

A hallmark of this team under Klopp has been their own mentality, that unflappable belief that they can salvage any occasion – not they have allowed themselves get into many situations like this one.

In the Premier League, Liverpool have steamrolled all before them with a relentless verve that nobody can match.

Atletico showed they were capable of standing up to them. Klopp hooked Sadio Mane at half-time because he was dangling close to a second yellow and even Mo Salah was given an early bath as Liverpool toiled in search of a precious away goal.

This was as disjointed as the Premier League champions-elect have looked in some time. Atletico’s approach won’t change in the second-leg.

It doesn’t have to. They have the lead and know exactly how to protect it.

The onus now is on Liverpool to show they have the ability to overcome the sort of methods that caused them so many problems tonight.

If they don’t, they are out. It’s that simple. This Liverpool, though, will always believe they can have the last laugh.

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