Jürgen Klopp had said that it wasn’t likely that Liverpool would score three at the Wanda Metropolitano, but in the end that is exactly what they had to do. With 12 minutes to go on a wild, fun and unexpectedly open night, Mohamed Salah stood on the penalty spot, handed the chance to deliver victory for Liverpool. Two-up inside 13 minutes, it was now 2-2, and nothing was certain any more. Except of course the Egyptian who stepped up and coolly slotted in what would prove the winner.
Not that a Liverpool win seemed certain even then, Atlético Madrid almost immediately having a late penalty of their own removed by the VAR, Luis Suárez left lamenting that he would not get the opportunity Salah had. And, even then it was not yet over. When at last it was, there was exhaustion. There was exhilaration too, plus recrimination and an awful lot to pick over. “When these two teams face each other some drama is guaranteed,” Klopp said afterwards, only the word “some” felt seriously inadequate.
“The story of this game is a special one,” the Liverpool manager added. It was the story of five goals, a red card and two penalties, one at each end, one given and scored. the other given and taken away again. Atlético trailed to goals from Salah and Naby Keïta but Antoine Griezmann scored twice and he and his teammates might have got more, only to be left lamenting a resurrection that would prove incomplete. Lamenting too the red card that Griezmann got early in the second half which changed the game.
At the final whistle, Diego Simeone dashed straight down the tunnel, Klopp waving at him as he went. He was not proud of his reaction, he said, but it had been that kind of night, wild from start to finish.
The clock had just ticked beyond seven minutes when Salah received the ball on the right, came inside, left four men behind him and gave Liverpool the lead. “Mo Salah! Mo Salah!”, the visiting fans sang, the forward credited with the goal after the final touch was ruled to have come off Geoffrey Kondogbia rather than James Milner.
The lead was doubled when Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross was flicked out by Felipe to where Keïta smashed in a volley that raced past Jan Oblak. “It seemed like they would win easily,” Simeone admitted after.
Yet if Liverpool’s dominance was total – 80% of the ball, two goals up and faster to everything – and their lead significant it did not last. From a short corner, Thomas Lemar beat Keïta and pulled back for Koke, whose low shot was turned in by Griezmann. As for Simeone, he turned conductor. Koke too was frantically waving his arms, demanding a reaction.
Led by Lemar and João Félix, emerging as the star here, it was driven by all of them. Alisson, named man of the match, had to save from Griezmann, sent dashing clean through from the halfway line. The Frenchman then almost slipped in Félix, who then made the equaliser soon after. He got the equaliser just as Simeone was preparing a substitution.
Félix turned away from Keïta, smoothly pulling clear and slipped a ball through. As Virgil van Dijk turned to see it, he only saw Griezmann going past, controlling with his first touch and guiding into the corner. Simeone was pumping his fists, this place was going wild, and Renan Lodi was told to sit down again. Atlético were flying.
It was far from finished. Alisson could testify to that, making two more superb saves, blocking Griezmann and sticking out a strong hand to deny Lemar after Mario Hermoso’s perfectly-weighted pass. This was some game, Oblak and Alisson both making saves within three minutes of the restart, but it pivoted when Griezmann reached for a high ball, his studs hitting Roberto Firmino full in the face. Simone smiled, shaking his head.
Atlético’s threat was not going away, an admirable willingness to get at their opponents and commit men forward despite the growing fatigue and being down to 10. Yannick Carrasco in particular was tireless, blazing a runway into the turf.
There were fresh legs coming too, three men waiting on the touchline to be introduced. Before Ángel Correa, Lodi and Marcos Llorente could get on, Liverpool had the lead.
Alexander-Arnold hoisted a long, high ball into the Atlético area. Diogo Jota went for it and Hermoso went for him, foolishly cutting across the run. Salah scored and that three-man change became a four-man change, Suárez joining the others.
Within minutes, the Uruguayan had the chance to draw Atlético level 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 to the screen while Suárez was left there waiting. By the time Daniel Sibert came back he had seen enough to judge that Giménez had dived.
And still there was time for more drama, Correa missing the target in the 84th minute of an astonishing night in Madrid.