Madrid – UEFA Champions League holders Liverpool will need to summon another famous European comeback at Anfield next month after they were beaten 0-1 away to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.
Spain midfielder Saul Niguez struck the only goal of their last 16 first leg game in the fourth minute by bundling into the net from close range following a corner kick.
It was their traditional weapon of choice in recent years.
Liverpool have won 25 of 26 English Premier League (EPL) games this season and are on course for a record-smashing title win.
But they missed a series of chances to equalise in the second half, with Mohamed Salah and team captain Jordan Henderson coming closest to scoring.
Juergen Klopp’s side play at home to Atletico Madrid on March 11 in the return leg at Anfield.
That was where they produced an incredible 4-0 win over FC Barcelona in last year’s semi-final second leg fixture after losing the first match 3-0.
Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, Tuesday’s venue, was however the scene of Liverpool’s 2-0 triumph over Tottenham Hotspur in last year’s final.
But they faced a very different type of atmosphere this time around.
Clouds of billowing red smoke greeted the Atletico Madrid bus when it arrived at the ground as the home supporters stoked up a scorching atmosphere throughout the game.
It helped to give their side a lift in the middle of their worst season in recent memory.
Diego Simeone’s men have looked nothing like the sides which reached the 2014 and 2016 Champions League finals.
The Argentine manager’s side had not challenged Real Madrid and FC Barcelona’s duopoly of La Liga for most of this campaign.
Now they trail league leaders Real Madrid by 13 points.
But on Tuesday they produced a vintage defensive display.
They sat deep and barely gave Liverpool any space for their attacking trident of Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane to work their usual magic.
Mane was fortunate not to be sent off late in the first half after clashing with Sime Vrsaljko while on a yellow card.
He was swiftly substituted by Klopp for Divock Origi, who scored the second goal in last year’s final.
The Senegalese caused little disquiet to Atletico Madrid’s towering defenders, yet Salah should have levelled with a header which went wide of the near post.
Henderson also narrowly missed the target from inside the area later on.