LONDON: Liverpool’s return to the scene of their Champions League triumph last season was not a happy one.
A 1-0 defeat by Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their last-16 tie on Tuesday leaves the European champions relying on another Anfield comeback to progress.
Jurgen Klopp’s men famously thrashed Barcelona 4-0 in their last knockout tie at home to overturn a 3-0 deficit in last season’s semifinals.
There is no need for such a dramatic turnaround when Atletico visit on March 11. But after being frustrated by how an intense atmosphere at the Wanda Metropolitano affected the performance of Polish referee Szymon Marciniak, Klopp is keen to harness the power of Anfield.
“We speak from time to time (about) the power of Anfield and the power of a stadium and what a stadium can have, tonight we saw it,” said Klopp.
“The whole stadium only wanted a result, the stadium was not here for seeing sensational football. They wanted a result and they got the result, so they are now happy in this moment and we are not.”
Liverpool were unhappy at the award of a throw-in which led to Saul Niguez’s fourth-minute opener, while Klopp replaced Sadio Mane at half-time for fear Atletico’s play-acting would earn the Senegalese star a second yellow card.
Defeat was just the Reds’ second all season with a senior team. A near flawless Premier League campaign has them 25 points clear at the top of the table and romping toward a first league title in 30 years.
The Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup have also been won along the way, but there is a pattern in the European champions struggling to hit top form on the road in the Champions League.
Liverpool have lost seven of their last 11 away games in Europe’s premier club competition — more than they have lost in their last 106 Premier League games.
For all its TV-revenue fueled wealth, that raises questions of the overall quality of the Premier League, particularly with the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal at a low ebb.
Yet, even amidst that run, Liverpool have reached back-to-back Champions League finals and have never lost a two-legged European tie in four seasons under Klopp.
If travel sickness has been a problem, fortress Anfield has always more than made amends.
Roma and Manchester City were also blown away in the latter stages in recent years before the miracle of Barcelona.
“The second half will be played in a different stadium, in our stadium, and that will be different as well,” added Klopp. “Atletico will feel that and that’s what we are looking forward to.”
Three weeks from now Liverpool will also be fully up to speed. They were also sluggish in a 1-0 win at bottom-of-the-table Norwich City on Saturday after a two-week winter break.
A similar 11-day break last year due to an early exit from the FA Cup allowed Klopp to take his players on a warm-weather training camp. On their return, they drew five of their next seven games, which ultimately cost them the title.
However, they finished the season in supreme form, winning 14 of their last 15 matches to be crowned champions of Europe and register a club record Premier League points tally of 97.
As long as they find their groove in time, Klopp’s men will be confident of breaking Atletico’s resistance on home soil.