(Champions League) Saul Niguez strikes early blow

Sports | 19 Feb 2020 11:55 am

Atletico Madrid's defense was back at its best on yesterday, too good even for the European champions.
Atletico Madrid scored early and then defendedsuperbly to beat Liverpool 1-0 in the first leg of the Champions League's round of 16, spoiling the defending champion's return to the place where it won the European title last year.
Midfielder Saul Niguez netted in the fourth minute and Atletico'sdefense kept Liverpool's powerful attack from having a single attempt on target, giving Diego Simeone's team the edge going into the second leg on March 11 in England.
It was at Atletico's Wanda Metropolitano Stadium that Liverpool defeated Tottenham 2-0 last June to lift its sixth European Cup trophy. The lineup was nearly identical for Liverpool, with defender Joe Gomez the only player who did not start in last year's final.
Liverpool controlled possession throughout but couldn't find a way to break through the tight Atletico defense.
It was only the second time that Liverpool failed to have an attempt on target under Klopp _ the other coming in a 1-0 Champions League loss against Napoli in 2018.
Atletico pressed early and it didn't take long before itopened the scoring. Niguez netted from close range after picking up a loose ball inside the area following a corner. The ball appeared to touch Liverpool midfielder Fabinho before reaching Niguez for an easy goal.
Liverpool, who had not trailed in 15 matches in all competitions, quickly worked its way into the game but it took nearly half an hour for the visitors to havean attempt.
Atletico had a good chance to add to the lead in the 26th when striker Alvaro Morata, making his 50th Champions League appearance, had his shot blocked by Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
Liverpool had a goal by Mohamed Salah ruled out for offside moments later, and the Egyptian again came close to equalizing in the 36th with a shot deflected by Atletico defender Felipe in front of the goal.
Salah's 53rd-minute header missed just wide, and Morata squandered another good opportunity for Atletico in the 68th.
Atletico striker Diego Costa came off the bench in the 77th for his first appearance since undergoing surgery on a herniated cervical disc in November.
Atletico have conceded only one goal in the last 12 Champions League knockout matches at home. They lost only once in 26 European home games, and are unbeaten in the last 14 Champions League knockout matches as a host.-AP


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