After 94 minutes, it looked like it was going to be yet another one of those special nights at Anfield, where the Reds draw on the power of their sacred home to pull out an historic win in front of their enraptured fans.
The football gods, however — perhaps with some secret knowledge of the immediate future of the competition — did not see fit to allow it, and Liverpool were dumped out of the Champions League by a brutal 2-4 aggregate loss.
Below, we take a quick look at some winners and losers on the night, as well as what comes next for the Reds.
The Whole Team, Really: Listen, it’s a little tricky to call a team that was just eliminated from a competition winners, but Liverpool were, with a few exceptions we’ll get to later, absolutely tremendous on the night. They battered the best defensive side in Europe from pillar to post for 90 minutes, forcing the traditionally resolute and stoic Atléti defense into wild scrambles and desperate clearances as they were consistently pulled out of position by intelligent, persistent runs, and refused their visitors any time on the ball, quickly winning it back through vintage high-intensity gegenpressing.
It wasn’t just approach play, either. The Reds created a plethora of chances, generated more shots than any other Atlético opponent has managed this season, and hit the post twice. On any normal night, this whole affair would have been done and dusted by full time.
Finishing: With that knowledge, though, comes a sobering reality. For all their class in attack, the Reds simply didn’t take their chances, and when your frontline is considered one of the deadliest in Europe, that simply isn’t good enough. 34 shots, 23 of which were taken from inside the area, should be plenty to secure a comfortable win, but some decidedly middling finishing paired with an outstanding, double-digit save performance by Jan Oblak meant that the Reds would end the night without the scoreline their play deserved.
Adrián: We don’t want to pin too much blame on the Spaniard — particularly considering the wastefulness of the frontline — but if the former West Ham man doesn’t gift Atléti their first goal, first by kicking it straight to João Félix under no real pressure, then slipping and letting the finish from 20-odd yards slide past him, Liverpool advance to the next round. The visitors had shown no real ability to threaten their hosts on offense, but were handed a lifeline less than two minutes after Roberto Firmino had scored the go-ahead goal, and even the mentality monsters of Merseyside were unable to recover from the blow.
Klopp’s Knockout Streak: After three European campaigns, Jürgen Klopp was undefeated in two-legged knockout fixtures with Liverpool, taking the Reds all the way to the final every time. With tonight’s defeat, that streak ends, like a few other streaks have in recent weeks.
What Happens Next
Season-ending pandemics notwithstanding, I guess we wrap up the league title? There is a chance tonight’s defeat is the last Liverpool game of the season to take place in front of a crowd, and there is no certainty the league will be finished on schedule, if at all, but for now, it’s the only competition the Reds have left, and they need two wins from the next nine games to collect their first ever Premier League trophy.
Best get it done promptly, before the FA get any bright ideas.