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In the Zone: Liverpool 2-0 Atlético performance analysis

UEFA's Technical Observer panel looks back at how the Reds reached the last 16 with a comfortable victory.

Liverpool's wide rotations
Liverpool's wide rotations

Liverpool achieved another milestone in Europe with the 2-0 victory over Club Atlético de Madrid which secured them first place in Group B with two games to spare. Never before had the Anfield outfit won their first four matches of a UEFA Champions League group stage, yet they made it four in a row with an irresistible performance to which the Spanish title holders had no response.

Here, UEFA's Technical Observers' panel analyses the manner of the Reds' victory, including the clever movement which helped unhinge Diego Simeone's visitors on Wednesday night.

Goals

Highlights: Liverpool 2-0 Atlético
Highlights: Liverpool 2-0 Atlético

1-0: Diogo Jota (13)
Trent Alexander-Arnold started the move as he stepped into the opposition half and played a forward pass to Jordan Henderson, who had taken up a position on the right wing. The captain then combined with Mohamed Salah, feeding the Egyptian deep down the right before collecting the ball back. With three opposition players drawn to the pair, Alexander-Arnold was left completely free on the corner of the penalty area as Henderson laid the ball back inside to him. With a good angle for the cross, the right-back swept a first-time ball across the five-metre box for Jota to head in at the far post.

2-0: Sadio Mané (21)
Kostas Tsimikas played a throw-in down the left to Jota, whose first-time flick inside found Mané in a tight spot with Rodrigo De Paul at his back and Koke approaching from the left. Cue a fabulous show of guile from the Senegalese, spinning away behind them and carrying the ball forward from left to right before passing to Henderson, who in turn supplied Alexander-Arnold. What came next was a low driven ball which Mané, the man who had sparked the move, met with a side-footed finish.

Best Player: Diogo Jota

A year to the day since his UEFA Champions League hat-trick at Atalanta, Jota shone once more and was selected as the UEFA Champions League Player of the Match. "He plays well between the lines, always asking questions of Atlético's centre-backs, and linked up effectively with his back to goal," said UEFA Technical Observer Tim Cahill of the Portuguese forward's contribution, which also included "his blind-side runs in the penalty area and his threatening movement on the last line of Atlético defenders". Cahill continued: "Without the ball, his mentality to counterpress quickly after a loss of possession enables Liverpool to regain possession high in threatening situations."

Team formations

Liverpool

Liverpool's 1-4-3-3 formation
Liverpool's 1-4-3-3 formation

Liverpool's formation was a 1-4-3-3 in which the width came from full-backs Alexander-Arnold (No66) and Tsimikas (No21). The former commented afterwards that the hosts had been "told to be flexible, move and create confusion" and their rotations on his right flank were worthy of note: Henderson (No14) would drop back into the full-back position with Alexander-Arnold stepping inside, leaving the wing open for Salah (No11) to attack.

Inside, Jota (No20) roamed as a false nine while Mané (No10) took up positions between the full-back and left centre-back on the other side. Out of possession, Jürgen Klopp's men stayed in the same shape but looked to force the play wide to regain it in the wide positions and launch quick transitions from there.

Atlético de Madrid

Atlético's 1-5-3-2 defensive structure
Atlético's 1-5-3-2 defensive structure

In possession, Atlético set up in a 1-3-4-2-1 shape and looked to play the ball quickly to the front three and use switches of play to release the wing-backs. Out of possession, they switched to a 1-5-3-2, defending narrow and compact, with Ángel Correa (No10) dropping back into a flat midfield three, alongside Koke (No6) and De Paul (No5), and one of the outside centre-backs pressing Mané and Jota in the half-space when they dropped deep.

That 1-5-3-2 defensive structure is geared to exploiting teams on the counterattack, but Atlético had to change once they had a man less. Simeone switched to a 1-4-4-1 which involved a flat, four-man midfield to cover the distances with the hope of winning regains and finding Luis Suárez (No9) on the counter.

Features

Liverpool's higher intensity was key to their superiority. They attacked quickly and built an irresistible momentum. By counterpressing swiftly on losing possession, they were able to maintain attacks in the opposition half and there was variety in their approach too, with the use of wide rotations to create 1v1s and Jota dropping between the lines to cause problems. Jota took the Player of the Match award but Alexander-Arnold, with his 10th and 11th assists in the competition, caught the eye as well – for his crossing ability and his attacking and defending on transitions.

The sending-off of Felipe after 36 minutes changed the rhythm of the contest. Already two goals ahead, Liverpool stayed patient in possession, managing the game well through their discipline and intensity. They allowed Atlético few chances to counterattack; a solitary mistake, when substitute Thiago Alcántara was robbed in possession by De Paul, resulted in a second-half chance for substitute Héctor Herrera, but otherwise the visitors' openings were scarce and, discounting Suárez's disallowed goal, they did not produce a shot on target.

Jan Oblak impressed for Atlético
Jan Oblak impressed for AtléticoVisionhaus/Getty Images

Atlético are still seeking a first clean sheet on their travels this season, but that is not a slight on goalkeeper Jan Oblak who, with his confident handling, distribution and solid decision-making, impressed the UEFA observers. This is a side known for their usually strong defensive organisation and good counterattacking options.

In the first half, there was a clear example of Atleti's aim to exploit the space vacated by Liverpool's full-backs: De Paul nicked the ball and João Félix fed Suárez on the right side, but the counterattack broke down with the Uruguayan's wayward crossfield pass. The sending-off of Felipe did not help, with wing-back Yannick Carrasco, for instance, no longer able to reproduce some of his early work between the lines.

Coaches' assessments

Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool manager: "The game was nearly perfect, like we wanted to have it: we scored the goals at the right moments. They were much more on the front foot than they were in their home game, in how they started, but we defended well and they were two incredible balls from Trent, I have to say."

Diego Simeone, Atlético coach: "They had a great start and were very powerful. We couldn't play the game we wanted and had to work with a man less. They were very precise. It's a fantastic cross by Alexander-Arnold, and they play at a speed which gets the most out of their game."