Atletico Madrid took a huge step towards reaching a first European final since 1986 by beating Liverpool 1-0 in the first leg of their Europa League semifinal on Thursday.
Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan scored the game's only goal in the ninth minute, tapping home the ball from close range after initially misheading Jose Manuel Jurado's cross.
Liverpool looked jaded for much of the game, possibly due to its long overland journey to Madrid due to air travel disruptions. Without star striker Fernando Torres, the Reds failed to trouble Atletico goalkeeper David De Gea.
This is perhaps not the semifinal Rafa Benitez and Liverpool would like to be in, but beggars can't be choosers. Sat in seventh in the Premier League with only an outside chance of securing Champions League football next season, Atletico Madrid will have to do.
Of course the big talking point is the coach, train and plane journey Liverpool have had to make to get there in the first place. Having seen Barcelona's performance after their trek to San Siro on Tuesday night, Rafa's keen to make lemonade. "I am sure they will be tired, but it can actually help the team spirit when everyone has something like this in common," he insisted, on arrival in Madrid yesterday.
Arguably more important, however, is the fact that both sides will be without key strikers, the hosts losing Sergio Aguero to suspension for this first leg, while Liverpool have travelled without Fernando Torres, who's still in Barcelona after an operation on his dodgy knee. Neither team will want to concede beforehand that they're too much weaker without them, but it's always nice to have a ready-made excuse, isn't it?
Kick-off is at 3.05 p.m. ET, so I'll be here from 2.45 p.m. to bring you the game live. These things are always a bit more fun when they're interactive, so you can email me (
So, after what feels like weeks of footage of Liverpool footballers crossing Europe by land (seriously, it's not that primitive over here; they didn't uncover new species along the way or anything), the match is finally upon us. Both teams have had domestic seasons to forget, and the fact that this game is a Europa League encounter tells you things haven't been so hot for them in Europe, either.
Making it to the final of -- and winning -- this competition could be important to the ability of both clubs to hold onto their best talent if neither climbs their respective league tables. Liverpool last met Atletico in preseason, when they lost 2-1; before that, two Champions League meetings ended in 1-1 draws -- the second of which saw Steven Gerrard score a late equalizing penalty. Fernando Torres and Sergio Aguero are both missing. For all these reasons, folks, this is unlikely to be a wide-open game.
David Ngog will have to outmuscle Tomas Ujfalusi (no laughing at the back) to make an impact up front on his own for Liverpool, while Jose Manuel Jurado partners Diego Forlan for Atletico. Benitez has gone with Javier Mascherano, Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun behind Ngog, while Quique Flores has Simao, Raul Garcia and Jose Antonio Reyes revving up across the middle.
Well, that might not have been the game we were hoping for, nor the scoreline Liverpool were hoping for, but it's not all bad. Rafa's side doesn't lose too often at home, and will be reasonably confident of scoring at least one. Inevitably, they will keep the ball for longer and thus, by the law of probability, put greater pressure on Atletico's defense.
Liverpool's worries, though, will be a) Ngog being their best/only option up front again, and b) another quick start seeing Atletico past the defense. Ngog offered absolutely nothing this evening, other than the first touch of a foosball player; with an unreliable supply forward, they'll wish they could rely on someone rather more lethal in front of goal. As for the defense, they found their way into the game eventually, but Jamie Carragher nearly did himself a mischief screaming at the rest of his back line. They'll need to keep things tight from the off, which means Daniel Agger keeping a close eye on Ujfalusi and Raul Garcia, and Glen Johnson knuckling down to keep Simao and Reyes quiet. Join me for more Europa League fun next week. For now, cheerio and thanks for following.