Saul Niguez thanked the “true” Atletico Madrid fans for roaring their side to victory over Liverpool following a difficult recent run.
Saul Niguez struck just four minutes into Tuesday’s first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie as Atletico claimed a 1-0 win to take back to Anfield in the return fixture.
The Spanish side, Atletico Madrid hold the advantage at the halfway stage of their UEFA Champions League last-16 tie with Liverpool, earning a 1-0 win over the holders at the Wanda Metropolitano on Tuesday.
The match got off to a perfect start for the hosts, with Saul Niguez prodding home from close range after a penalty-box scramble. Liverpool’s response saw them have a lot of the ball, but they were able to create little in terms of clear-cut chances in the first half.
Saul struggled for form in that time and was grateful to the fans for their backing on Tuesday as he delivered a man-of-the-match display.
“It’s a result of hard work, of not giving up, of keeping going, even though everyone wants us to down tools,”
“We keep going on our way, game by game, doing our job and with a great effort by the whole team.
“We did a great job. We were very good defensively. We were united because they have very dangerous players like [Sadio] Mane and [Mohamed] Salah. Being secure on the wings was key to them not progressing.
“There are lots of people that want to kill us and that criticise us, but the true Atletico fans are there in the good and bad [times] and we’re grateful, which is the important thing.”
With the crowd up from kick-off, the match was ignited by Atletico’s early goal. The Reds were unable to clear a corner, and the ball fell perfectly into the path of Saul, who had an easy task to poke home.
Unsurprisingly, Atletico were happy to surrender territory and possession following that early strike. The Premier League side pushed forward as a result, although they were unable to find a way through the massed ranks of red and white jerseys.
Liverpool did have the ball in the back of the net at one stage, having broken away after an Alisson Becker saves from Morata. However, Salah failed to control the ball after Jan Oblak’s error, with Roberto Firmino picking up possession in an offside position.
In the second half, the pattern of the game remained the same. Liverpool looked more likely to unsettle the Atletico backline though, with Mohamed Salah heading wide after a pinpoint Joe Gomez cross. Atletico Madrid continued to carry a threat on the break, and former Chelsea striker, Alvaro Morata missed a glorious chance to double their advantage, slipping at the crucial moment when brilliantly placed.
The 25-year-old midfielder, Saul Niguez admits he was fired up for the match, having been moved back into his preferred midfield role after recently being used at left-back.
The Spain international said,
“I was really up for it,”
“There has been lots of criticism in recent days and I’m happy to have helped the team in my position.
“The stadium was incredible, it reminded me of the old nights at the [Vicente] Calderon.”
After facing the defeat, Liverpool will continue their march towards their first Premier League glory in 30 years on Monday when they host struggling West Ham United manager David Moyes. On the other hand, Rojiblancos are back in action on Sunday in La Liga, with Villarreal visiting them at Wanda Metropolitano.