Mohamed Salah continued his superb form as Liverpool made it three wins out of three in the group stage of the Champions League by beating Spanish champions Atletico Madrid in a game of constant drama.
In a frantic, fantastic match in the Spanish capital between sides that were dazzling in attack but vulnerable at the back, the Reds saw an early two-goal lead wiped out by Antoine Griezmann’s double.
France forward was then shown a straight red card early in the second half, allowing the visitors to reassert their authority and snatch a big win through Salah’s well-taken penalty, awarded for a clumsy barge on Diogo Jota by Mario Hermoso.
Jota almost turned villain, though, as his challenge on Jose Maria Gimenez resulted in a penalty being awarded – only for the referee to change his mind after being encouraged by VAR to view the incident on the pitchside monitor.
Earlier, Salah had given the Reds the lead when his low finish at the end of a weaving run found the net off the toe of James Milner before Naby Keita’s brilliant volley doubled the visitors’ advantage.
Griezmann’s neat close-range finish then superb turn and shot across Alisson restored parity, all before the break.
But the last word went to Salah, who is now Liverpool’s record goalscorer in the Champions League – his two goals taking him to 31, one more than Steven Gerrard.
Jurgen Klopp’s side are now unbeaten in 21 games in all competitions and continues to provide attacking threat opponents are rarely able to deal with.
In their last nine matches, they have racked up 30 goals and have scored at least three times in all of their seven away games this campaign.
They now top Champions League Group B by an emphatic five points after their most impressive win so far.
It did not however impress Atletico boss Diego Simeone, who spent the game either whipping the home crowd up into a frenzy or berating the officials and then headed off down the tunnel at a full time without shaking the hand of Klopp.
There is something about Liverpool and the Wanda Metropolitano. It was on this ground in the Spanish capital that they won Europe’s top club prize for the sixth time in 2019 – although that was followed by a 1-0 first-leg loss to Atletico in the stadium the following season that contributed to the end of their trophy defense.
After this remarkable game against the Spanish champions, they now have another memorable encounter to add to the list.
It is a cliche to suggest a game had everything, but you would be hard-pressed to work out what this action-packed and at times controversial match did not showcase.
There were elite forwards providing attacking brilliance, with Salah again offering evidence to back up his manager’s claims that he is currently the best player in the world.
His goal owed much to Milner’s touch, but the close control and skill to make space for the shot were of the level recently witnessed to a similar end result against Manchester City and Watford.
At the other end, Griezmann was just as ruthless, with his second goal, in particular, a showcase of his intelligent movement and finishing prowess as he left Virgil van Dijk in his wake following fine work by Joao Felix.
There was a long VAR check on the former Barcelona striker’s first goal, but the officials must have decided Thomas Lemar did not obstruct Joel Matip after being offside from Koke’s initial shot.
The red card that ended Griezmann’s game was a debatable one, but his boot was certainly high and while unlikely to be intentionally dangerous it was out of control.
Scattered in among all this drama was some fine goalkeeping from Alisson, who excelled on his return to the side with a string of fine saves, albeit he also almost gifted Atletico a 3-2 lead of their own before the break with a clearance that struck Matip.
Finally, to the penalties – one is correctly given, one controversially not. Hermoso can have no complaints about the decision to punish his clumsy foul on Jota, but the Liverpool forward’s light but a similar challenge on Gimenez in the box at the other end could easily have cost his side.
The referee’s decision to overturn his on-field call reprieved Jota – who had been caught on the wrong side from a free-kick – and helped Liverpool secure a victory that takes them to the brink of the knockout stages of Europe’s elite club competition.