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Tales of the UNEXPECTED; SENSE OF THE UNKNOWN CAN AID LIVERPOOL.

Byline: IAN DOYLE Chief LFC Writer ian.doyle@reachplc.com @IANDOYLESPORT analysis

UST what are Liverpool? JIt's a question worth asking as the Reds regroup having seen their Champions League defence put into significant peril with defeat at Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.

Diego Simeone, manager of the Spanish side, offered his two penn'orth when pondering the standing of Jurgen Klopp's European and world champions in the pantheon.

"Liverpool are different to teams we have admired," he said on Monday evening ahead of the first leg of their round of 16 tie. "This team is much more intense, more adaptable. We are facing a magnificent team, really well trained by a coach who is different and has different alternatives in his team."

Simeone isn't daft. Beneath the cartoonish histrionics on the touchline lies a canny tactical mind laced with decades of know-how and what Klopp would term football intelligence.

The Argentine appreciates the tactical variety that makes it hard to pigeon-hole Liverpool, a quality that goes some way to explaining their success during the past 18 months.

And he'll know the Reds will be a different proposition in many senses come the Anfield return on March 11.

For all the experience accrued in Europe during recent years, stepping out at the Wanda Metropolitano offered a new challenge for Liverpool.

Klopp was coming up against Simeone in a competitive game for the first time, while Atletico's rearguard is without parallel.

Rarely can a team love defending so much.

Trent Alexander-Arnold unwittingly pointed at the imminent danger - and what needs to now come - when speaking before the game.

"We've adapted as a team over the last two years especially," said the right-back. "Different teams we're coming up against, different tactics, we're able to counter it and adapt during the game and at half-time.

"We came against a similar formation in Norwich and we understand what we're going to face, it'll be very difficult."

The knowledge gained from the first leg could prove crucial. Atletico have no need to change their game-plan, but Liverpool must do something different.

Indeed, Klopp pointed to lessons already being learned during the game.

"We know much more about the team now," he said. "You have to feel the team. I like halftime because you know about the opponent.

"All the analysing you do, it has never happened against you. We know more about the opponent now and that will help us, 100%. The little details."

While the pattern of the game was influenced by the early goal from Saul Niguez, it's unlikely Atletico would have altered too much.

Liverpool may have started with their three best, in-form midfielders, but the engine room lacked the creativity and guile to break through the packed opposing ranks. Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Gini Wijnaldum between them contributed precisely no key passes, although the skipper was close to equalising with one secondhalf effort.

There's plenty of football to be played between now and the second leg.

But it's evident a midfield tweak - whether that's Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Takumi Minamino or a shift to 4-2-3-1 - will be required.

Inevitably comparisons will be made with how Liverpool's last defence of the Champions League ended, beaten 3-0 on aggregate by Benfica in 2006 in the round of 16 after losing the first leg 1-0 at the Estadio da Luz.

Since then, the Reds have lost an away first leg 1-0 on five occasions. Three times they progressed - against Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final in 2007, Lille in the Europa League in 2010 and Villarreal in the same competition in 2016 --but were eliminated by Braga in the secondary tournament in 2011 and, of course, Atletico in the previous year's semi-final.

"I am looking forward to it," said matchwinner Saul Niguez when asked about the prospect of playing at Anfield in the second leg.

"Fernando (Torres) always says it's amazing. I've never been. It will be special."

LIVE the " That sense of the unknown - and the difficulty in truly pinning down this Liverpool team - could work in their favour when Atletico attempt to finish what they've started next month

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CAPTION(S):

Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who came on as a substitute in Madrid, may be handed a starting role to provide creativity in the second leg at Anfield NICK POTTS
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:IAN DOYLE Chief LFC Writer ian.doyle@reachplc.com @IANDOYLESPORT analysis
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUSP
Date:Feb 20, 2020
Words:714
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