Atletico Madrid defeated Liverpool 1-0 on Tuesday evening. It was the latest example of the problem Liverpool have with 4-4-2.
Things couldn’t really have gone worse for the Reds. They’ll have wanted a tight, fairly routine away game against a side that struggles to score goals.
Instead, Liverpool conceded early, utterly ruining their plans. Diego Simeone’s side then sat back almost immediately, prepared to soak up the pressure for 90 minutes.
And that’s exactly what they did. Liverpool created next to no clear-cut chances and Atletico saw things out.
They did that by dropping into their own half and playing with three lines in a 4-4-2. Compact enough to outnumber Liverpool’s midfield but with the wide players to stifle the full-backs.
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It troubled Liverpool badly – and this isn’t the first time.
Liverpool had problems in the group stage against Napoli who played exactly the same way. Liverpool’s first-team have only lost twice this season now – both times to 4-4-2.
They also couldn’t defeat Napoli at home, either. In fact, Carlo Ancelotti outright said after one of those games that the 4-4-2 was the way to stop Liverpool.
“We changed the players, but not the basic structure of the team. Di Lorenzo played wide on the left when we had the ball, then got back to help the midfield in a 4-4-2 when defending,” he said after their 1-1 draw in November (per Football Italia).
“Liverpool have enormous quality, but they become more controllable when they are forced to play within reduced spaces.”
And the defeat in Madrid suggests he’s absolutely right.
The problem now is that Atletico will play the exact same way in the return leg. They’ll know that Liverpool will need two goals and fancy their chances of shutting them out.
That gives Jurgen Klopp just a few weeks to finally solve this problem.