Comment and Analysis @psmithXI
Liverpool knocked out of Champions League: Jan Oblak stars as Adrian error proves costly
At one end Jan Oblak repeatedly denied Liverpool. At the other, a decisive mistake by Adrian proved costly...
Last Updated: 12/03/20 2:13pm
Liverpool versus Atletico Madrid - it was a clash of styles, a clash of systems and a clash of attitudes for how the game should be played.
But amid these wider, contrasting ideas on football, practised by managers Jurgen Klopp and Diego Simeone, it was the individual performances of the two goalkeepers at Anfield on Wednesday night which had a huge impact on the outcome.
At one end, Atletico's Jan Oblak underlined his reputation as one of the world's premier shot-stoppers. At the other, Adrian simply highlighted how much Liverpool miss Alisson when he's not there.
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Yes, Oblak was beaten by Gini Wijnaldum's first-half header and he could do little to keep out Roberto Firmino's close-range follow-up finish in extra-time. But he also made nine saves on the night.
There was the full-length stop to push away Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's drive across the greasy, rain-soaked surface. There were the point-blank reaction saves to deny Wijnaldum and Firmino. And there was the agile block to keep out a low shot from Sadio Mane.
"Oblak made some great saves," said a rueful Jordan Henderson after the final whistle. He kept Atletico in contention - and in extra-time, they were able to capitalise with the help of a goalkeeping error from Adrian.
Just 167 seconds after Firmino looked to have sent Liverpool into the quarter-finals, Adrian skewed a pass straight to Joao Felix who teed up Marcos Llorente to score from distance. Adrian, who had slipped as he prepared to dive to make the save, could only paw mud off his studs as the Atletico players celebrated wildly with the tie turned on its head.
Liverpool have been badly stung by 'keeper mistakes in this competition before. Those errors from Lauris Karius in the 2018 final won't be forgotten. And perhaps that context encourages the observer to look for further Adrian faults in Atletico's second and third goals.
Was Adrian partially unsighted or poorly positioned for Llorente's second low, long-range strike? Should he have rushed closer towards Alvaro Morata to cut down the angle when he was beaten at his near post for the third?
The extent of Adrian's contribution will be discussed in the days to come - and with injured Alisson out of Monday's Merseyside derby, too, the spotlight will stay on Liverpool's back-up keeper.
But Atletico Madrid - set up to defend in their pragmatic and rigid 4-4-2 by Simeone - didn't have a single shot on target in the first half and only managed six in the whole 120 minutes. Yet they found the net three times.
"We saw all the goals we conceded, we shouldn't concede these kind of goals," Klopp said afterwards. "Any mistake or lapse in concentration can cost you," added Henderson, with his mind clearly on that misplaced pass for Atletico's vital first.
Later, in his press conference, Klopp was insistent in his defence of his goalkeeper. "We don't blame him for a second. He has saved us in so many moments since he has been here. He has had super performances. This goal didn't help but that's how it is.
"It had an impact but it was one goal. We conceded two more goals after that. We didn't score the goals. There were plenty of reasons why we didn't go through."
Indeed, any error from a goalkeeper stands out far more than mistakes made by team-mates further up the pitch. But while Liverpool's finishing could have been more efficient, the quality of their performance against one of the best defensive teams in the world was of the highest level.
And Alisson's absence only adds a feeling of 'what if' to this frustrating exit.
"Liverpool have put an awful lot into that performance and it was a very good performance," said former Liverpool midfielder Neil Mellor on Sky Sports News. "They created chance after chance. Oblak is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and he showed that tonight.
"The best goalkeeper in the world was missing for Liverpool and they missed him tonight. I think that was the big difference. Liverpool were missing Alisson. If he was in goal, would Liverpool have progressed?"
It is a question which can never be answered and one which might rankle with Liverpool supporters in the weeks to come.