Friday 24 November 2017

Blast from past Forlan returns to haunt Reds

Liverpool's Glen Johnson battles with Athletico Madrid's Simao Sabrosa during their Europa League semi-final first leg. Photo: Getty Images
Liverpool's Glen Johnson battles with Athletico Madrid's Simao Sabrosa during their Europa League semi-final first leg. Photo: Getty Images

Europa League semi-final 1st leg

IT HAD to be him. The conspicuous absence of Fernando Torres, the prodigal son, from the epic journey to Madrid may have dominated thoughts prior to this fixture, but once Liverpool took to the field against Atletico, it was always going to be a familiar enemy who proved decisive. Diego Forlan strikes again.

Manchester United still sing about the Uruguayan with the tear-jerking effect on the men from Merseyside, of course, though the statistics are far from convincing. Before the ninth minute of this game, he had just three goals against Liverpool, and one of them came in a friendly. That he now has four will do nothing to disabuse the notion that he is the scourge of Anfield.

He will be there next week, of course, on the ground where he once struck twice, the one highlight of an otherwise anodyne Old Trafford career. Rafael Benitez always insisted this tie would not be decided in the Spanish capital. Psychologically, though, this may have been a killer blow.

This was always going to be a fixture defined by absent friends. In this campaign of emotional homecomings, in which fate decreed that Jose Mourinho would stride the touchline at Stamford Bridge and David Beckham would be granted a valedictory parade at Old Trafford, it is typical of Fernando Torres's luck over the last two years that it would be the Spanish striker who missed out.

Torres grew up here, a devout member of la bendita aficion - the blessed fans - wearing the club's No?9 shirt, bearing the hopes of a club which wears its hopelessness as a badge of honour. When Liverpool travelled here in the Champions League last season, he was injured too. That he seems destined never to return in rival colours perhaps only serves to bond him to his fellow fans.

Atletico, too, were missing their talisman, the coltish Argentine forward Sergio Aguero, though his suspension will expire in time for the second leg at Anfield in six days' time.

That it was his replacement, Jose Manuel Jurado, who created the opener, though, suggests the hosts did not miss their standard-bearer quite as much as Liverpool did their standard-maintainer.

Just nine minutes in, it was the 23 year-old who exchanged passes with Forlan, scampering down the left edge of Liverpool's box and producing a cross which eluded Sotirios Kyrgiakos and picked out the Uruguayan, unmarked, on the edge of the six-yard box.

Though Pepe Reina saved his first attempt, the ball fortuitously returned to his feet for the striker to prod home, the despairing Jamie Carragher following his shot into the net.

Liverpool should be inured to misfortune by now -- it took Benítez's side 24 hours to travel here because of a volcano thousands of miles away, after all - but such an early blow seemed to fray the visitors' nerves. Steven Gerrard and Javier Mascherano almost immediately misplaced simple passes as the flares flickered, the scarves twirled and the deafening noise washing down the steep stands of this imposing, ramshackle arena intensified.

Curiously, though, it was Liverpool who created the better chances. To a soundtrack of countless renditions of Atletico's club hymn -- to the tune of Moonlight Shadow -- Yossi Benayoun headed a Glen Johnson cross over before racing on to Dirk Kuyt's reverse pass and coolly slotting past the teenage goalkeeper David De Gea, only to see his effort ruled out, harshly or incorrectly, for offside.

Liverpool, menacing now, grew in confidence. Lucas produced a sweeping through ball to set Gerrard clear, but the England international could only find the side netting. Atletico, and the Calderon, rocked and swayed, but held firm.

Forlan, in truth, should have doubled their advantage, extended his hex, when the influential Jose Antonio Reyes picked him out with a delicately chipped pass. Springing Liverpool's offside trap, the striker could only direct a weak shot at Reina.

Reyes, at least, managed to test the Liverpool goalkeeper -- whose father, Miguel, played for Atletico -- forcing the Spanish international into a splendid reaction save with a fierce volley after Johnson's slip allowed him the freedom of the far post.

Atletico may live to regret failing to extend their lead, to bolster their cushion. Anfield awaits. The rest of Europe may fear that prospect, even now, but there is one man who almost certainly does not. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport