A tale of two goalkeepers as Liverpool crash out of the Champions League
In the end, it came down to two goalkeepers.
Atletico Madrid are in the Champions League quarter-finals because of theirs, and Liverpool are not.
Because theirs was injured.
- Ronaldo, Solskjaer and Man Utd respond to critics with yet another sensational comeback against Atalanta
- Lukaku and Werner injuries a blow for Chelsea but fringe players can help Tuchel cope without £150m strikeforce
- Ex-Real Madrid triallist Alvarez taking Argentina by storm as goals keep flowing for River Plate
- 'Liverpool is our religion' - Madrid a timely reminder of football's sense of community
The Reds had it in their hands. Their comeback was complete. Anfield had another European masterpiece to add to its collection. It was there for them. Number seven was still on.
And then the ball went back to Adrian and everything changed.
Attempting a first-time clearance, the Spaniard, deputising for the stricken Alisson Becker, got it horribly wrong. His scuffed kick went straight to Joao Felix, who found Marcos Llorente, the Atletico substitute.
In an instant, Liverpool’s grip on the European Cup loosened.
They had worked so hard to get into a position to reach the last eight. They deserved better than to see their dreams of retaining the trophy dashed like this. One error, one cruel twist of fate turned a famous night into a painful one.
You felt for Adrian. How could you not? No player sets out to make mistakes, especially not in such a high-stakes contest. And expecting a free transfer to be as good, and as reliable, as the world’s finest ‘keeper, is unfair.
Adrian is not Alisson, he’s his deputy. He has been an able one too, for the most part.
He looked crestfallen at the end, and no wonder. He is a good character, a popular member of the squad, and he has had some wonderful moments this season.
"We will not blame him for a second," the manager Jurgen Klopp said after. "He didn't want to do that, and he saved us in so many moments when he was there."
He's right to say that. It's never about one player when a team loses. But unfortunately, it sometimes is about one moment, and this one cost Liverpool dearly here. Adrian's duff kick killed their momentum, at a time when they had one foot in the quarter-finals. They were flying and then they fell, and they simply could not get back up. "It had a big impact," admitted Klopp.
Having clung on for so long, Atletico accepted their gift gleefully. From 2-1, they punished Liverpool. Llorente added another to all but kill the tie - could Adrian have done better there too, one wonders? - and then another substitute, Alvaro Morata, ran away in the dying seconds to rub Reds fans’ noses in it.
Somehow, it finished 4-2 to the La Liga side on aggregate.
For that, Diego Simeone could thank his own goalkeeper. Jan Oblak already has a reputation as one of the world’s best, and the Slovenian cemented it here with a one-man show.
Oblak made nine saves to keep Atletico’s heads above water, as Liverpool threatened to drown them from the off.
He repelled Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Trent Alexander-Arnold. There were times when he felt like the only thing that stood between the Reds and a cricket score. Big, calm and imposing, Oblak stood firm, time and again. "He saves game for us," said Simeone afterwards.
Liverpool beat Oblak just once in the 90 minutes, Gini Wijnaldum bouncing a header into the far corner just when it looked like Atletico would make it to half-time with their first-leg lead intact. Wijnaldum has a thing for big Champions League headers, but this one would not see his team through.
Atletico clung and they clung after the break. Oblak was terrific, and his centre-backs, Felipe and Stefan Savic, dealt well with a raft of Liverpool crosses from both flanks. Had Atletico been any deeper, they'd have been in Kirkdale.
Liverpool were relentless. Salah and Sadio Mane missed chances, Andy Robertson hit the bar. Atletico survived, just.
Their luck seemed to have run out four minutes into extra time when Wijnaldum broke down the right and crossed. Firmino’s header evaded Oblak and struck the post, falling kindly for the Brazilian to convert his first Anfield goal in almost a year.
That looked like it would be the decisive moment but then, three minutes later, the ball went back to Adrian and everything changed.
There went Liverpool’s European dream, scuffed along the floor, retrieved sharply and buried into the back of the Kop end net.
For once, Klopp’s side didn’t get what they wanted, what they needed.
They deserved to. They performed well enough to. They haven't played better than this for a while.
But when the tactica and the decisions and the shots and the tackles and the stats are looked at, when the dust settles and the heart rates return to normal, the story of this game will be clear.
Liverpool and Atletico have two of the world's best goalkeepers. Atletico's played. Liverpool's didn't.
Sometimes, just sometimes, it really is as simple as that.