Imperfect Liverpool offer Atletico hope

LIVERPOOL (AFP) – Liverpool’s 2-1 victory over Bournemouth last Saturday was met with an unusual sense relief around Anfield for a side that had just clinched a 22nd consecutive home league win and moved 25 points clear at the top of the Premier League.

Such has been the Reds’ relentless run towards a first league title in 30 years that three defeats in three different competitions in four games was considered a slump in form.

A 3-0 reverse at Watford deprived Jurgen Klopp’s men the chance to match Arsenal’s “invincible” unbeaten league season and a FA Cup exit at the hands of Chelsea means they cannot replicate Manchester United’s treble of 1998/99.

However, the most damaging of the trio of defeats could still prove to be the 1-0 deficit they must overturn when Atletico Madrid travel to Anfield for the second leg of their Champions League last 16 tie today.

“It’s a long season and you see how many games we’ve played. In any sport you play it’s impossible to be at your highest level all year, year in and year out,” said James Milner, who produced a stunning goal-line clearance to secure victory against Bournemouth. “You try your best and it just doesn’t happen, and that’s when you need to find a way to win.”

When at their best, Liverpool have shown they are more than capable of second leg fightbacks at home. Most spectacularly when Barcelona were humbled 4-0 in last season’s semi-final despite holding a 3-0 first

leg lead. However, there are cracks in the English champions-elect’s armoury that Atletico can expose.

After keeping 10 clean sheets in 11 league games between early December and mid-February, Liverpool have conceded in each of their last five games.

The loss of goalkeeper Alisson Becker to a hip injury is a massive blow with his erratic understudy Adrian at fault for the opening goal against Chelsea last week.

Jordan Henderson’s presence in midfield has also been badly missed after he limped off with a hamstring injury in the first leg against Atletico and could be rushed back to face the Spaniards.