Madrid - Mohamed Salah continued his blistering run of form on Tuesday by scoring twice in a 3-2 victory over 10-man Atletico Madrid as Liverpool took charge of Group B in the Champions League.
Salah gave Liverpool the lead with another splendid goal at the Wanda Metropolitano after dancing past three Atletico defenders and firing in to make it nine consecutive games the Egyptian has scored in.
But a wild contest in Madrid had several twists and turns still to come as Naby Keita doubled the advantage only for Atletico to strike twice before half-time, Antoine Griezmann pulling his team back into the match and leaving Liverpool looking temporarily dishevelled.
Yet Griezmann was sent off in the 52nd minute for a high foot into the face of Roberto Firmino and Liverpool made Atleti pay, a clumsy challenge by Mario Hermoso on Diogo Jota giving Salah the chance to win the game from the spot.
"The dirty three points are often the most important and they were dirty tonight," said Jurgen Klopp. "That wasn’t our best football but it was an important step."
Klopp had previously been critical of Atletico's attritional style when they met last year.
"I am not the Pope of football. It's not important what I say," said Klopp.
"Some things I like, some things I don't. I have huge respect. It's been what 10 years? They are incredibly successful."
Salah becomes Liverpool's top goalscorer in the Champions League with 31 in 48 games, usurping Steven Gerrard's previous record of 30.
Even with 10 men, Atletico thought they might have snatched a draw late on as Luis Suarez, on off the bench, prepared to take a penalty against his former club with his first touch.
Instead, referee Daniel Siebert infuriated the home crowd by cancelling his decision after consulting the replay.
"When we were losing 2-0 they thought they could beat us by five or six," said Diego Simeone. "But we could have won it 3-2. It narrowly escaped us."
Liverpool move five points clear at the top of the group, with Atletico seemingly left to scrap it out with Porto for second place. They have four points each.
Between his two goals, Salah was often on the fringes yet the 29-year-old proved the difference again, adding his 11th and 12 goals of the season and showing why many now have him as favourite for the Ballon d’Or.
“Tough game as we expected.”— SuperSport 🏆 (@SuperSportTV) October 19, 2021
“On a night like this, three points are massive.”
Jurgen Klopp reflects on a tricky and dramatic clash with Atletico.#UCL
Simeone’s plan seemed to be to have Thomas Lemar doubling up with Yannick Carrasco when Salah moved into threatening positions but in the eighth minute, Salah just nipped past both of them.
He collected the ball far out on the right towards the corner flag, danced inside Carrasco, Lemar and then finally Koke before unleashing from the edge of the box, his shot deflecting off James Milner.
Estadio Metropolitano.— Liverpool FC (@LFC) October 19, 2021
Pure poetry ❤️ pic.twitter.com/U5DwSkrqDV
Atleti had barely paused for breath when Liverpool made it two, this time Felipe with some uncharacteristically limp defending, his wild clearance plopping up to Keita, who whacked it first time on the volley into the net.
Liverpool were faster, stronger and cutting through Atletico almost at will but little by little the home side resisted and found their way back.
Lemar wriggled round the back of Keita and his cross bypassed everyone in the area before landing with Koke, who did well to shoot low into the crowd, where Griezmann diverted in.
The wait for a VAR check gave Simeone a second chance to thrash his arms towards the home crowd, with Atletico believing again.
Joao Felix scuttled clear but Alisson blocked the finish and then the impressive Felix surged past Keita on the left touchline.
Prodding inside to Griezmann, the gap was not obvious, but Virgil van Dijk had his angles wrong and the Frenchman's first touch was decisive, piercing him through Liverpool’s defence and offering space for a cool finish.
Atletico had the initiative but Griezmann’s red card changed the complexion again, the striker sent off after lifting his foot high enough to connect with the side of Firmino's head, even if his eyes were fixed firmly on the ball.
They looked like they might hold on for a point until Hermoso blinked in the 76th minute, his clumsy challenge on Jota under a high ball in the area prompting Siebert to point to the spot.
Jan Oblak jumped right, Salah rolled left.