Jordan Henderson had carried the ball towards Atletico Madrid’s penalty area when, mid run, he held his arms out by his side.
Late in the second half, Liverpool’s captain was not the first person to make that gesture.
Fabinho had done it before him, so too had Mohamed Salah. It was the universal signal in football, the one when a solution is needed and time is running out.
Atletico boss Diego Simeone is typically animated on the sidelines, inspiring his side to victory
Liverpool have been so proficient in providing answers during this thrilling campaign, that Henderson’s actions struck a chord. For once, Liverpool had been set an examination that was proving beyond them and nothing they did was making a difference.
There was a reason: Diego Pablo Simeone. El Cholo, as he is known, set a trap and suddenly Liverpool’s grip on the Champions League was loosened. The team that seem to have a solution for every situation was at a loss.
Watching Diego Simeone was almost as absorbing as the game itself. He never celebrated when Saul Niguez pounced to score, the only member of his coaching staff not to greet it with outstretched arms and punching the air.
Simeone was the only member of his coaching staff not to celebrate Saul Niguez’s goal
It was the only time though that he was not a cyclone of emotion. Simeone was never still, prowling like a caged tiger before he would burst into sprints, waving his arms at his defence to keep their shape and hold the red-and-white line. Atletico are not a team to watch if you want to see football that flows seamlessly but they are engrossing and the manager, whose non-negotiable demand from his players is unyielding effort, knows his way around these contests.
He had everyone in the stadium, save for those from Merseyside, on board with his plan.
The fans created an ear-splitting din, his team was immaculately drilled and even the ball boys were on the end of his exhortations.
Jurgen Klopp was joking when he said that Simeone was ‘Level 12’ when it came to touchline emotion, marking himself down as ‘Level 4’ but, to see the two men, the claim wasn’t that outlandish.
Jordan Henderson showed his frustration as Liverpool struggled to break down the home side
Liverpool’s manager was almost passive in comparison. There was a good reason. Liverpool have swept all before them this season, their march to silverware has been spectacular but they were taken to places in this contest that they had not been for months.
This really was the most they had been tested since tussling with Flamengo in Doha during the Club World Cup final in December. The Brazilians set an exam but Atletico were a different level.
Nobody in the Premier League has a comparable style and while Liverpool dominated possession, they kept being taken down cul-de-sacs. Klopp, buried under his baseball cap, looked puzzled.
That puzzlement was around how he could find an answer.
Jurgen Klopp cut a frustrated figure on the touchline as his Liverpool attack was kept at bay
His respect for Simeone could not be higher and anyone who underestimated Atletico on the back of an underwhelming domestic campaign was naive.
‘A results machine,’ was Klopp’s chosen description of Atletico under Simeone and who could argue? Two Europa Leagues, two appearances in the Champions League final, two European Super Cups, one Spanish Cup and, of course, the La Liga title in 2014 have made them a continental superpower. Yet they are a club who, on a wider scale, continue to be underestimated. What a mistake that is.
One thing we know from this competition is that anything is possible and this was precisely the kind of occasion that was made for them. How they loved it.
Liverpool’s bid to defend their Champions League title suffered a setback on Tuesday night
Early in the second half, when Liverpool started sharply and the crowd was in a lull, Simeone took it upon himself to turn to the stand and begin flapping his arms, yelling: ‘Vamos! Vamos!’ to whip them into a frenzy.
Liverpool have been used to quietening crowds but now they were out of their comfort zone, trying to outwit players who wanted to defend as greedily as they like to do.
Liverpool might have arrived in Spain as the reigning champions but Atletico were anything but inferiors. This should be kept in mind for the return leg.
If there is one team in the competition who will not be cowed by an Anfield frenzy, it is this gang of streetfighters. If Liverpool want to get to Istanbul, they need to pull out all the stops.
Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk looks on after seeing his side concede the first goal in the tie