LONDON: Liverpool, close to their irresistible best, can relax. Victory over 10-men Atletico Madrid at Anfield assured them of a stake in the Champions League knockout stages next spring and left the Spanish champions in danger of tumbling down into the Europa League.

Manager Jurgen Klopp’s men, deserving of a much larger victory than the one provided by Diogo Jota and Sadio Mane, thus equalled a 39-year-old club record of 25 games unbeaten in all competitions.

The last Anfield meeting between Liverpool and Atletico in 2020 had been notorious as a Covid-19 “super spreader” immediately before the two-month shutdown enforced by the government because of the pandemic raging across Europe. Liverpool had lost not only that match but their European crown.

This time the dangers were largely of only a football nature with Atletico in danger of Champions League elimination after having also lost 3-2 to Liverpool in the Metropolitano.

Klopp recalled Brazil midfielder Fabinho to the starting line-up as well as Joel Matip in place of Ibrahima Konate in central defence. Tsimikas started at leftback in place of Andy Robertson with Roberto Firmino on the substitutes’ bench and Jota leading the attack.

They took a decisive step towards the second round in only the 13th minute when Jota dived forward to head home a right-wing cross from Trent Alexander-Arnold. Atletico’s central defenders were caught ball-watching, mesmerised by the build-up between Mo Salah and Jordan Henderson.

Seven more minutes and Liverpool were two goals clear. Again Alexander-Arnold provided the assist with a mishit shot which fell into the path of the Mane darting through the heart of the Atletico defence.

Atletico began to lose self-control. Felipe was shown a straight red card for hacking down Mane from behind in Liverpool’s half and Dutch referee Danny Makkelie then showed yellow to Luis Suarez for dissent and yellow to Koke for a clash with Mane.

Mane, himself on a yellow card, was replaced at halftime by Firmino for his own protection. The Senegal forward thus remained level with old Liverpool icon Steven Gerrard on 21 Champions League goals.

Liverpool thought, briefly, that they had scored again in the 48th minute but Jota was a fraction offside as he collected Matip’s through pass and VAR brought a halt to his celebration. Jota then wasted a chance to score for real by misjudging a close-range header.

VAR then denied Atletico after Liverpool ‘old boy’ Suarez shot in with a deflection off Matip only for Yannick Carrasco to be ruled offside in providing the assist. Suarez was then substituted. Liverpool’s changes saw Thiago Alcantara return after injury.

The results:

Gp A: Man. City 4, Club Brugge 1; RB Leipzig 2, Paris S-G 2. Gp B: Milan 1, Porto 1; Liverpool 2, Atlético Madrid 0. Gp C: Borussia Dortmund 1, Ajax 3; Sporting 4, Besiktas 0. Gp D: Real Madrid 2, Shakhtar Donetsk 1; Sheriff 1, Internazionale 3.