The 2019-20 Champions League fixture between Liverpool and Atletico Madrid is remembered more for the off-field COVID-19 drama that surrounded it.
Liverpool and Atletico Madrid will meet in Anfield in a must-win Champions League encounter on Tuesday (October 19). The match at the Wanda Metropolitano will undoubtedly be the focus of attention among football fans.
Yet it is hard to look at this fixture and not remember the last time these two sides met. The two legs saw both sides play some of their best football, with Atletico eventually emerging victorious.
But the match is mostly remembered for aiding the spread of the novel coronavirus. At that point, the virus was something of an unknown entity.
However, the day the match went ahead, the coronavirus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Thus, the match was played out in something of a strange backdrop. The threat of COVID was real yet Anfield was packed to the brim. It was a decision that, in retrospect, led to a loss of lives.
It’s been more than a year now since that infamous game. And with Liverpool and Atletico Madrid set to clash again this week, let us look back at a match that brought about a lot of change in the game – and society too.
The tie was slightly in favour of Atletico, although it wasn’t a massive lead that they possessed. They won the first leg at home 1-0 in a match that was typical Atletico.
However, this was the same Liverpool side that put four goals past Barcelona en route to winning the Champions League last season. A one-goal deficit was nothing in front of a packed Anfield crowd.
However, misgivings about holding the game were present. The media quizzed Jurgen Klopp about whether or not the game should even be happening. Many felt it shouldn’t be going ahead.
But this was before the UK had even begun to take the virus seriously. British PM Boris Johnson had spoken a day before the match about “taking it on the chin” and “allowing the disease, as it were, to move through the population”.
Therefore, Anfield welcomed a packed crowd – including around 3000 Atletico fans, who had travelled from Spain. This despite the fact that schools in Madrid had already been shut down.
And it wasn’t as if sport was exempt either. Football in Italy had come to a halt, as the nation were hit hard by the first wave of infections. Rugby in England too came to a close for an unspecified time.
Yet fans were in full force at Anfield. As hindsight shows, it was a decision many came to regret.
The match itself was quite the gripping affair, at least once extra time hit. Georginio Wijnaldum scored the only goal in regulation time; with the tie level at 1-1, extra time was duly upon us.
It was Liverpool who drew first blood in the additional 30 minutes. Roberto Firmino struck home in the 94th minute to give the home side the lead. However, Marcos Llorente would pull one back for the visitors merely three minutes later.
Now it was advantage Atletico. Having scored the away goal, they knew that even a draw was good enough to get them through. But they got a safety net in the additional minute of the first half in extra time.
Llorente scored once again, meaning Liverpool now had the envious task of scoring 2 goals in the space of 15 minutes in order to win the tie.
In fairness to Liverpool, they gave it their all. But the tie was well and truly put to bed mere seconds before it ended. Alvaro Morata would score the final goal, ensuring Atletico ran out 3-2 winners on the night – and 4-2 winners of the tie.
However, the major effects of the game outside the field begun to be felt the next day.
The day after the Champions League game between Liverpool and Atletico Madrid, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta tested positive for the virus. And that is when panic spread among the powers-that-be in football.
Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi also caught the virus, and subsequent Premier League matches were postponed. This would eventually give way to a full-on national lockdown and a stoppage of games. Euro 2020 was postponed, as were the Tokyo Olympics and other major sporting events.
However, the match in question also impacted the spread of the virus. A recent report looking into the UK’s handling of the pandemic made this abundantly clear.
“This approach meant that events that may have spread the virus proceeded, such as the football match between Liverpool FC and Atlético Madrid – the day the coronavirus was categorised as a pandemic by the WHO – and the Cheltenham Festival of Racing,” the report says.
“Subsequent analysis suggest that there were an additional 37 and 41 deaths respectively at local hospitals after these events.”
In short, the match going ahead in front of a full crowd led to 37 additional deaths. Not to mention a quicker spread of the virus to other parts of society.
The spread of the virus has eased off to some degree, especially in countries where vaccinations are easily available. However, the realities of the pandemic are still a part of everyday life.