Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp praised attacker Sadio Mane for his performance against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday night despite withdrawing him at half-time.
The Reds slipped to a 1-0 defeat in Madrid in the first leg of a Champions League last-16 tie, which gives Atletico a slender aggregate lead to try protect at Anfield.
Saul Niguez made the most of a rare Liverpool lapse in concentration from a corner, as he tapped in the only goal of the contest in the fourth minute.
Premier League leaders Liverpool continued to knock on the Atletico door during a game they dominated possession, but couldn’t find a way through a firm backline that defended superbly.
Klopp explained that Mane’s substitution at half-time was tactical due to his booking, but was full of praise for his actual display.
The 27-year-old attacker had picked up a yellow card and there was real pressure from Atletico players on the referee to send him off around half-time for another challenge.
“He (Mane) was targeted obviously it was clear. Sadio played a really good first-half and the only thing they wanted is to make sure he gets a yellow card,” Klopp told BT Sport 2 (10:20pm, 18 Feb).
Liverpool’s frontline couldn’t quite recapture the same dazzling form they have shown for most of this season, but it will be no surprise to see them turn it around in the second leg at Anfield.
Mane showed a few glimpses of his ability with some quick dribbles at the Atletico backline, but was taken off for teammate Divock Origi.
The Senegal international is still enjoying a superb individual season, with 16 goals and 11 assists in 33 games across all competitions.
Klopp will know that a 1-0 deficit is not the end of the world for his team and it’s going to be a completely different tie on Merseyside.