Liverpool 2-1 Ludogorets: Gerrard grabs last-gasp winner after scare

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Captain Steven Gerrard scored a winning penalty kick in injury time as Liverpool won 2-1 against Ludogorets Razgard on Tuesday, but the Bulgarian minnows gave the Premier League giants one heck of a shock.

Mario Balotelli gave a laboring Liverpool side the lead in the 82nd minute (his first goal for the Reds) but then disaster struck as Ablo Paulos equalized in the 90th minute as Anfield was stunned. However, in the 92nd minute Ludogorets ‘keepers Borjan brought down Javier Manquillo in the box and Gerrard stepped up to make it 2-1 as Liverpool won their first UEFA Champions League game since 2010.

A win is a win, but Liverpool left it late in a dramatic finale at Anfield.

[RELATED: Latest Champions League news]

Liverpool had all the possession early on and came close to taking the lead in the 21st minute when Mario Balotelli turned beautifully on the edge of the box and forced a block. The ball then fell to Adam Lallana whose shot was saved and then Balotelli was caught offside with the rebound.

The famous Anfield roar was then heard as Balotelli sparked the crowd into life. A surging break down the left saw Philippe Coutinho playi n Jordan Henderson who teed up Lallana but the England man couldn’t get the ball out of his feet and the chance was gone. From the resulting corner Dejan Lovren headed over as Liverpool pressed for the opener but Ludogorets hung on until half time with the score locked at 0-0.

[ANALYSIS: Should Liverpool’s fans be worried?]

After the break Henderson played in Manquillo but the Spaniard lobbed the ball over the net when a deft touch was all that was needed. Moments later Ludogorets forced Simon Mignolet into a fine save as the Bulgarian minnows threatened.

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Balotelli scored his first goal for Liverpool.

In the final 30 minutes Liverpool cranked things up several notches and bombarded the Ludogorets goal with Lallana, Sterling and Balotelli at times getting in each others way.

[RELATED: Real Madrid score 1000th European goal]

Ludogorets were still a threat on the break as Bezjak fired an effort just over the crossbar after reacting first to a quick throw-in. Brendan Rodgers then made two subs to try and change the home sides fortune as Fabio Borini and Lucas Leiva came on for the final 20 minutes. Borini almost scored with his first touch as Manquillo crossed from the right and the Italian attacker headed towards goal but Borjan (who joined Ludogorets on an emergency loan for this game) tipped it over.

Disaster almost struck for the home side in the 72nd minute as Ludogoets were close to going ahead. Slovenian striker Bezjak was set clean through and hit the post then the rebound fell to Minev but he hammered the ball wide. A real let off for Liverpool. Henderson then went close for Liverpool as Alberto Moreno clipped a great ball into the new vice-captain but the midfielder glanced his header just wide of the far post.

Balotelli then volleyed home to give Liverpool the lead in the 82nd minute but as the clock ticked to 90 minutes, Ludogorets sub Paulos latched onto a through ball and rounded Migolet to slot home the equalizer. However, there was to be another late twist in the tale as Manquillo was scythed down by Borjan for the penalty kick and Gerrard slotted the PK home to seal victory for the five-time UCL champions.


Liverpool: Mignolet, Manquillo, Moreno, Lovren, Sakho, Gerrard, Henderson, Coutinho (Lucas, 67′), Sterling, Lallana (Borini, 67′), Balotelli.

Goals: Balotelli (82′), Gerrard (90+2′)

Ludogorets: Borjan, Junior Caicara, Moti, Aleksandar Aleksandrov, Minev, Mihail Aleksandrov, Dyakov (Fonseca, 85′), Abel, Misidjan (Paulos, 73′), Marcelinho, Bezjak (Hamza, 86′)

Goal: Paulos (90′)

Champions League preview: Spurs host Leipzig, Valencia visits Atalanta

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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties kickoff Wednesday, including one being labeled as the biggest in a club’s existence.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

That would be Serie A side Atalanta, which hosts Valencia at 3 p.m. at Gewiss Stadium.

Atalanta had played in two consecutive Europa Leagues, but this is their first move into the Champions League. To make the knockout rounds is exceptional, and club president Antonio Percassi is fired up.

“We must be honest, this is the most important game in the history of this club,” Percassi told Sky Sport Italia. “It doesn’t seem real. It’s exciting just thinking that tomorrow we’ll be in a Champions League Round of 16. It’s wonderful for our fans too. … This is going to be a unique experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.”

Atalanta finished second in its group to Manchester City, and is fourth in Serie A. Valencia won its group.

There’s a Premier League side in action on Wednesday, too, as Spurs begin life without Heung-Min Son.

Jose Mourinho spun a tale about how badly Tottenham will need its fans against RB Leipzig, comparing the home-field advantage to an emergency rescue crew of sorts.

Leipzig is led by Julian Nagelsmann, who was once referred to as “Baby Mourinho” by his players.

The 32-year-old was quick to distance himself from the story.

“Tomorrow it is Leipzig against Tottenham, not Mourinho v. Baby Mourinho,” he said. “I have great respect for Mourinho. He has won lots of titles with big clubs, the Champions League twice. He has made his mark on European football at some big European clubs. I think it his 59th knockout game in the CL and it is my first so there is obviously respect there.”

Liverpool’s Robertson not a fan of Atletico Madrid theatrics

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Liverpool fullback Andy Robertson was not impressed with Atletico Madrid’s display as his side fell 1-0 in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Reds fell behind on a fourth-minute Saul Niguez goal and couldn’t get a shot on target despite 73 percent possession in Spain.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Atleti executed its plan to near-perfection, slowing restarts and taking advantage of counterattacking opportunities to assuage the constant pressure of Liverpool.

At times it was reminiscent of early-century Italian national team play, and both neutrals and Liverpool knew what they were in for once Atleti took the lead.

“We gave them the best possible start to get the fans behind them and then they can start falling over and things like that, trying to get under our skin a bit which I think we handled quite well to be honest,” Robertson told BT Sport. “We know we are better than (how they played). We put in a decent performance and we can be better than that. Luckily we have got a second leg to put it right.”

Given the performance and the reputation, you’d still fancy the Reds to “put it right” at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp thinks Atleti will feel plenty of pressure at Anfield, and he will certainly feel the officiating will be more to his liking.

Liverpool’s Klopp: ‘Our people will be ready’ for second leg at Anfield

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Jurgen Klopp didn’t have any issue with Diego Simeone’s defense-first Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Spanish side flummoxed Liverpool’s attack and the Reds didn’t manage a shot on target despite eight attempts and 73 percent possession at the Wanda Metropolitano.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

What Klopp didn’t appreciate was the referee’s work, though, implying that Polish official Szymon Marciniak was overwhelmed by the occasion. Marciniak has worked UCL matches for six seasons, twice overseeing quarterfinal ties.

Klopp was shown a yellow card in the second half, and the Liverpool boss felt Sadio Mane was harassed by Atleti. Klopp removed yellow-carrying Mane at halftime.

“He was targeted obviously,” Klopp said after the game. “The only thing they wanted was to make sure he got a yellow card. The score is 1-0, that’s all but you need to be really strong as a ref in this atmosphere. So many things happened, after 30 minutes already three players were on the ground. The first yellow card was a striker from us. I’m not sure they even got a yellow card, which is funny.”

Atleti’s Angel Correa was shown a yellow, while Klopp, Mane, and Joe Gomez were cautioned for Liverpool.

The Liverpool boss found himself laughing a few times, especially when he was asked about Simeone’s touchline personality.

Klopp said before the game that if the German was a four in intensity, then Simeone was a 12. Simeone followed suit by constantly urging the crowd to get behind the home side on Tuesday.

That didn’t bother Klopp, but he issued a public relations officer’s dream in reacting to it.

“Wow, wow,” he laughed. “That’s energy. I don’t think I have to do it that much (at Anfield). Our people will be ready. Welcome to Anfield. It’s not over yet.”

Klopp finished his remarks by saying of Jordan Henderson‘s removal from the game with a hamstring injury, “I hope it was a precaution, but I’m not 100 percent sure”

Haaland wins first leg after Borussia Dortmund-PSG comes to life late

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Erling Haaland scored twice in a mid-second half flurry as Borussia Dortmund beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The hosts also got an assist from teenager Giovanni Reyna, who became the youngest American to appear in a Champions League match.

Haaland now has 39 goals in 29 appearances between Red Bull Salzburg and BVB, 11 of those for his new German employer.

Neymar scored off a Kylian Mbappe goal for PSG, who brings an away goal back to the Parc des Princes for a March 11 second leg.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Neymar had an early free kick, missing just wide of the far post.

Jadon Sancho troubled the keeper twice in the first half hour, first with a cross that Mats Hummels headed over goal. Then, Keylor Navas picked another Sancho offering out of the air.

Sancho kept serving, and Erling Haaland couldn’t turn a promising cross on target.

Dortmund walked into halftime with a scoreless match but a 7-2 edge in shot attempts. Neither of PSG’s shots were on target.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre put in American teen Giovani Reyna in the 67th minute.

Two minutes later, it was 1-0 to the hosts through Haaland’s close-range goal.

Neymar replied from close range himself after a powerful, clever dribble from Kylian Mbappe led to a pass through the box.

But Haaland got his second in the 77th minute with a scorching shot that serves as the first senior assist of Reyna’s senior career with Dortmund (Watch it here).