The highly anticipated repeat of the 2018 Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid ended in embarrassment for one team and a deserved win for the other.
This game was supposed to be Liverpool’s redemption after a terrible run of games that led them to not only give up on retaining the Premier League title, but the possibility of not qualifying for the Champion League next season after losing 3-1 in the first leg of the quarter-finals.
Contrastingly, recent success for Real Madrid brought them 3 points behind the La Liga leaders with El Classico on the weekend.
The game began with Liverpool playing Naby Keita in midfield and Diego Jota starting upfront with Thiago and Roberto Firmino benched.
For Real Madrid, Raphaël Varane was ruled out due to Covid-19 and their captain, Sergio Ramos, side-lined because of injury.
There was a sense of optimism for Liverpool fans with the slight possibility of reaching the finals in Istanbul, but Liverpool’s performance diminished any hope of earning the club’s 7th Champions League trophy.
In the first five minutes, Liverpool gave away sloppy passes and could not hold onto the ball for long. Real Madrid set the tempo and played with confidence and swagger.
By the 12th minute, the worrying signs were there with Liverpool’s right back, Trent Alexander-Arnold getting beaten by Mendy, then placing a cross for Vinicius Júnior to header the ball just wide.
Once again, in the 25th minute, a poor pass in midfield allowed Karim Benzema to have a chance at goal but was halted by Liverpool’s defender Ozan Kabak. However, the high line and poor pressing allowed Toni Kroos to deliver a long pass, in between Alexander Arnold and Nat Philips, for Vinicius Júnior to score in the 27th minute.
The game plan for Real Madrid was obvious, take advantage of the space left behind by Liverpool’s fullback as well as their high line. Poor pressing from the Liverpool’s midfield was also a factor.
As a result, Real Madrid was awarded a second goal when Alexander-Arnold’s attempt to head the ball back to the goalkeeper was intercepted by Marco Asensio and brilliantly score in the 36th minute.
Something needed to change for Liverpool so a couple of minutes before halftime, Keita was subbed off for Thiago; not because of injury, but Klopp wanted more energy in the midfield which, Keita did not show.
The half ended with Liverpool not even making a single attempt at goal even though Real Madrid’s goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, kept one clean sheet in 9 games for club and county. At this point, I gave up on any chance of Liverpool turning the game around, but I was almost proven wrong when the second half commenced.
Liverpool came out in the second half with a bit more determination when Georginio Wijnaldum carried the ball forward and passed it through for Diogo Jota to assist Mohamed Salah, halving the deficit in the 51st minute.
There were signs of self-belief rising amongst the Liverpool players but that was short-lived when Liverpool, once again, conceded in the 65th minute when Alexander-Arnold intercepted a simple pass from Asensio to Vinicius Junior to be in front of a defenceless goalkeeper.
Instead of giving away a corner, Alexander-Arnold cleared the ball for a throw on. Lack of concentration allowed Luka Modric to pass the ball through Nat Phillips’ legs for Vinicius to score a brace in the 65th minute.
Alisson could have done better with the third goal but the game and possibly the tie ended by the 65th minute with Liverpool failing to make the opposition’s goalkeeper work in the last 25 minutes.
The away goal may come into play in the second leg, but the way Liverpool played was just embarrassing and pathetic, especially in the first 45 minutes.
Most likely, many Liverpool fans will be reminiscent of the 3-0 first leg comeback against Barcelona two seasons ago. However, in both games, Liverpool outplayed Barcelona (the difference in the first leg was Lionel Messi).
While many Liverpool fans will stay optimistic for the reverse fixture, Liverpool’s terrible home form and lack of fans make it seem like Real’s progression to the semi-finals is guaranteed.
Source of Image: UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE via Twitter