Liverpool’s Champions League hopes suffered a huge blow as Real Madrid roared to a 3-1 victory in the first leg of their quarter-final tie in Spain.
Jurgen Klopp’s Reds paid the price for an error-strewn display and now face an uphill battle to turn it around at Anfield next week.
Real dominated from the off and deservedly took the lead on 27 minutes when Vinicius Junior brilliantly chested down Toni Kroos’ raking ball over the top and fired a low strike past Alisson.
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It was too easy from the visitors’ perspective, but they didn’t learn their lesson and the home team doubled their advantage nine minutes before the break. Another high through ball from Kroos caused Trent Alexander-Arnold to panic and head straight to Marco Asensio, who coolly flicked it over Alisson and hooked in from close range.
The Merseysiders improved markedly after the break and Mohamed Salah grabbed an away goal on 51 minutes when he converted Diogo Jota’s deflected shot in off the bar.
However, Zinedine Zidane’s men restored their two-goal cushion past the hour when Vinicius Junior somehow squeezed a first-time shot from Luka Modric’s pass beyond Alisson.
Liverpool will now hope to rebuild their confidence when they host Aston Villa on Saturday prior to welcoming Madrid to Anfield next Wednesday. Real, of course, have the small matter of a home El Clasico ahead of the second leg on Merseyside.
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Liverpool flounder and have it all to do to keep their season alive. Liverpool may lament what looked like a foul on Sadio Mane 27 seconds before Real’s second goal, but in truth they simply weren’t good enough on the night. The Reds were naïve defensively in the first period and then again once they had grabbed the away goal. At 2-1 down they committed too many players forward in search of a leveller and Real had a number of dangerous counter attacks before claiming their third of the night.
Questions may be asked of Klopp’s team selection as he left Thiago out in favour of Naby Keita and the latter failed to impress before being hauled off on 42 minutes. Liverpool improved with Thiago in the midfield, but most of the damage had been done.
Few players in a red shirt will come away with much credit and there will no doubt be murmurs of concern regarding Alexander Arnold’s defensive work. He has been the subject of much debate after being left out of the most recent England squad and his error in this high-profile match will only have his doubters pointing to the calibre of Real’s attack as to why Gareth Southgate may have reservations about taking him to the Euros.
Liverpool are not dead in this tie, but have a huge mountain to climb at Anfield and don’t have the famous 12th man that makes it such a fortress on a European night to help them in their bid to make the last four. Real are 12 games unbeaten and will be very confident of progressing now.
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MAN OF THE MATCH
Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid). The 20-year-old Brazilian was a real livewire. His pace was a constant concern for Liverpool’s backline and he capped a hungry display with a fine brace.
REAL MADRID: Courtois 6, Vazquez 7, Militao 8, Nacho 7, Mendy 8, Casemiro 8, Modric 8, Kroos 8, Asensio 8, Vinicius 9, Benzema 8. Subs: Valverde 6, Rodrygo n/a.
LIVERPOOL: Alisson 5, Alexander-Arnold 5, Phillips 5, Kabak 5, Robertson 6, Fabinho 6, Wijnaldum 6, Keita 4, Salah 7, Jota 7, Mane 5. Subs: Thiago 7, Firmino 5, Shaqiri 5.
27’ - GOAL! – Real Madrid 1-0 Liverpool. Vinicius Jnr races on to a lovely pass over the top from Kroos and rifles a low shot beyond Alisson.
36’ - GOAL! – Real Madrid 2-0 Liverpool. The Reds are their own worst enemy once more. TAA heads another Kroos ball over the top straight to Marco Asensio, who evades Alisson and gleefully tucks home.
51’ - GOAL! – Real Madrid 2-1 Liverpool. Salah fires in off the crossbar after Jota had shimmied past his man and hit a shot against Modric that fell kindly for the Egyptian.
65’ - GOAL! – Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool. It's three! Vinicius guides a first-time shot through Phillips' legs and beyond Alisson from Modric's pass from the right.
Asensio has now scored in four straight matches for Real Madrid in all competitions, managing as many goals over this period (4) as he did across his previous 41 matches.
Since Mohamed Salah made his debut for Liverpool, only Cristiano Ronaldo (140), Lionel Messi (156) and Robert Lewandowski (177) have scored more goals than the Egyptian (121) across all competitions within the top five European leagues.
Only Kylian Mbappé in April 2017 (18 v Borussia Dortmund) has scored a Champions League brace in the quarter-finals or later at a younger age than Vinícius Júnior (20y 268d).
Modric is the oldest player (35y 209d) to assist in three consecutive Champions League games since Ryan Giggs for Manchester United in April 2011, who did so aged 37.
Across all European competitions, no side have beaten Liverpool more often than Real Madrid (4, level with Benfica), with the Reds suffering defeat in each of their last four encounters with los Blancos.
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