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Careless errors cost Liverpool two first-half goals
Salah strike gives them hope - but is it enough?
Jürgen Klopp claimed a reunion with Real Madrid would not provoke harrowing memories of his last meeting.
Sadly for the Liverpool manager, the reminders were inescapable. The date changed, the venue was different, but it was the same sobering scoreline as in the Champions League final three years ago.
Maybe the sight of those iconic white shirts sent Klopp’s players into post-traumatic stress as they reconstructed the calamitous defensive errors which gifted the Spaniards the European Cup in Kiev.
All three Real goals in their 3-1 victory were avoidable, a couple of unspectacular long balls responsible for two before half-time, then Alisson Becker allowed a routine effort to evade him in a manner more befitting of Loris Karius. Vinicius Jr's two goals allowed him to fill the Gareth Bale role, Marco Asensio striking the other.
As in 2018, Liverpool even indulged in a first half substitution, although this was tactical rather than enforced. Klopp’s enduring trust in Naby Keita proved to be as misplaced as the midfielder’s many misdirected passes.
“I could have taken many off,” admitted Klopp, underlining how dire the opening 45 minutes were.
At least Mohamed Salah ensured the echoes of 2018 did not extend to the premature curtailment of his influence. He scored what may yet prove a critical away goal. Unlike the last fixture between the clubs, Liverpool also have a week rather than a year to get this out of their system. Never mind replaying the game, Klopp would be best advised to give his players a crash course on the true meaning of revenge.
When Klopp said payback was not on his mind when Liverpool were paired with Madrid, anyone remembering his demeanour on the evening of his lowest point at the club presumed he had to be joking.
Evidently his players took those comments too literally. This quarter-final began akin to a surrender, Liverpool a shadow of the side which recently threatened a revival.
Some of the recollections to Kiev extended beyond Real’s on-field class. For all their success and grandeur, has any team in recent European history ever been so underestimated as the multi-Champions League winning Real Madrid side?
In the build-up to the Ukrainian final, there was so much focus on the pain Liverpool’s strike trio was going to inflict on a side apparently past its peak, few seemed to consider the possibility that the established superstars would put the novices in their place.
There was a similar tone of disrespect to Zidane’s injury-hit side pre-match here, if not within the Liverpool party, certainly among neutrals. Dare one say it even manifested itself in Klopp’s team selection?
Real Madrid were perceived as ageing, short of energy, and ready to be swatted aside if Liverpool moved into and stayed in fifth gear. So Klopp overlooked the claims of Thiago - a midfielder surely born for this stage of Europe - and instead favoured Keita, believing that would give his midfield the upperhand to outrun the Madrid central trio.
“I could not ignore his performances in training,” said the coach.
Neither could he ignore an abysmal 44 minutes after which Keita was hooked, Klopp with no choice but to acknowledge his selection error. Thiago belatedly appeared and the salvage operation began.
By then Liverpool were two down and lucky to still harbour hopes of a reprieve in the second half and ultimately second leg.
Real looked more savvy, experienced, and comfortable with the status of the fixture.
Zidane is also more tactically astute than he is generally credited, identifying the way to expose Liverpool’s frailties was to pass long over their high backline. Both first half goals came from that source.
Vinicius pounced upon Tony Kroos 'sdiagonal as Alexander-Arnold failed to shadow the run. The 27th-minute finish was venomous.
Alisson had not had much to do until then, but he sensed what was coming given the ease with which Madrid moved back to front.
Alexander-Arnold was culpable for the second, misdirecting a header to Asensio, who accepted the present. Liverpool’s performance to that point was shambolic.
Klopp and his backroom staff could only look on in disbelief, consoled by the fact they could not play any worse. They had barely strung a pass together for 45 minutes.
The immediate response after the break suggested every mirror in the visitors’ dressing room had been fixed with a hard stare.
It took them five more minutes to claim an away goal, Diogo Jota’s first meaningful contribution leading to a ricocheted shot falling to Salah. He was composed enough to finish. Finally, Liverpool looked like Liverpool and Real’s defence was nervous as Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson began attacking wide areas.
Jota could have equalised on 62 minutes when he instead tried to tee up Sadio Mane. But now the game was frantically end-to-end, Klopp having to calculate whether escaping with a narrow defeat was preferable to risking further punishment for an equaliser.
It is not in Klopp’s nature to hold back, and in the gung-ho atmosphere his side suffered again on 65 minute, Alisson failing to keep out Vinicius' low but stoppable drive.
Zidane then had the luxury of trying to restore order by telling his side to retreat and counter-attack. Klopp made a final attempt to restore chaos by sacrificing a centre-back and sending on Xherdan Shaqiri and Roberto Firmino. That smacked of desperation.
Now another of those memorable European Anfield comebacks is necessary. Without the Kop, this time they will have to do with 11 men.
About as poor a first-half performance I've seen from a Klopp side. Real Madrid were slickly superior, Liverpool made too many errors, their high line cruelly exposed once again by Kroos's passes and though they got one back to give them some hope, the third after more aberrant, sloppy defending, means they've got an Everest to scale next week. It's one thing doing it at a packed Anfield with all your best players, with this defence in an empty stadium against a team with such a stellar midfield, it looks like a long shot.
90+3 min RM 3 LIV 1
Rodrygo beats Alexander-Arnold and sprints into the Liverpool half after the right-back's half-hearted hack but he plays the wrong pass across to the right.
90+2 min RM 3 LIV 1
Nacho throws himself in front of Salah's shot and deflects it back upfield. That will smart. Militao then joins his partner in making another brave block.
90 min RM 3 LIV 1
Four minutes of injury time have been signalled. Salah can't get a shot on target.
89 min RM 3 LIV 1
Militao wins the header at the corner and as Real clear their lines, Alexander-Arnold shoves Valverde over. Real Madrid free-kick inside their own half.
88 min RM 3 LIV 1
Long spell of possession from Liverpool and their probing finally earns them a corner on the left. Up comes Phillips.
86 min RM 3 LIV 1
Liverpool essentially facing two banks of five as they probe 30 yards out. Just can't find the key.
85 min RM 3 LIV 1
Mane sprints down the inside left but dallies too long over a shot or pass and is block-tackled by Militao. He wants a foul.
84 min RM 3 LIV 1
Vinicius departs and is hugged by ZZ ... on comes Rodrygo.
82 min RM 3 LIV 1
A;exander-Arnold booked for dissent after disputing a foul awarded against him when he brushes Vinicius with his arm as he held him off and the two-goal man screams like a newborn and thrashes about on the floor like a freshly landed halibut.
81 min RM 3 LIV 1
Double Liverpool substitution' Shaqiri for Kabak and Firmino for Jota.
80 min RM 3 LIV 1
Real string about 50 passes together, sweeping it from left to right and only Phillips' header, tickling it at the apex of his leap, stops Valverde's cross from reaching Benzema on the volley at the back post.
78 min RM 3 LIV 1
Liverpool upping the tempo as Real Madrid try to take the sting out of the game but Casemiro and Mendy are there to thwart them then play keepball, knocking it around at pace.
75 min RM 3 LIV 1
Kroos blocks Wijnaldum's cross and then Casemiro makes another excellent tackle. There was a time around the 2018 World Cup when some of the Brazilian press wrote off Casemiro as too negative for the Selecao but he is a wonderful player.
73 min RM 3 LIV 1
Modric makes a perfectly-timed tackle on Mane 10 yards from the Real Madrid area. It's no longer as open as it was as Valverde makes it 4-4-2 since coming on for Asensio.
71 min RM 3 LIV 1
Vinicius does the unselfish thing when bombing in from the left across the D. He shaped to shoot, having dumnmied Phillips, then slips the ball a yard to his right to Benzema who scuffs a low shot too close to Alisson.
69 min RM 3 LIV 1
First Real Madrid sub: Valverde replaces Asensio. Reminder that it's five subs per team in the Champions League under emergency Covid-19 regulations.
67 min RM 3 LIV 1
Up at the Real Madrid end Mendy makes a flying interception to take the ball off Mane's toe as he shaped to volley from six yards after Jota popped a pass across goal. From the corner Liverpool over commit and when Courtois catches and quickly throws it out Real Madrid are straight in on Alisson's goal as Thiago can't keep pace with Asensio. He has Vinicius in the middle but doesn't see Alexander-Arnold haring back as he takes one touch too many and he knocks it out for a throw.
Liverpool go to sleep from a routine throw, allow Modric to dribble unmolested across the 18-yard line and pick out Vinicius. Phillips doesn't close him down and Vinicius accepts the invitation to drive a shot through his legs to score.
Real Madrid 3 Liverpool 1 (Vinicius)
63 min RM 2 LIV 1
Two excellent defensive interceptions in the space of a minute. But more of that later ...
61 min RM 2 LIV 1
Casemiro tackles Fabinho on halfway and passes out to the left. Vinicius crosses and Thiago tries to control it on his chest rather than heading it behind. Asensio raises his foot to knock it away and his second touch is a dink to Kroos who blazes over from 15 yards.
58 min RM 2 LIV 1
Lucas Vazquez drives a cross from the right over the penalty area. Benzema chases it down before it crosses the touchline, plays a one-two with Vinicius then scoots across the 18-yard line before smacking a shot towards goal that Phillips dives in bravely to block. Casemiro with the rebound is thwarted by the sheer number of Liverpool bodies between him and goal.
56 min RM 2 LIV 1
Thiago is booked for a trip on Asensio when he stuck his leg out. Asensio makes a meal of it.
54 min RM 2 LIV 1
Alexander-Arnold at his very best with a dipping. precision cross from the right. Jota leaps to meetit and thunders a header from an angle of about 45 degrees from the right post wide.
Liverpool must have has something slipped in their half-time tea. Probably Klopp's size 10 up the collective jacksie. They're far more alert.
52 min RM 2 LIV 1
Really calm finish from the right of the six-yard box after Jota's shot deflects fortunately into his path. Courtois gets a hand to the left-foot toe-poke but it hits the bottom of his wrist and goes in. VAR has a look and agrees with the referee and linesmen that he was onside.
Real Madrid 2 Liverpool 1 (Salah)
50 min RM 2 LIV 0
Lucas booked for a trip on Jota, clattering into his shin. Robertson takes the free-kick on the left and drives it into the box. Casemiro heads it out for a throw five yards from the right corner flag.
48 min RM 2 LIV 0
Thiago tries a right-to-left deep diagonal pass to get Mane in behind Lucas Vazquez but gets too much on it and the ball skips out for a goalkick.
46 min RM 2 LIV 0
Klopp is making the point about the foul 29 seconds before the ball was in their net for Real Madrid's second to the fourth official before Liverpool kick-off.
All the pundits concur that Liverpool can't be as bad in the second half and that an away goal would change everything.
Vinicius and Asensio exploit defensive lapses
Half-time RM 2 LIV 0
Liverpool end the half in a kind of chaos, Fabinho gives the ball away cheaply, they win it back, then Thiago does it too. Their defence and midfield have been ruthlessly exposed by a very slick and wily Real Madrid. All those pre-match predictions of a Liverpool revival reflect more on how awful Arsenal were at the moment. Klopp has to sort this somehow but I don't know how he will sort Kabak's shakiness after a promising start and Alexander-Arnold's habit of giving the ball away.
45 min RM 2 LIV 0
Liverpool free-kick on the right for a foul on Mane but Phillips is deemed to have fouled Casemiro when they go up for Alexander-Arnold's cross. One minute of injury time is signalled.
44 min RM 2 LIV 0
Kabak messes up a clearance after a fairly positive start and makes a gift of the ball to Asensio. Living dangerously. He underhits a routine backpass, but Asensio drives his shot miles wide of the far post.
43 min RM 2 LIV 0
Liverpool substitution; Keita is replaced by Thiago. Tactical, I think.
42 min RM 2 LIV 0
Liverpool's front three are totally isolated, Jota has barely had a kick.
40 min RM 2 LIV 0
Alexander-Arnold, AA, no longer the fourth emergency service in defence. That was a howler and there was no reason for it. Why would you head it inside from there?
38 min RM 2 LIV 0
Terrible defending again from Alexander-Arnold who decides to dive to head a Kroos missile of a long pass inside. Asensio beats Kabak and Phillips to it, takes it into the area and hooks it round Alisson. Liverpool want a free-kick for a push on Mane before Kroos launched it but the referee isn't having it and eventually books Mane for protesting.
Real Madrid 2 Liverpool 0 (Asensio)
35 min RM 1 LIV 0
Phillips misses a header when a cross comes in from the right and Benzema doesn't react in time to exploit it, blaming the floodlights.
34 min RM 1 LIV 0
Benzema flies in from the right and shifts the ball across the 18-yard line to Vinicius whose low shot is closed down by a lunging Phillips and knocked off target and out for a corner. Liverpool 's midfield is nowhere.
32 min RM 1 LIV 0
VAR is checking a challenge in the LIverpool box when Kabak and Benzema come together, the RM centre-forward inserting is legs between Kabak's who is a bit clumsy. No penalty.
30 min RM 1 LIV 0
Salah, who has swapped wings with Mane, makes his first positive run down the flank and earns a corner on the left. But there's a foul before the cross can reach its target and all the good work is undone.
28 min RM 1 LIV 0
Simple but beautiful - Kroos arrows a 50-yard pass from the right side of midfield to the left. Vinicius's control is superb with his chest/shoulder to shift it inside and fool Phillips before drilling an angled shot across and past Alisson.
Real Madrid 1 Liverpool 0 (Vinicius)
27 min RM 0 LIV 0
Some justified annoyance from Benzema, who is well placed at the back post, when his teammate makes the wrong call.
26 min RM 0 LIV 0
Excellent again from Kabak after Alexander-Arnold misplaces a pass sloppily. Benzema races through down the inside-left but Kabak stalks his stride all the way and forces him away from goal until he runs out of space.
24 min RM 0 LIV 0
Klopp spoke before the match about the importance of dribbling but it's pass, pass, pass so far and the tempo's too slow.
21 min RM 0 LIV 0
Better from Liverpool , a solid two minutes of possession inside the Real Madrid half but the defending side retreats into a bank of four and five and are very hard to penetrate. Liverpool shift it from side to side, huff and puff a bit but Modric manages to nick it back and break the siege.
19 min RM 0 LIV 0
Excellent from Kabak to use his strength and speed to stay with the very impressive Vinicius, who is hounding Liverpool down the inside-left channel. He manages to hold him off by staying touch tight and ushering him and the ball out for a goalkick. Real Madrid by far the more fluent side so far.
17 min RM 0 LIV 0
For all his problems positionally defensively, Alexander-Arnold remains a wonderful crosser of a ball and whips in a very menacing dipping cross from the right that arcs towards the back post but Lucas Vazquez reads the flight perfectly to beat Mane to it. Not seen much of Diogo Jota so far.
15 min RM 0 LIV 0
Liverpool look very vulnerable down the right of their defence and again Mendy and Vinicius combine to get the better of Alexander-Arnold before Vinicius, from a difficult angle, sweeps a right-foot shot from the left of the box around the far post.
13 min RM 0 LIV 0
Vinicius burns down the left and cuts the ball back to the D where Modric falls to the floor after a heavy first touch and after he runs into Wijnaldum. Claims for a penalty are dismissed by Herr Brych and Var - it was outside anyway and a bit of a flop.
11 min RM 0 LIV 0
Salah has a run at Mendy and finds the France left-back has enough gas to keep his lead and knock the ball back to Coutinho won shifts it upfield quickly with Vinicius and Mendy in tandem. Liverpool have to defuse the attack by conceding a corner, which they defend well.
9 min RM 0 LIV 0
Eder Militao is pressed by Mane down by the right corner flag but has enough time to knock it long. Kabak cushions it and passes across to his left. Again Real snap into a press and keep Liverpool stuck in their own half at the cost of a throw-in.
7 min RM 0 LIV 0
Fabinho is acting like a mother hen to the two centre-backs, sometimes slipping between them but always talking at them and advising. Real make it 4-5-1 when Liverpool have the ball but are pushing Modric and Kroos into an aggressive press of Keita and Wijnaldum.
5 min RM 0 LIV 0
Real move it to Asensio down the left and seize on a Keita lapse to earn a corner. Phillips wins the header and Liverpool catch Real Madrid offside when Asensio tries to hook the ball back into the box.
4 min RM 0 LIV 0
Real play it around at the back using the centre-backs and Coutinho to make angles for the full-backs but Liverpool pen them into their own third until Kroos comes back to help.
2 min RM 0 LIV 0
Keita is tackled by Casemiro, feeds the ball to Benzema in the centre. He spins Kabak and tacks to his left then thumps a left-foot daisy-cutter from 20 yards low. Alisson drps to his left to gather.
1 min RM 0 LIV 0
Real Madrid kick off. Conflicted Steve McManaman is the co-commentator. He thinks Liverpool will score goals in what should be a very open game. Hmm.
Liverpool throw on the right and they work it crossfield, too heavily and Alexander-Arnold's pass sails into touch.
Out come the teams
Liverpool in red with their horrible Nike collars. Real Madrid in white. The managers bump elbows. Unfamiliar captains - Benzema and Wijnaldum exchange pennants.
In the BT Sport studio over playing at the training complex rather than the Bernabeu. But it would be an empty Bernabeu. It really shouldn't make much difference. Less echoey and canyon-like, as Camp Nou feels when you watch Barcelona.
Jurgen Klopp speaks
Absolutely a huge match, a big, big tie. It's strange at the training ground but Real Madrid play their home games here. We have to create an atmosphere in the changing room and bring it out. Diogo fits what we want to do very well, but leaving Thiago and Bobby out was hard, too. I like this team. Real Madrid are cold as ice, they have a lot of natural quality. We have to keep them busy in departments they don't like. I couldn't avoid Naby any more after all his training performances. He brings special things. Real Madrid use man marking in defence so we need dribblers, boys who like these situations. That's Naby's job tonight. It's Champions League. It's Real Madrid. You don't need more.
Klopp is about to speak
But first ...
When I said 4-4-2 ...
I thought they might do what they did against Man City with Asensio (or Rodrygo for most of that match) tucked in on the right, with a view to containing Robertson and Mane given Lucas Vazquez is very attack-minded at right-back and a converted winger . Expert consensus suggest I'm a numpty and it will be 4-3-3 all the way
Those teams in black and white
Real Madrid Courtois; Lucas Vazquez, Militao, Nacho, Mendy; Casemiro; Modric, Kroos; Asensio, Benzema, Vinicius.
Substitutes Lunin, Marcelo, Valverde, Odriozola, Isco, Mariano, Rodrygo, Altube, Arribas, Chust.
Liverpool Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Kabak, Phillips, Robertson; Keita, Fabinho, Wijnaldum; Salah, Jota, Mane.
Substitutes Adrian, Thiago, Milner, Firmino, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jones, Tsimikas, Shaqiri, Ben Davies, Rhys Williams, Harvey Davies, Cain.
Referee Felix Brych (Germany)
Three changes for Liverpool
Real go for 4-4-2
Real Madrid have arrived
Huge contrast to the normal scenes on a Champions League knockout tie night when Paseo de la Castellana is rammed.
And welcome to live coverage of the seventh meeting between Real Madrid and Liverpool in this competition. This match between the 13-times champions and the six-times champions is their first meeting since the 2018 final, Cristiano Ronaldo's last match for Real, when an injury sustained by Mohamed Salah with more than a little help from Sergio Ramos, some epic pan-handed moments from Loris Karius and a touch of Gareth Bale genius proved decisive.
The match takes place at Estadio Alfredo Di Stéfano in Real's training complex where they have held all their home matches since emerging from the first Spain-wide Covid-19 lockdown last year. Real Madrid's centre-back pairing from 2018, Ramos and Raphael Varane, World Cup-winners in 2010 and 2018 respectively, are both out injured and it looks as if Zinedine Zidane will have to rely on Eder Militao to partner Nacho unless he decides on the back three that won 2-0 against Eibar at the weekend with Mendy tucked in on the left and Marcelo ahead of him as a left wing-back.
Real may have lost their galáctico glitz as a result of their enormous debts but they remain a very efficient side, Karim Benzema is in sensational form and they have lost only once in their last 19 league matches in their climb up to third and only three points behind Atlético at the top.
That was some twitch on the thread from Liverpool on Saturday to remind us of their enduring class. Yes, Arsenal can appear almost derelict at times but Liverpool's domination, particularly the contributions of Fabinho and Thiago in midfield, gave them the basis of a winning strategy for tonight. Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric can be difficult to contain, even at Modric's advanced years, but if Fabinho is not having to put out defensive fires, he can give the visitors the edge in midfield.
The team news comes early in the Champions League, usually 75-90 minutes before kick-off. We will confirm the line-ups as soon as they drop.