Liverpool match verdict and report after the 5-2 humbling against Real Madrid in the Champions League last-16 tie at Anfield.
Having appeared as though a corner had finally been turned in their season, Liverpool instead charged head first into the white-walled dead-end that is Real Madrid.
Jurgen Klopp has probably spent much of the past few months privately believing that his best passage to next season’s Champions League was to win the competition itself for a seventh time, given his domestic struggles, but the Reds will wake up on Wednesday morning feeling that it is now in fact the Premier League that offers them the easiest route once more.
For 15 minutes, it looked as though this iteration of Real Madrid were about to be added to the long list of opposition sides who had been forced to go on bended knee by the power of Anfield on a European night. Early goals from Darwin Nunez and Mohamed Salah had this one looking like a rerun of a continental classic as Liverpool scorched out the traps and into a position of dominance.
But if there’s any collection of players who remain truly unfazed by finding themselves two goals down with over 160 minutes of a Champions League tie left to play, it is Carlo Ancelotti’s. The Spanish giants almost revel in such adversity; there’s a reason they have won this competition 14 times overall and five in the last decade.
It was something Klopp prophetically warned of in Monday’s press conference, saying: “Real don’t lose confidence in one second. They are there. You can learn from them.”
This 5-2 defeat leaves Liverpool staring down the barrel of a last-16 exit and another Champions League defeat to a team who enjoy a rare kind of stranglehold over Klopp’s Reds. Esto es Anfield…y que?
The Liverpool manager famously drowned the sorrows of 2018’s final loss to Real Madrid by singing in his kitchen with German rock band Die Toten Hosen until the small hours about the Blancos having ‘all the f******* luck’ on that infamous night in Ukraine nearly five years ago.
And Klopp may be forgiven for dusting off that ditty once more after Ancelotti’s side were the beneficiaries of two huge slices of fortune either side of half time.
It would be wrong to paint this entirely as a hard-luck story – particularly when Liverpool have conceded five goals in a European tie at home for the first ever time and Real Madrid spent large swathes of the second period playing like the holders should – but Alisson Becker was left cursing his unlucky stars for goals two and four.
Before that, it looked as though the tide was finally turning between these two storied giants of the European Cup.
Liverpool had the lead inside five minutes when Darwin Nunez impudently back-heeled home from Mohamed Salah’s low cross. It was a moment of brilliant, breathtaking arrogance from the Uruguay international. Of all the teams. Of all the stages. His 12th of the season was his most stunning yet even if it is likely to count for nothing.
Having turned in what was surely one of the finest performances of his career in Paris in last season’s final, Thibaut Courtois then picked an opportune moment to serve up a shocker against Liverpool in the Champions League. Salah made sure he punished the Belgian’s awful attempts to get Dani Carvajal’s over-hit back pass under control for 2-0 after just 14 minutes.
But having navigated their way to the 2022 final via scarcely believable comebacks against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City, Liverpool should have known Real Madrid would be far from dead and buried. And so it proved as they began a comeback that, even for them, defied logic.
The outstanding Vinicius Junior fizzed one past Alisson after 21 minutes to reduce the deficit before the Brazilian shot-stopper evened up the goalkeeper gaffes when his clearance from Joe Gomez’s bobbling back-pass hit his compatriot and bounced in.
The entire ground held its breath as Vinicius’ block seemed to take an eternity to bounce over the line. It was incredibly harsh luck for the Reds, who had largely dominated a first half that ebbed and flowed with elite-level excellence.
After the break, however, it was Madrid who went through the gears, aided by Eder Militao’s header from a poorly-defended set-piece just minutes into the second period. In the grander scheme of this dizzying night, that was perhaps the decisive incident.
Alisson was then wrong-footed by Gomez’s deflection for Karim Benzema’s effort before the Ballon d’Or holder made it five with a typically composed finish after a tiring Stefan Bajcetic was powerless to stop Luka Modric marauding through the middle.
Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino were summoned but neither could make an impact and the fact Real Madrid registered five goals from an xG of just 1.66 says it all. Only they are capable of bending the story-arch to suit them like that.
To their credit, the supporters refused to turn on the players but the sombre rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone was wailed in defiance rather than hope or expectation.
Liverpool need another Champions League miracle but even for Klopp and his famed powers of motivational oratory, this might be a bridge too far. If it isn’t, it will go down alongside anything that has preceded it.