Liverpool analysis after the 5-2 defeat against Real Madrid in the Champions League last-16 tie at Anfield
Klopp concerns made clear
Jurgen Klopp got straight to the point when asked to assess what had just happened.
“Everything was pretty obvious,” said the Liverpool boss. “We gave all five goals away.”
He wasn’t wrong. And the defensive issues that have dogged Liverpool throughout this infuriating campaign were graphically exposed like never before by the ruthlessness of the Real attack.
Joe Gomez in particular had a night to forget even before departing with a suspected hamstring problem, at the scene of the crime too many times than was comfortable even if unfortunate to deflect home Karim Benzema’s shot for the visitors’ fourth.
And he would surely have expected Alisson Becker – Liverpool’s player of the season – to properly deal with his backpass rather than clear against Vinicius Jr and into the net for Real’s game-defining equaliser.
But the concerns at the back were best encapsulated with the visitors’ third, the slack marking that has too often been a root cause of Liverpool’s defensive issues this season. Even Virgil van Dijk, impressive at Newcastle United at the weekend, was nowhere near his level.
A further problem was unintentionally highlighted by Real boss Carlo Ancelotti when he explained the “uncomplicated way in the second half” his team went about their business.
Liverpool were shellshocked, of course. But the lack of belief and confidence in a second-half revival was arguably the most alarming aspect of the evening. Where was the fight?
Bajcetic given lesson
The contrast couldn’t have been more stark. In one midfield was Stefan Bajcetic, the 18-year-old making his first Champions League start having made a genuine breakthrough into the Liverpool first team last month.
And in opposition was Luka Modric, the 37-year-old who has won more European Cups than all bar four teams, let alone individual players.
Bajcetic became the youngest-ever player to feature for Liverpool in the Champions League knockout stages – taking the record from Harvey Elliott – with his performances having already attracted the attention of the Spanish national team.
Like Liverpool, he started strongly with his high pressure helping initiate the move for the opener. His tackles snapped, his passes found their mark.
But as the game progressed, so became clear his inexperience up against the seasoned campaigners, this sight of the veteran Modric running away from a tiring Bajcetic to help set up Karim Benzema for Real Madrid’s fifth encapsulating how momentum had shifted inexorably towards the Spaniards.
Bajcetic, though, is just getting started. He can expect many more nights like this – and hopefully much better outcomes.
Salah sparkles as era comes to end
As he prodded the ball home having been gifted it by Thibaut Courtois, Mohamed Salah would have been forgiven for having just one thought.
Why didn’t the Real Madrid goalkeeper do that in Paris in May?
Readily accepting the gift having harassed the Belgian into his mistake took Salah ahead of Steven Gerrard as Liverpool’s leading all-time scorer in European competition with 42 goals.
It was deserved reward for a first-half performance in which he was the Reds’ outstanding performer, having assisted Darwin Nunez’s outrageously-taken opener and driven the Real defence to distraction. That the second half was a different story wasn’t the fault of the hard-working Egyptian.
So continues the Real curse over Liverpool, this the sixth time in the last seven meetings they have beaten the Reds.
And if it hadn’t already been evident during the previous six months, the era of Klopp’s first great team is now over. Liverpool are in a period of change – and nobody said it wasn’t going to be painful.