LIVERPOOL 2-5 REAL MADRID: Liverpool raced into an early lead against Real Madrid at Anfield, only for the Spanish side to come back in style and claim a first-leg advantage.
Liverpool ‘s miserable run against Real Madrid continued, with the reigning Champions League winners overturning a 2-0 deficit to win comfortably at Anfield in the first leg of their last-16 tie..
Early goals from Darwin Nunez and Mohamed Salah had the hosts in dreamland, but a Vinicius Junior double meant the teams went in all-square at the break. It didn’t stay level for long, though, with Eder Militao heading home the visitors’ third and Karim Benzema joining the party with two goals of his own.
It was the first time Liverpool have ever conceded five goals at Anfield in a European tie, and has all but ended their hopes of winning the Champions League for the first time since 2019. Carlo Ancelotti’s side, meanwhile, remain on course for back-to-back triumphs.
Nunez opened the scoring for the Reds inside five minutes, delivering a sumptuous backheeled finish to beat a static Thibaut Courtois. A horrible error from Belgian goalkeeper Courtois then allowed Salah to break Steven Gerrard’s European goal record for Liverpool and double the lead on the quarter-hour mark.
A special finish from Vinicius Junior halved the deficit, though, and the Brazilian’s second – gifted to him by compatriot Alisson – brought Madrid level before half-time, and only a last-ditch intervention from Andy Robertson kept things level at 2-2.
There was a sense that the game had more goals to come, and so it proved, but Liverpool continued to be on the receiving end. Militao capitalised on lax defending and Benzema benefited from a deflection before adding his second shortly after.
1. Vinicius not letting up
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When Vinicius Junior took to the field in the 2022 Champions League final, he had a chance to show his match-winning display against Liverpool in the 2020-21 quarter-finals was no fluke. There was no such pressure to prove himself this time – this was all just to entertain himself.
While the second goal was a case of right place, right time, the Brazilian’s first was the kind few are capable of. With very little space to manoeuvre, he assessed the options of ‘power or precision’ and decided on ‘both’.
2. Keepers’ horror shows
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Thibaut Courtois made a huge impact in Paris in May, with a none-shall-pass attitude to Liverpool’s attacking onslaught. It will have been especially sweet, then, for the home side to benefit from the kind of error no keeper wants to make in any game – let alone one of this magnitude.
Messing up and gifting the ball to an opponent isn’t something you can dwell on as a goalkeeper. You just have to put it behind you and move on, and seeing your opposite number embarrassed within half an hour can help.
Back in the 2018 final, Loris Karius was the fall guy as Liverpool were beaten by Real Madrid in Kyiv. Some fans might have seen this as a case of the universe evening things out… until Alisson’s attempted pass out flicked off Vinicius Junior for the visitors’ equaliser.
3. Nunez buoyed by weekend goal
There have been a few signs this season that Darwin Nunez could become a momentum player. He started the campaign in fine form before hitting a wall with his red card against Crystal Palace, and was beginning to hit his stride again when a difficult World Cup put another roadblock in the way.
The Uruguayan hasn’t stopped giving it his all, though, and the way he took his goal against Newcastle on Sunday suggested it would be worth Liverpool doing everything within their power to ensure he was fit to start. Sure enough, he wasted little time delivering a finish which screamed confidence.
His goal against Newcastle inspired victory, though, while tonight’s did anything but. He has a chance to keep some momentum going – and put some demons to bed – when his team travels to Selhurst Park over the weekend.
4. Salah’s record in vain
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While Mohamed Salah hasn’t been able to show his best form in the Premier League this season, it has been a different story in Europe. The Egyptian’s seven group stage goal made him the joint-top scorer in the entire Champions League, and he added an eighth after Courtois’ error.
The goal also saw Salah break Steven Gerrard’s record as Liverpool’s all-time top scorer in Europe, with 42 goals. That kind of consistency, across about half as many games as the former skipper, isn’t to be sniffed at – he’d just have preferred to achieve the feat in a victory.
5. Never write off Benzema
When Vinicius struck twice in the first half, it was enough to take him past Karim Benzema as Real Madrid’s top scorer in all competitions this season. He moved two clear at the end of the first half, but the Frenchman pulled things back in the second period.
Benzema’s first goal had some good fortune about it, with the ball deflecting in off the hapless Joe Gomez. The second, however, showed the quality the evergreen striker continues to prove himself capable of.
The Ballon d’Or winner might have been quiet early on, but his impact seemed to personify Real Madrid as a whole. This is a team – and a player – who can score out of nothing. And then score again, again and again.
6. Madrid’s left-back concerns
One small worry for Real Madrid came at left-back. Ferland Mendy was already missing through injury, and they also lost David Alaba in the first half.
The Austrian international wasn’t at his best, allowing Salah too much space to lay on Liverpool’s opening goal. However, if Carlo Ancelotti is without two experienced options for too long, it could be a concern in the later rounds.
7. All on the league for Liverpool
After two domestic cup eliminations, it was clear Liverpool weren’t at the levels they showed last season as they battled for honours on four fronts. Still, when they struck twice early on, there was some hope their European campaign might be different.
It wasn’t to be, though, with the individual errors which have plagued them in other competitions playing a part in this one too and all but sealing their elimination. There is still work to do to make up ground on the Premier League’s top four, but with no other distractions the Reds can at least focus all their energies on mounting a comeback to salvage something from their season.