Real Madrid left Liverpool needing another special European night at Anfield after Vinicius Junior’s double helped them beat the Premier League champions 3-1 in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.
After a sluggish start from Jurgen Klopp’s team, Vinicius Junior capitalised to convert Toni Kroos’ exquisite long pass to give Real Madrid a deserved 27th-minute lead.
Liverpool’s night got even worse when Trent Alexander-Arnold’s poor header gifted Real Madrid a second, Marco Asensio lifting the ball over Alisson Becker and into the back of the net 11 minutes before the interval.
Klopp reacted just before half-time, hauling off Naby Keita and bringing on Thiago Alcantara, and they started the second half in much better fashion.
They were rewarded with a precious away goal though Mohamed Salah in the 51st minute, but Real had a response of their own as Vinicius (65) struck his second of the night to restore Real’s two-goal advantage and leave Liverpool with plenty of work to do ahead of next week’s second leg.
How Real brushed aside Liverpool…
Real Madrid came out of the blocks quickly and they dominated the early stages as the visitors struggled to find the rhythm that secured them a 3-0 victory at Arsenal at the weekend.
They were caught napping at the back in the 27th minute as Zidane’s team took a deserved lead.
- Real’s problems in defence, something Liverpool are more than familiar with, meant Eder Militao and Nacho were partnered together in the centre of the back four.
- Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita made only his second Champions League start of the season as one of three changes for the quarter-final first leg away to Real Madrid. Manager Jurgen Klopp opted for more legs in midfield, with Keita replacing Thiago Alcantara and Georginio Wijnaldum coming in for James Milner, and extra pace up front as the in-form Diogo Jota came in for the goal-shy Roberto Firmino.
Kroos, with no pressure on the ball, lofted an inch-perfect 50-yard pass forward which Vinicius Junior controlled on his chest before calmly beating Alisson with his second.
Real strengthened their dominance nine minutes later when a mistake from Alexander-Arnold gifted them a second.
The right-back headed another long pass from Kroos straight into the path of Asensio, who lobbed the ball over Alisson before tapping into an empty net.
Real Madrid: Courtois (7), Vazquez (6), Eder Militao (7), Nacho (7), Mendy (8), Kroos (8), Casemiro (7), Modric (8), Asensio (8), Benzema (7), Vinicius Junior (8).
Subs: Valverde (6), Rodrygo (n/a).
Liverpool: Alisson (5), Alexander-Arnold (5), Kabak (5), Phillips (6), Robertson (6), Keita (4), Fabinho (6), Wijnaldum (6), Salah (6), Jota (7), Mane (5).
Subs: Thiago (6), Firmino (n/a), Shaqiri (n/a).
Man of the match: Vinicius Junior.
Liverpool were stunned and Klopp reacted just before the break bringing on Thiago in place of Keita, but more work was needed from the German at half-time to get his side back into this contest.
But they got the start – and the away goal – they needed early in the second half with Salah blasting the ball home via the arm of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and the underside of the crossbar after Diogo Jota had driven into the penalty area.
Liverpool upped the tempo and looked most likely to score next, and but for a goal-saving challenge from Ferland Mendy with Sadio Mane ready to pounce, they would have had their second goal.
However, it was Vinicius who swung the tie back in Real’s favour with a sucker punch in the 65th minute.
Luka Modric played the ball into the path of the Brazilian, who squeezed a shot through the legs of Nat Phillips, with Alisson only able to help the ball into the corner of the net, leaving Liverpool with plenty to do if they are to reach the semi-finals.
‘Real had too much for Liverpool’
Analysis from Sky Sports’ Adam Bate:
“It was a thrilling game but Liverpool have come out on the wrong end of it.
“The makeshift defence had been a little more sure of itself in recent weeks but this examination was rather more tough and Real Madrid had too much on the night.
“Vinicius Junior was superb but the frustration is that individual errors also played their part – most notably Trent Alexander-Arnold’s misdirected header for the second goal.
“Mohamed Salah’s away goal means that the tie is far from dead and the opportunity is still there for Liverpool to progress at Anfield but they are up against it now.”
What the managers said…
Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane: “I am happy for Vinicius because what he is doing and what all the guys are doing is a great job, especially from a defensive point of view. Maybe he was missing some goalscoring with the work he is contributing to the team so to score two goals is big to provide a lot of confidence and he deserves that. I don’t know if that was his best match but two goals in the quarter-finals is important for him and the team.
“I am happy because of the football. At the beginning of the second half we had a bit of difficulty but at the end of the day we are happy with 3-1 as it was a huge effort. We have to enjoy what we did today.”
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp: “If you want to go to the semi-final, you have to earn the right to do so. We didn’t do that tonight, especially in the first half. The only good thing I can say, apart from the goal, is it’s only the first half of the tie.
“We just didn’t play good enough football to cause Real Madrid more problems.
“We made it too easy for them. These mistakes can happen. We didn’t deserve a lot more but that one goal and the second half was OK. It gives us a lifeline.”
On replacing Naby Keita in the first half: “It’s not a big story. I don’t like it. He wasn’t the only one. It was tactical. I could have done a few more changes in that moment.”
On what they need in the second half: “Intensity with the ball especially. You cannot defend the speed of Real Madrid when you give them the ball at the wrong moments. If you lose ball in the right moment it’s OK. We lost the ball, so many easy passes. You have really quick and world-class players in one on ones. We have to be better in possession.”
Man of the match – Vinicius Junior
What a night for the young Brazilian.
He was fantastic and capitalised on Liverpool’s defensive frailties as Alexander-Arnold and Phillips struggled to contain him.
Vinicius Junior was also clinical in front of goal and now, only Kylian Mbappe (18 years 113 days vs Borussia Dortmund) has scored a Champions League double at the quarter-final stage (or later) at a younger age than Vinicius (20 years 268 days).
Opta stats – Advantage Real Madrid…
- Real Madrid have progressed from 15 of their last 16 UEFA Champions League knockout matches after winning the opening leg, only failing to do so against Ajax in the 2018-19 Last 16.
- Only teams from Spain (14) have progressed from more UEFA Champions League knockout ties after losing the first leg than sides from England (12), with Liverpool the most recent English club to do so, against Barcelona in the 2018-19 semi-finals.
- In all European competition, no side has beaten Liverpool more often than Real Madrid (4, level with Benfica), with the Reds suffering defeat in each of the last four encounters with them.
- Mohamed Salah has now scored 27 goals this season, four more than he managed last season, while equalling his tally from 2018-19 – only in 2017-18 (44) did he score more for Liverpool in a single campaign.
Klopp’s side are back in action on Saturday when they host Aston Villa at Anfield, live on Sky Sports Premier League (kick-off 3pm) before the second leg next Wednesday against Real Madrid. The Spanish side face a big La Liga clash before the second leg when they host Barcelona in El Clasico on Saturday; kick-off 8pm.