Real Madrid have a commanding advantage heading into the second leg with Liverpool after registering a 3-1 victory over the Reds in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.
Los Blancos were by far the superior team in the opening 45 minutes and surged to a deserved 2-0 lead thanks to Vinicius Junior’s stunning opener and Marco Asensio’s poacher’s strike.
Vinicius took Toni Kroos’ long ball down on his chest and finished crisply beyond Alisson in the 27th minute, before Asensio pounced on Trent Alexander-Arnold’s error to double his side’s advantage.
But Liverpool emerged for the second half with the intent they failed to show in the first 45 minutes and Mohamed Salah scored an important away goal after excellent work from Georginio Wijnaldum and Diogo Jota.
That proved to be the Reds’ only shot on target in the entire match, however, and Real Madrid restored their two-goal cushion as Vinicius grabbed his second in the 65th minute, punishing yet more lacklustre Liverpool defending.
The result leaves Liverpool requiring another famous European comeback to reach the Champions League semi-finals.
Here are five talking points from the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.
1. Vini Jr caps early Real Madrid dominance
It was a goal befitting an encounter between two European giants.
Vinicius Junior gave the hosts a lead in the 27th minute, taking down a long ball by Toni Kroos on his chest and finishing into the bottom corner.
The goal was drenched in quality from Kroos’ sublime clipped pass to Vinicius’ deft first touch to take the ball away from Nat Phillips, which he capped with a composed finish beyond Alisson.
Though the opener came from a long pass, Liverpool could have no complaints over finding themselves behind, as Real Madrid dominated the early stages.
Los Blancos had the lion’s share of the chances in the first half-hour, with Karim Benzema setting the tone by forcing a save out of Alisson in the opening minutes.
With 24 goals to his name this season, the Frenchman was undoubtedly the player Liverpool will have prepared to keep quiet in the build-up to the match.
But the players either side of him – Vinicius and Marco Asensio – each produced one of their finest performances of the season, stepping up when Zinedine Zidane needed them.
2. Asensio punishes Alexander-Arnold
Toni Kroos created Real Madrid’s opener with a pinpoint-accurate pass; His side’s second goal came about from a moment of madness.
Trent Alexander-Arnold inexplicably nodded a diagonal pass across the defence, playing Marco Asensio through on goal.
The Spaniard made his finish look spectacular by lifting the ball over Alisson and tapping in at the second time of asking, but in truth Alexander-Arnold handed him the opportunity on a silver platter.
He may have impressed in the 3-0 win at Arsenal last weekend, but a costly error will do little to improve Alexander-Arnold’s hopes of featuring for England at this summer’s Euros.
That will not matter to him now, however, as the 22-year-old must focus on restoring his confidence in time for the second leg.
3. Klopp’s ruthless intervention
Such was his side’s dismal display, Jurgen Klopp did not even wait until half-time to change things up.
Naby Keita made way for Thiago with just 42 minutes on the clock as the Liverpool boss desperately searched for control and composure in midfield.
Before kick-off, Klopp cited the need for a dribbler and fresh legs as he explained the decision to start Keita over Thiago.
But the bold call backfired and but for a dazzling burst midway through the first half, Keita was largely a passenger as Real Madrid played their way through or over their visitors’ midfield.
That’s not to single the Guinean out; Liverpool were poor from back to front in the first half and no player in Red could claim to have had a good 45 minutes.
4. Salah on mark for momentarily rejuvenated Reds
What did Jurgen Klopp say to his players at half-time? Whatever words of wisdom the German had for his stars, they worked.
Liverpool had been outplayed and outmuscled in the first half, but they emerged from the tunnel to go again with a new spring in their step.
The Reds began to find holes between the Real Madrid lines which hadn’t been there in the first 45 minutes, and this proved vital as Mohamed Salah found the back of the net six minutes into the second half.
Georginio Wijnaldum – wearing the armband on the night – played a key role in the build-up with a darting run from midfield before Diogo Jota created space for a shot. The Portuguese’s effort deflected into Salah’s path and the Egyptian made no mistake from close range, with a VAR check confirming he was onside as Jota played the ball.
The goal was, of course, one with personal significance to Salah, who was robbed of the chance to strut his stuff against Real Madrid in the 2018 final.
But the 28-year-old will be far more pleased to have scored a vital away goal for Liverpool, which keeps their hopes of progressing alive despite Real Madrid’s two-goal advantage.
5. Los Blancos’ trio as sharp as ever
Real Madrid began the game with the same midfield trio they started the 2018 final with: Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos.
With Modric now 35 and out of contract at the end of the season, we may be witnessing the final chapter of one of the great midfields of the last decade – or even the 21st century.
But the Croat, the Brazilian and the German proved their partnership remains as potent as ever with yet another dominant performance on the biggest stage.
Kroos and Modric each picked up an assist for teeing up Vinicius Junior’s goals, while Casemiro gave a makeshift defensive pairing of Eder Militao and Nacho the protection they needed, limiting Liverpool to seven shots, only one of which was on target.
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