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Football Reporting


Vinicius puts Zinedine’s men in command as Salah strike can’t save outplayed Reds

WE know that no first-leg lead is safe when Liverpool go toe-to-toe with Spanish footballing royalty. 

The astonishing semi-final comeback pulled off by Jurgen Klopp’s men against Barcelona two seasons ago is testament to that. 

Vinicius Junior celebrates putting Real Madrid 3-1 up with his second goal


Vinicius Junior celebrates putting Real Madrid 3-1 up with his second goalCredit: Getty

But then again we are living in unusual times. 

Liverpool have lost six home games in a row, heading into Saturday’s clash with Aston Villa.

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Klopp’s men seem scared stiff of the ‘This Is Anfield’ sign and there will be nobody on the Kop to suck the ball into the net when Real Madrid visit next Wednesday.

The Reds are still alive in the Champions League, thanks to Mo Salah’s away goal – and it certainly helped that there was no Sergio Ramos to perform a hatchet job on Liverpool’s leading scorer last night.   

But Real were utterly dominant in the first half and continued to threaten during a glorious end-to-end second period in a belting Cup tie which was a good advert for football without first-choice central defenders.  

A double from Vinicius Junior and another from Marco Asensio – gifted by a horrible Trent Alexander-Arnold error – ensured that the Spanish champions will visit the out-going English champions with a clear advantage. 

For that, Liverpool can blame a passive and sloppy first-half performance, which might well cost them a third Champions League semi-final in four years.  

Zinedine Zidane’s men are not as starry as they were during their manager’s Galactico playing days – but they still possess oodles of class. 

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Vinicius laps up what could be a crucial double as Liverpool keeper Alisson flounders


Vinicius laps up what could be a crucial double as Liverpool keeper Alisson floundersCredit: AP

This tie brought back memories of that extraordinary night in Kiev three years ago, when the good, the bad and the ugly – Gareth Bale, Loris Karius and Sergio Ramos – combined to win Real their 13th European Cup. 

None of that trio were present last night – Ramos is injured, along with his fellow first-choice centre-back Rafael Varane – mirroring Liverpool’s own problems in that position.

Real have been grinding out results, more sawdust than stardust, this their tenth win in a 12-match unbeaten streak.  

While Real have the all-time record for European Cups, Liverpool’s record in the competition is ridiculously good – they have entered 21 times, reached nine finals and won six. 

But having swaggered their way to a 3-0 victory at Arsenal on Saturday Liverpool were knocked out of their stride by a strong Real start – Vinicius heading wide after Ferland Mendy had toasted Alexander-Arnold.

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Real had far more zip about their passing, Liverpool strangely meek. 

And while Real’s opener was a thing of beauty, there was no pressing from the visitors as Toni Kroos lofted a 50-yard pass with forensic accuracy, allowing Vinicius to slip past Nat Phillips on a diagonal run, chest down and finish smoothly.     

Real had a decent penalty shout soon after – Ozan Kabak dragging down Karim Benzema but ref Felix Brych showing clemency.

Vinicius dragged a shot wide before another lofted pass from Kroos created more panic in the Liverpool defence. 

Alexander-Arnold attempted to intercept but could only head into the path of Asensio – suggesting that Gareth Southgate does know what he’s doing, despite the disgruntled noises coming from Merseyside about the right-back’s England axing.

Asensio lifted the ball over Allison and rounded the keeper to tap home. 

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Having made the surprise decision to start Naby Keita ahead of Thiago Alcantara, Klopp reversed that call but dragging off the hapless Keita before the break. 

Then Asensio almost capitalised on a shocking attempted clearance from Kabak.

But Liverpool were fuming when Sadio Mane, on a dangerous run, was brought down by Lucas Vazquez, but Brych seemed to have left his whistle back home in Germany. 

Still, it was the first time Liverpool had failed to register a single shot in the first half of a Champions League match since they last visited Real Madrid, when Brendan Rodgers sent out the reserves in 2014. 

Klopp must have had his Herr-dryer out at half-time because the Reds looked a completely different side once the second half was underway. 

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Gini Wijnaldum broke from midfield and fed Diogo Jota, whose effort was blocked to Salah, marginally onside. 

Thibaut Courtois got a hand on it but the ball bounced up and in off the underside of the bar for the away goal.  

Then Alexander-Arnold showed the undoubted quality of his attacking player with a wonderful cross which Jota headed wide.

But Liverpool’s soft centre had not gone away, of course, and Real almost caught them on the break from a Reds’ corner, only for Alexander-Arnold to race back and thwart Asensio. 

Soon, though, a goal of embarrassing ease for the Spanish champions – Karim Benzema collecting from a throw-in, finding Luka Modric, who squared for Vinicius to tuck home his second.

The contest veered back and forth at a dizzying pace but, somehow, the scoreline remained the same. 

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It will be a long way back now for Klopp’s men. Especially while their home is deserted and cursed. 


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