The 2020-21 season has been one to forget for Liverpool. Ravaged by injuries, denied the chance to revel in their title glory in front of the club’s supporters, and now out of contention in all four competitions, things could not have gone much worse on the pitch for Jurgen Klopp’s side this season.
Yet, during an opening spell against Real Madrid in which Liverpool’s attacking trio of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino sparkled, it looked like the old magic might be returning for Liverpool. Signs are certainly there that this season – the worst Premier League title defence ever, as pundit and professional wind-up merchant Roy Keane described it – will be just a blip rather than the start of a downward spiral.
Klopp’s side went into the second leg at an empty Anfield knowing that chances of a comeback were relatively slim after a 3-1 first-leg defeat. But Liverpool have been in worse positions in a tie and come through it before, and that belief was back during a first half display that saw Mo Salah and Georginio Wijnaldum both go close to dragging their team back into it.
Granted it was Real Madrid who went closer to finding the net on the night, with a deflected Karim Benzema effort striking the upright after 20 minutes, and the visitors did pose a threat on the counter-attack throughout. But Liverpool were the better side against one of the form teams in Europe – this result stretched Real Madrid’s unbeaten run to 14 games, a record that dates back to January.
It could have been a different sort of night had Salah had his shooting boots on. The Egyptian was lively throughout, but temporarily misplaced the clinical finishing ability that has inspired Liverpool to so much glory in the last couple of years. A golden chance inside the first three minutes proved to be the best of the evening for Liverpool, with Salah failing to beat Thibaut Courtois with the sort of opportunity he’d expect to convert eight or nine times out of 10.
However, for a Liverpool side still missing their best three central defenders as well as their captain Jordan Henderson, this was a performance that hinted that the old heavy-metal swagger isn’t far away.
Fabinho and Wijnaldum were superb in midfield up against a Madrid trio of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro who rarely come off looking second best. And Trent Alexander-Arnold again showed glimpses of the attacking magic that has sparked so much conversation of late, with the right-back drifting into really dangerous positions and providing a number of quality crosses from his flank.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Vinicius (Liverpool Real Madrid)
Image credit: Getty Images
Great teams tend to ebb and flow, such is the nature of football at the very highest level. And for Liverpool this season should be the lowest ebb they have in many years.
On the touchline Klopp looked energised again, urging his team forward in the absence of a home crowd to do the same. And now the German will have the chance to take a step back, reassess the season, and plan for the future.
A top four finish, while unlikely, isn’t yet out of the question for Liverpool, but otherwise the run-in will represent an opportunity for Klopp to work out how he is going to get the club back to their previous heights. If this performance is anything to go by, it won’t require much more than some better luck with injury and a few minor tweaks.