Liverpool’s profligacy costly as they crash out of the Champions League
Before kick-off, BT set the scene for another against all odds Liverpool comeback in Europe. The showreel included memorable moments from yesteryear: the Steven Gerrard screamer against Olympiacos, the Dejan Lovren header against Borussia Dortmund, and of course the cheekiest of all corners that led to Divock Origi’s deciding goal against Barcelona. However, the task at hand was that Liverpool had to score twice and not concede against the granddaddy of all European champions, Real Madrid, and unfortunately, a final score of 0–0 meant that this would be one comeback beyond coach Jürgen Klopp and Liverpool’s reach.
Liverpool started the game like the Liverpool of old. James Milner’s inclusion over Thiago Alcântara would have raised some eyebrows but gave the midfield added bite in an attempt to stop Madrid bossing the centre of the park as they did in the first leg in Spain. Indeed, Milner set the tone by crashing into Karim Benzema only for the otherwise excellent Casemiro to exact revenge with a thunderous tackle on the Liverpool captain that would lead to a yellow card. Liverpool’s impressive start should have seen them take the lead, as Sadio Mané’s expert lay off left Mohamed Salah with the easiest of chances, yet Liverpool’s top scorer could only fire directly at Courtois. Salah’s miss proved to be costly in what proved to be an off night for the Egyptian. Even as Madrid began to get more of a grip in the game with Benzema hitting the post, Liverpool should have ended the half at least a goal to the good with Milner forcing Thibaut Courtois to make a fingertip save and Salah and Gini Wijnaldum both blazing good chances over the bar, the latter after terrific work by the excellent Trent Alexander — Arnold.
The halftime message from Klopp would have been more of the same and Liverpool continued to create chances after the break, with Roberto Firmino firing directly at Courtois and Salah again failing to hit the target as the ball bounced favorably to him in the box. At the other end, Alison foiled both Vinicius and then Benzema as Madrid began to exert more and more control of the game. The introduction of Diogo Jota and Thiago failed to give Liverpool the spark they needed and as Liverpool huffed and puffed, it was clear that another famous European night at Anfield was not going to be on the cards. Real Madrid’s experience and European big game nous would see them strangle the life out of their opponents, with Liverpool eventually resorting to aimless crossing as they knew it would not be their night.
Credit must go to Real Madrid and in particular, their defence that, albeit aided by good fortune, managed to blunt Liverpool’s attacking thrust. Considering that Real, like Liverpool, were missing their first-choice centre-halves in Sergio Ramos and Raphaël Varane, the excellence of their understudies Nacho and Éder Militão proved to be a barrier that Liverpool could not breach. Real Madrid march on to yet another Champions League semi-final, this time against Chelsea in their quest to win the trophy for a record fourteenth time. As for Liverpool, they were left to lick their wounds on a night of frustration, as their poor performance in the first leg in Spain ultimately proved to be their undoing. Their focus now will be on winning their remaining seven league games in their battle to get into the top four for automatic Champions League qualification next season. Sadly, this was not to be another European night to remember at Anfield as the Real Madrid kings of European royalty gave yet another Champions League masterclass.