Not even Jurgen Klopp’s bitter complaints about the wind or the referee could distract attention from tonight’s debacle at Anfield Stadium. In the aftermath of a crucial Champion’s League home leg against Spanish giants, Real Madrid, the English media was merciless, decrying Liverpool’s humiliating 1-3 defeat as “a disaster”.
“We deserved better,” Klopp told the assembled media defiantly. “We had chances. We just did not make the most of them.”
Perhaps only Klopp could remain optimistic after Liverpool were soundly beaten. The assembled press was having none of it; their barrage of questions forced the Liverpool manager to cut the press conference abruptly short. But there will be no walking away from the implications of this defeat. In every department, Real Madrid were clearly the superior team. In front of 52,928 passionate fans, Liverpool began in sparkling fashion, controlling the ball in midfield and threatening wide areas of the park until – in the 13th minute – Mane worked a brilliant ‘give and go’ down the left wing. Keita played his part, delivering a well-weighted pass into space and Mane blazed towards the byline. Firmino read the play well and cut into the penalty box. Not even the presence of Sergio Ramos could spoil the Liverpool striker’s aim. As the ball was crossed in from the wing, Firmino met the pass with a decisive volley that gave the Real Madrid keeper no chance from just eight yards.
Leading 1-0, Liverpool made the mistake of relaxing. They lost momentum – and never regained the ascendency.
In the 18th minute Benzema sounded a warning that the sleeping Spanish giant had stirred awake, breaking into the Liverpool box and driving for goal. Only a brave save from Alisson kept Liverpool in front. But just twelve minutes later the scores were tied at 1-1 when Bale was fouled on the corner of the penalty box after a rousing run down the left. The challenge earned Alexander-Arnold a yellow card. From the ensuing set play, Real Madrid broke towards the byline and Bale played a neat short chip into the box. Benzema read the play and met the cross on the 6 yard line with a pile-driving header that thumped into the back of the net.
Liverpool had one last chance to re-take the lead before half-time in the 41stminute when Mane found himself again in space in the centre of the field. Released behind the Real Madrid defence by a pinpoint pass from Fabinho, the Liverpool striker wasted his chance, dribbling into the penalty area but blasting his shot wide of the goal.
At half-time, with the scores locked at 1-1, the match was there for the taking.
Real Madrid seized their opportunity in ruthless fashion.
In the 51st minute Real stole the ball in midfield and seized on a moment of Liverpool hesitation. The ball fell to the feet of Gareth Bale who surged towards the byline and then laid a perfect cross into the penalty box where again Karim Benzema met the ball with a powerful close range header. Benzema had his brace – but at 1-2, Real Madrid were just getting started.
As Liverpool continued to lose their way, Real’s Manager turned to his substitutes bench, replacing Marco Asensio for a fourth midfielder.
The match reached its shattering conclusion in the 60th minute after an innocuous foul by Wijnaldum earned Real a free kick in the middle of the park, and the Liverpool player a yellow card.
Real Madrid played forward quickly, releasing danger-man Bale into wide space. He proved too physical for Alexander-Arnold and drove to the edge of the box before firing off a sizzling shot from 18 yards that the Liverpool keeper did well to parry over the crossbar.
But from the subsequent corner, the ball was whipped towards the near post. Bale stole an inch of space in the penalty area, taking advantage of some poor Liverpool marking, and glanced a header past the outstretched hands of the diving goalkeeper to make the score 1-3.
Liverpool were desperately looking for a moment of inspiration and it arrived in the 72nd minute through the dazzling skills of Salah. The Egyptian superstar picked up a midfield pass and skirted past two Real Madrid defenders to break unopposed into the penalty box. He dribbled towards the keeper who dashed off his line but his untidy challenge was deemed a foul and a penalty kick awarded.
There was still time for Liverpool when Salah stepped up to take the penalty but his shot went sailing harmlessly over the crossbar. It was a single instant that summed up The Reds pitiful night, and a performance they would want very much to quickly put behind them.
The final score; 1-3, and a Champion’s League away win to Real Madrid.
Tony Moffitt is an experienced coach of senior and junior footballers of all levels. He has coached in Ireland, Spain and Australia. He has worked with elite coaches from English Premier League teams and has earned a reputation for his tactical acumen.