Liverpool routed at Anfield by five-star Real Madrid
Liverpool crashed to their heaviest home defeat in Europe as they suffered once again at the hands of bogey side Real Madrid, who executed a clinical 5-2 victory at Anfield.
On a night when Mohamed Salah set two new club landmarks previously belonging to Steven Gerrard there was one record broken which no-one in red will care to remember.
What was even more galling for the hosts was they had raced into a 2-0 lead after a brilliant start in this Champions League last-16 first-leg tie only to be overhauled by a classy performance from the 14-time winners, who had inflicted Liverpool’s previous worst home defeat (3-0 in in 2014).
Darwin Nunez’s goal after three minutes and 10 seconds was their quickest Champions League goal at Anfield before Salah capitalised on an error from goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to score his 42nd in Europe for the club.
Gone was the caginess of May’s final in Paris but unfortunately for Liverpool still present was their nemesis Vinicius Jr, scorer of the only goal at the Stade de France, who took his tally to five in as many games against the Reds to drag his side back into the match as he too benefited from a rare mistake from goalkeeper Alisson Becker for his second goal.
Eder Militao’s goal and two from Karim Benzema ended the game as a contest – and quite possible the tie overall – midway through the second half.
It was almost as if Klopp had foreseen it as on the eve of the match, having finally reviewed their Paris defeat, he noticed “how little (Real) are fussed” by other teams’ chances.
“Generally I don’t think you can make this team panic,” he said on Monday.
And while Courtois briefly did his best to dispel that theory, once calm was restored the visitors – who started nine of the team who won in Paris – just went through the gears from 2-0 down to 5-2 up in the space of 46 minutes.
Klopp had tried to set the tone himself inside two minutes after Andy Robertson won a tackle in front of the technical area, the German turning to the crowd and wheeling his arms in encouragement.
Anfield responded and so did his team with Nunez, fit after a shoulder injury in Saturday’s win at Newcastle, producing an exquisite backheel to divert Salah’s cross inside the near post.
OH MY WORD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/pJcPKayLX6
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) February 21, 2023
Buoyed by goals in successive games the Uruguay international had confidence to hold up the ball down by the corner flag in the left-back position before launching an attack which ended with Salah weaving into the area but dragging his shot wide.
But the Egyptian was presented with a gift in the 14th minute from Courtois, Madrid’s man of the match at the Stade de France.
The goalkeeper received a bouncing back-pass from Dani Carvajal but lost control with Salah in close proximity and the Egypt international had no hesitation in poking home a poacher’s finish which saw him take another Gerrard record, this one the most European goals at Anfield (19).
Real could, however, rely on their other match-winner in the final as Vinicius Jr dragged his side back into the game with one goal of excellence and another of good fortune.
The winger was given way too much time in the penalty area to strike a low, curling shot beyond Alisson’s reach and inside the far post but it was his actual proximity to an opponent which produced the equaliser.
Joe Gomez dropped square after rolling a back-pass towards his goalkeeper, who tried to pick out Alexander-Arnold upfield rather than the safety-first option – but Vinicius was too close and the ball looped up off Alisson’s Brazil team-mate and into the net.
The next goal seemed all-important, something Madrid appeared to sense more keenly than their opponents, and within two minutes of the second half starting they had scored it from Militao’s low header via a Luka Modric free-kick.
Any confidence the home side had left evaporated and when Benzema’s shot took a cruel deflection off Gomez to leave Alisson stranded the hosts were in danger of seeing the tie taken away from them.
It was in the 67th minute when Fabinho lost possession midway inside Real’s half and the 37-year-old Modric broke clear down the middle to feed Benzema, who side-stepped Gomez and Virgil van Dijk to score the fifth.
A seventh match without a win against Real – six defeats and one goalless draw – make Liverpool’s task in the Bernabeu in three weeks’ time an almost impossible one. While they have achieved the improbable before it has always been at Anfield, a European fortress which was ransacked without a second thought by Real.