When the Champions League Quarter-final draw was made on Friday, 19 March, many Liverpool fans were more than happy to have been paired with Real Madrid. A side that many believed was past its best and not as impressive as it was when they last met in the infamous 2018 Champions League Final in Kiev.
Throw into the mix that Zinedine Zidane’s side were without their first-choice centre backs, Sergio Ramos and Raphaël Varane, many could not see how the thirteen-time European champions were going to cope with Liverpool’s attacking talents.
But Madrid answered all these questions through the control and quality of their experienced midfielders Toni Kroos and Luka Modric.Embed from Getty Images
Both players rolled back the years to help their side take a massive step towards the Champions League semi-finals. 31-year-old Kroos and 35-year-old Modric were given what seemed like hours of time by the Liverpool players to pick out pinpoint cross-field passes to the energetic and dangerous Vinícius Júnior or Marco Asensio all night. Outclassing and outplaying Jurgen Klopp’s men from the first whistle to the last.
After the away side were given numerous warnings about Madrid’s passing experts, they were finally punished after 27 minutes.
Kroos first spotted Vinicius on his state-of-the art radar, then sent an inch perfect fifty-yard pass over the bewildered Nat Phillips’ head and onto the chest of the on-rushing Brazilian striker. With just the keeper to beat, a great touch and calm finish soon followed.Embed from Getty Images
Zidane later described it as a “fantastic goal”, but for Liverpool it highlighted once again how much they miss Virgil Van Dijk’s defensive organisation.
Less then ten minutes later, Liverpool’s passive and unorganised defence was exposed again by a Kroos through ball. This time Trent Alexander Arnold was the defender at fault, diving and heading the ball into the path of Asensio, who finished well over Allison’s head to double the lead.
Klopp demanded an improvement in the second half, and he got one. Following the first spell of intricate passing from his side in the whole game, a darting Diego Jota dribble ended with the ball at Mo Salah’s feet. The Egyptian international then managed to poke the ball off the crossbar and give his side a vital away goal.Embed from Getty Images
But despite being a better attacking threat in the second half, the Reds had no answer to the control and poise of Madrid’s midfield. Their effortless retention of possession and razor-sharp link up play eventually led to a third goal which finished off their opponents.
Once again, a Madrid midfielder, this time Modric, was given the freedom of the city to stroll into the box and pick out Vinicius. The forward’s first-time strike caught Phillips and Allison by surprise, allowing him to double his personal tally for the night and killing off any hope of a Liverpool comeback.
“To play in a semi-final you have to earn it,” Klopp said after the game, and it was clear only one team showed that last night.Embed from Getty Images
But Liverpool are no strangers to having to climb second leg mountains in European football, Zidane need only ask Madrid’s closest rivals about that. But without a thunderous Anfield atmosphere to roar them on next week and a squad that is currently inconsistent at best, a two-goal deficit seems more detrimental to Liverpool than it has done in the past.