Liverpool’s Champions League hopes are on a knife-edge after a 3-1 defeat away to Real Madrid.
The hosts took a 2-0 lead half-time through goals from Vinicius Junior and Marco Asensio in a dominant 45-minute display. The Reds improved in the second period and half the deficit to 2-1 after Mohamed Salah scored, but any hopes of a comeback were quashed when Vinicius completed his brace with a low shot past Alisson.
Overall, the visitors — who would have been confident of a result after learning that Raphael Varane was ruled out of the game with a positive COVID test — can be happy with only losing by two goals. Their performance was sloppy, one-paced, and unthreatening.
The warning signs were there early doors and Madrid bore their teeth early on and foreshadowed their game plan when Toni Kroos — the architect of much of the Spaniards dangerous attacks — launched a long pass into the path of Vinicius. The Brazilian’s first touch was sublime and he sprinted easily past Nat Phillips. The move fizzled out, but it was indication of the threat the 13 times winners posed.
Madrid, with Casemiro, Kroos, and Luka Modric prominent, were dominating the flow of the game and their approach eventually bore goalscoring fruit near the half-hour mark.
Kroos was undeterred in the middle of the park and, unpressured, the German clipped a ball into the path of Vinicius. The Brazilian ran between Trent Alexander Arnold and Phillips and his sublime first touch allowed him the chance to slide the ball past his compatriot Alisson.
With their tails up, the hosts continued to press forward for more goals. Their cause was helped, though, when Alexander Arnold badly miscued a header back towards Alisson and Asensio ghosted in and clipped the ball past Alisson to double the away team’s deficit at 2-0.
Incensed by their meek first-half performance — Liverpool failed to have a shot in the entirety of the first half — Jurgen Klopp hooked Naby Keita just before the halftime whistle with Thiago Alcantara entering the fray in place of the Guinean.
The second half started much better from the Reds’ perspective, best personified by Georginio Wijnaldum. The Dutchman was abject in the first half, but he took the initiative to start a move that ended up in Salah scoring. The number 5 powerfully slalomed through midfield and the ball eventually fell to Diogo Jota in the box. The Portugal international’s effort on goal was blocked, but the shot trickled its way into the path of Salah and the Egyptian hammered the past off the underside of the bar and in.
Liverpool were clearly playing with more confidence and they applied pressure to Madrid, with Thiago key to controlling the tempo and Alexander Arnold playing more attacking verve. Their mini-revival was short-lived, however, and the home team killed the contest on the night with a cleverly worked third.
A quick throw found Modric and the Croatian cleanly skipped past Fabinho before directing a low cross towards Vinicius. With Alisson unsighted, the youngster curled the ball into the bottom right-hand corner and into the net.
Madrid were then content to sit in and, despite dominating the ball in the closing stages, Liverpool couldn’t prize them open and take the advantage to Anfield in next week’s second leg.
Liverpool team: Alisson; Alexander Arnold, Phillips, Kabak, Robertson; Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Keita; Salah, Jota, Mane.
Replacements: Shaqiri for Kabak, Thiago for Keita, Firmino for Jota.