No dramatic comeback from Liverpool in Madrid as they exit Champions League
Liverpool’s impossible job against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu proved exactly that as there was no dramatic comeback and a 1-0 defeat saw them exit the Champions League without much of a fight.
All the damage had been done in the first leg but even with a 5-2 deficit there remained the romantic notion among the die-hards and dreamers that Jurgen Klopp’s side could fashion a performance to rival that of Istanbul 2005 or Anfield 2019 against Barcelona.
Klopp gave his side a one percent chance ahead of the game but had it not been for the brilliance of goalkeeper Alisson Becker all hope would have been extinguished in the opening quarter.
This was the 14-time winners’ 300th Champions League match and all that experience showed with a balanced and controlled display of sharp attacking and tidy defending capped by a goal from their long-time nemesis Karim Benzema.
However, it may be Liverpool’s last in the competition for a while unless they can iron out wild inconsistencies in their domestic form.
In truth few players, their goalkeeper excepted, reached the level required to properly trouble the defending champions never mind threaten an unlikely comeback.
Liverpool needed their big name and most experienced players, many of them Champions League winners, to drive the team forwards while cajoling something out of the raw talent of Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo.
But players like Mohamed Salah, Fabinho and Trent Alexander-Arnold never got to grips with the game and that asked too much of the likes of Nunez, substituted in the 57th minute, and Gakpo.
And it was a misjudgement by one of their most experienced Virgil van Dijk, allowing Vinicius Jr a second chance to pass to Benzema to slot into an open goal and eventually kill off their remote hopes in the 78th minute.
Klopp’s 4-2-3-1 attacking formation was designed to get goals but the risk which came with any potential reward was that it left them more susceptible to counter-attacks and their goal led a charmed life for most of the first half as if it was not the quality of Alisson it was the woodwork – or both – which kept Real at bay.
Nunez’s shot which forced Thibaut Courtois to save with his legs early on sparked the hosts into life and it was something of a surprise they had not broken the deadlock by half-time.
Toni Kroos fired one into Alisson’s midriff before Real broke in a two-on-two from a Liverpool corner with Vinicius Jr playing in Benzema but Gakpo raced back to block.
Cue Alisson’s first major intervention, superbly denying a close-range volley from Vinicius Jr from the corner.
His second was more spectacular but just as effective, reaching up to tip Eduardo Camavinga’s long-range effort onto the crossbar and over.
Liverpool were on the ropes but successfully managed to punch their way out of trouble with Gakpo missing a glancing header from Alexander-Arnold’s cross and Nunez weakly nodding goalwards from a Fabinho pass.
But the Uruguay international did much better cutting in from the left to curl in a low, right-footed shot which Courtois had to tip around the post.
Vinicius Jr repeated the same manoeuvre at the other end but presented Alisson with one of his more comfortable saves of the half, with Courtois the last to be tested before the break when he batted away a Gakpo effort.
Alisson saved from Federico Valverde and Benzema in quick succession after Andy Robertson gave the ball away 30 yards from his own goal, while Salah’s reluctance to play in Nunez denied Liverpool a good chance at the other end.
Ten minutes into the second half Klopp rolled the dice and replaced Nunez and Diogo Jota with Roberto Firmino and Harvey Elliott as he reverted to 4-3-3 but Real continued to carve out the best chances with Valverde’s header just too high and Benzema blazing over.
But the France striker was not to be denied and when Vinicius Jr fluffed his attempted shot he was given a reprieve by a frozen Van Dijk and Benzema, who has scored more times in Europe against Liverpool than any other player, slotted home his seventh goal against them.