It was a pretty bad evening to be a Liverpool player inside the Estadio Alfredo di Stefano stadium.
Everything that could have gone wrong, pretty much went wrong over 90 minutes that – upon reflection – Klopp will look back on and feel that his side are lucky to be still in the tie. In truth, Zidane’s side probably should have scored five with the way Liverpool played.
It was a woeful watch for any Reds fan, with the first 45 minutes being some of the worst football ever played under Klopp’s stewardship. Misplaced passes, weak tackling and a lack of defensive awareness saw the club from Merseyside beat themselves in the first period, even handing the second Madrid goal to the home team on a plate.
With this widely regarded as Liverpool’s season on the line, many would have expected a performance reflecting that in such a massive tie. Instead, they looked out of sorts and barely able to complete the simplest of tasks, thus now leaving themselves a mountain to climb at Anfield.
Before the game got underway, a surprise was sprung in Klopp’s team selection as Thiago was benched in favour of Naby Keïta in midfield. This was only the Guinean internationals ninth start of the season and second in this Champions League campaign. It was a big call and signalled an intent to press Real Madrid high up the pitch. Unfortunately for Klopp, from minute one this never worked out.
Liverpool where slow out the blocks and never managed to string more than four passes together before losing possession. Real Madrid – who had clearly done their homework – had set up to sit deep and counter or play the long ball over the well-known high defensive line. It only took them 27 minutes to make this tactic work.
After Liverpool lost possession once again unnecessarily, Toni Kroos played a delightful 50-yard pass over the top of Nat Phillips to the superb Vinícius Júnior, who – after bringing the ball down expertly with his shoulder – volleyed home from close range past the motionless Alisson.
Minutes later the lead was doubled, this time it would be the Reds who would supply the home side with a gift-wrapped goal. After completely misjudging a pass to his side of the field, Alexander-Arnold cushioned a header perfectly into the path of Marco Asensio who, after being amazed by the present handed to him, applied a deft touch over the onrushing Alisson to give Zidane’s team a commanding platform.
Clearly recognising his team selection and tactics had not worked, Klopp responded swiftly before the break, as Thiago replaced the dejected Keïta with minutes remaining. Even before half-time you could see the change in the team and – after a I imagine a colourful team talk from Jürgen Klopp – the Reds responded in the perfect way.
Diogo Jota received the ball brilliantly on the left side of area, before weaving his way through a number of white shirts to get a sight at goal. His effort was wonderfully blocked by the brilliant Nacho, but fell to Mohamed Salah who dispatched it beyond Thibaut Courtois despite the Belgians best efforts.
It was game on, and with Liverpool returning to some form, chances came and went for the side in Red. As each chance passed by, there was a clear feeling that Liverpool needed the next goal in the tie otherwise it could get away from them. Moments later, a goal was scored but annoyingly so, it was for the team in white.
This goal might be the most frustrating of them all, as the easy nature in which Benzema and Modric played the ball between themselves, before finding Vinícius Júnior to curl home, will have Klopp tearing his hair out. The good 15 minutes of play since coming out for the second half was wasted in the space of ten lazy seconds, which now has Liverpool on the brink of a Champions League exit.
Like I alluded to before it could have got a lot worse. Chances subsequently fell to Asensio, Vázquez and Benzema to put the tie beyond the Reds reach, but each fluffed their lines, leaving Liverpool the faintest hope going back to Anfield.
To briefly summarise, Real Madrid where leagues ahead of Klopp’s side all evening and deservedly won the game. The Reds will feel they got lucky over the 90 minutes to still be in this contest, but in the contest they still are and we know what can happen at Anfield in Champions League second legs.
Klopp made three changes from the side who defeated Arsenal at the weekend. Roberto Firmino, Thiago and Milner all dropped to the bench, as Diogo Jota, Wijnaldum and Keïta taking their places.
Here are my winners and losers from the game:
Thiago AlcântaraEmbed from Getty Images
I really cannot understand why he started on the bench. It was a clear and obvious error from Klopp and – knowing he’d made the mistake – brought the Spanish international on after 40 minutes. From the moment he stepped on the pitch, the Reds looked a more settled side.
Where Keïta had failed during his short stint on the pitch, Thiago excelled with his composure on the ball great to see when so many players in red did not have any. His introduction ignited a 20-minute spell – before and after half time – that saw the 2019 winners take the game to Madrid. This resulted in the Salah goal in this period, putting Liverpool firmly on the front foot.
Unfortunately, they where unable to maintain and capitalise on this good run, as the third took the wind out of the teams and Thiago sails. This saw the 29-year-old effect on the game diminish for the remainder of the game, as the players in front of him seemed to have lost hope.
Despite starting on the bench, when introduced he showed once again why he is going to be an integral part of the Reds’ midfield for years to come. For me, there is no question that if he is fit, he starts. Liverpool look a worse team without him in it and this should put to bed the conversation of whether the former Bayern Munich midfielder was a necessary purchase.
Naby KeïtaEmbed from Getty Images
It’s never nice being taken off in the first half, but in this case, it was badly needed as the midfielder looked completely lost. His place in the starting line-up was a surprise to many and a clear vote of confidence from the manager that he could do the job. Instead, it was an uncomfortable watch that really shouldn’t have taken place.
He lost possession countless number of times, missed a number of key tackles and generally looked like he was struggling under the pressure. The game was passing him by in a flash and by the time it was 2-0 to Madrid, Keïta looked completely confused by what he had been tasked to do.
It was a major call to pull him off prior to half-time, as this didn’t just signal that Klopp had got his tactics wrong but will clearly have a detrimental effect on the players confidence. His lack of starts will have affected him mentally even before this game, but his early substitution will have him thinking where do I go from here?
With a clear-out expected at the end of the season, many players are now playing for their Liverpool futures. For Keïta it looks like this could be one of his last appearances in a red shirt. A combination of injuries and not performing over the seasons, seems to have finally got to Klopp. His trust in the Guinea international is now in tatters and an exit could be on the cards in the summer.
Gini WijnaldumEmbed from Getty Images
He had the captain’s armband on but this wasn’t a captain’s performance. This loser’s slot was a tight decision between Jota, Phillips, Mané and Wijnaldum, but I have gone for the Dutchman who really had a night to forget.
At no point during the evening did he get to grips with the game, instead falling into a similar scenario that Keïta found himself in for much of his 40-minute cameo. To be truly honest, it could have easily been Wijnaldum who was substituted in the first half.
When Thiago made his entrance, he took control of the Reds’ midfield and tried to take the game to the dominant Kroos, Modric and Casemiro. Wijnaldum’s performance was further put under the microscope, as the recently brilliant Fabinho even struggled to manage the Real Madrid onslaught, thus making the former Newcastle midfielders mistakes even more obvious.
His reluctance to pass forward was frustrating and even simple passes into the front men were neglected in favour of going to Phillips or Kabak. This keeping possession game is good, but in the situation the Reds where in and the simple nature of the passes into the forwards, saw a negative mindset set in early and clearly effected his display for the rest of the evening.
With much confusion surrounding his future at the club beyond the end of the season, performances like this won’t help him earn his contract if he is still open to the idea of staying on Merseyside. Whether it is the last few months of his Liverpool career or not, he will need to perform significantly better in the second leg for Klopp’s side to even get close to advancing to the semi-finals.
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