It was shades of the Atletico Madrid game of last year and yet, despite the Champions League exit, there is a lot to be positive about after that performance.
The one-sided nature of the game between the two European heavyweights isn’t clearly portrayed in the score line and if Liverpool had won the game 5-0 no one would have batted an eye lid, as was the nature of the Reds dominance throughout. Yet we are once again talking about something that has been a constant annoyance throughout the season. I am obviously talking about the clinical finishing.
Klopp should have been giving his half-time team talk with his side now at least level on aggregate and in control of the tie. Yet the wasteful nature of his side didn’t match the rest of the performance, as they were unable to beat Thibaut Courtois in the Real Madrid goal.
There were plenty of chances for Liverpool not only to get level, but to be well clear in the contest. Salah, Firmino, Wijnaldum, Mané and Milner all had chances to break the deadlock but were either met by the Belgian in the opposition net or blazed beyond the dimensions of the goal.
A lot of focus will be on the erratic finishing and how it has damaged the Reds season but – for me – it is important to talk about the 90-minute display in every other department. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say Liverpool absolutely thrashed Real Madrid. Los Blancos struggled to get out of there own half throughout, and the ever-reliable trio of Modric, Casemiro and Kroos – who had run all over the Reds a week prior – looked shell shocked and ineffective.
Liverpool have to take solace in all of positives that came out of this game. Full focus will turn to assuring a top four finish so Champions League football will be at Anfield next season. Off the back off this performance, and with the run they have, Reds fans should be optimistic with what can be achieved.
To be completely honest, if a top four finish is achieved come the end of the season, Klopp will have – in my eyes – performed another miracle. Considering the number of injuries, the absence of key star players for prolonged periods and lack of form within the squad generally throughout the season, a Champions League quarter final and ticket into next seasons competition via their league position is something that the German should be proud about, if it’s achieved. Fingers crossed it can be.
Coming back to the start of the evening, Liverpool came out of the blocks firing on all cylinders, immediately putting Real Madrid on the back foot. Klopp’s side early pressure told as the ball found its way to a free Mohamed Salah on the penalty spot. Unfortunately, the Egyptian disappointingly hit it straight at the legs of Courtois. It was to be the first of many chances for home side, but in fact it was the game’s best chance and one that seemed to set the tone.
Minutes later a second chance came for Sadio Mané. After a glorious ball over the top to the winger, the Senegal international slipped upon control when 10 yards out; Real Madrid subsequently clearing any danger, ending the very promising move the Reds had built.
It was full steam ahead for Klopp’s side as Zidane’s team looked shaky were seriously on the back foot. A full throttle tackle from Milner on Benzema, added greater intensity to the contest, whilst a very late Casemiro tackle on the England midfielder further added fuel to the fire.
After being on the end of the late tackle from the Brazilian, Milner brushed himself down and tested the impressive Courtois once again, as his curling effort from the edge of the area was saved wonderfully via the Belgians fingertips. At this stage, the number of saves – and impressive nature of the stops – was reminiscent of Jan Oblak’s display 12 months prior and many a Liverpool fan might have been wondering at that point, whether it was going to be one of those nights.
In the latter stages of the first period chances fell to Salah and Wijnaldum, but both snatched at their opportunities, smashing over from within the area. The Dutchman’s chance in particular will have frustrated him, as it seemed easier to hit the target than hit the seats behind the goal.
As the referee blew for half-time, Klopp’s side looked bemused, wondering how on earth they hadn’t scored during the opening period. The onslaught that the Spanish side had endured and survived will have encouraged Zidane and his coaching staff, as they knew the Reds wouldn’t be able to keep that up for another 45 minutes.
This was the case after the interval as there was a drop off, yet Real Madrid where still significantly tested to the point that many dropped to there knees through tiredness at the final whistle.
Good chances would fall in the second half to Firmino, Salah and Mané but each were once again denied by the Belgian between the posts. Finishing with 16 shots against the 13-time European Champions tells you all you need to know about the pressure Los Blancos where under. Yet they survived and will now face Chelsea in the semi-final of Europe’s premier club competition.
Like I touched upon before, despite all the negativity that normally surrounds a competition exit, I for one am quite positive about what the Reds can do from now until the end of the season. These players have proved against one of the world’s best – despite being massively under strength through injuries – they can dominate. It is now imperative they take this form into Monday nights game against an energetic Leeds side, knowing only a win is good enough in search of that fourth spot.
Klopp made one change from the side who defeated Aston Villa on Saturday afternoon. Sadio Mané came back into the starting line-up with Diogo Jota dropping to the bench.
Here are my winners and losers from the game:
Nat PhillipsEmbed from Getty Images
Despite the focus on offence all evening, the Reds best player was the big centre-half who was a nuisance when he did push forwards, whilst he completed his defensive duties with ease.
Karim Benzema was Real Madrid’s main man and threat heading into this contest. During the 180 minutes he has practically been a none factor, as Phillips’ has dominated him over the two legs and especially in this second leg. The English centre-half had the Frenchman in his pocket from the first whistle to the last. The only positive moves the Real Madrid striker did make in this game was when he moved momentarily onto Kabak’s side.
Every tackle, every header and every clash Phillips went into, he made it his own, dominating everyone in his path. Even when Rodrygo came on in the final 10 minutes to act as the main source of any counter attack, there just wasn’t one for Real Madrid, as Nat Phillips was there to collect the ball and restart a Liverpool attack.
The 23-year-old continues to impress every game that he plays in a red shirt. The trajectory he has had from squad outsider to the most reliable fit centre half at the club currently is honestly amazing. When van Dijk and Gomez return to fitness, they will undoubtedly return as the starting defenders, but Klopp will need to give serious consideration to keeping Phillips beyond the end of the season, as he has proved that he is a reliable option going forwards.
James MilnerEmbed from Getty Images
Mr Reliable once again. I say it nearly every time he plays but he is just that good and important to this side. In the most important game of the season, Klopp leaves the midfield flare players on the bench, instead entrusting the former England international to guide his side through with his full throttle effort and leadership skills.
He led from the front throughout his 75-minute display and bullied Casemiro and Modric, showing the pair who was taking charge during the evening. His crunching tackle on the former, minutes after going through Benzema, showed how pumped up he was, whilst leaving the Brazilian wondering what had hit him.
Clearly this didn’t go down well with the Real Madrid centre midfielder, as he snapped into a very late tackle on the 35-year-old by the Liverpool dugout. This should have resulted in a red card for Casemiro but the officials saw otherwise. This tackle also showed the frustration that Milner was causing the Real Madrid side and how he was dominating in every head-to-head.
Milner might have had a goal in the closing moments of the first half but he was denied a spectacular goal by an equally as good save from Courtois. This five-minute period around his effort where the centre midfielder galvanised the team and ran proceedings by himself, dragging teammates around him forwards despite some early fatigue starting to show was brilliant to see and really epitomised him as a player.
This man needs another contract. He has once again provided key performances during the season when called upon by the manager and is the leader that this Reds team needs. It would be foolish if Klopp, Edwards and co were to let him walk away when he still has arguably a couple of years at the top level still in him. We will have to wait and see if the club offers him the right numbers.
Sadio ManéEmbed from Getty Images
I don’t know what has happened to the Senegal international but he really is struggling and playing with no confidence. Based off his recent displays, I was surprised to see him in the starting line-up ahead of Jota. He hasn’t played well since Crystal Palace away back in December and has been searching for some kind of spark ever since.
In this game, it was a slight improvement on what he has displayed over the last four months. Generally, however he was pretty poor throughout the Real Madrid contest. Despite early success, he lost his battle with stand in right back Federico Valverde, as the Uruguayan got to grips with the winger’s predictable runs and tricks before nullifying the threat.
Mané was then unable to recover after the 15-minute mark and struggled to impact in a positive way, losing possession by running into dead ends or trying to force a pass or shot that clearly wasn’t there. His chemistry with Firmino and Salah also looks to be completely off, as he is struggling to connect with simple passes or runs in behind the opposition backline.
After this display, Diogo Jota is certain to come straight back into the starting line-up for the 29-year-old. Against Leeds, due to the high press, Jota is a more reliable option at this moment in time to get back and defend, whilst testing the likes of Ayling and Raphinha going the other way.
Mané needs a rest and a chance to recharge going into a pivotal run in. A handful of games on the bench might give him the time to reflect and then bounce back when he is called upon again, which will surely come.
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