Vinicius Junior on Tuesday scored twice as Real Madrid made Liverpool pay for more defensive errors, a 3-1 victory putting them in sight of the UEFA Champions League semi-finals.
Vinicius and Marco Asensio profited in the first half after darting behind Liverpool’s makeshift back line before a simple move from a throw-in gave Vinicius a simple finish in the second.
Mohamed Salah’s strike shortly after the interval briefly made it a contest at Valdebebas, Spain, with an away goal certainly a significant consolation for Liverpool to take into the second leg at Anfield next week.
Yet without fans and with a miserable recent record at home, Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp must know his side have to do their all to avoid their season becoming solely about scraping into the English Premier League’s top four.
“We didn’t play well enough, that’s my first concern,” Klopp said. “We didn’t deserve to win tonight, but the good news is that there is another match.”
Except for two spells after halftime and at the finish, when their opponents were holding on to what they had, Liverpool were overpowered by Real Madrid, whose only disappointment might be missing out on a clearer margin ahead of their return in eight days’ time.
Before then, they go up against Barcelona on Saturday.
“Nothing is close, nothing is won,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. “We are alive in two competitions and we will keep fighting. We will start the second leg like it’s 0-0, because it will be another very difficult game.”
Madrid were without Sergio Ramos, who throughout was bellowing at his team from the stands, while Raphael Varane testing positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday morning meant both sides were fielding patched-up back fours.
The last time the two clubs met, Ramos dislocated Salah’s shoulder and Real went on to win their 13th European Cup, but Klopp insisted there was no desire for revenge in the minds of his players.
They could have done with some extra fire because Madrid were superior in the first half, more controlled in possession and more aggressive out of it. Liverpool seemed caught between trying to match Madrid’s intensity and slowing the game down to gain a foothold.
In the end they did neither, as the openings came early. Luka Modric wanted a penalty after being clipped just outside the box and Trent Alexander-Arnold was beaten too easily by Ferland Mendy, whose cross was headed just wide by Vinicius.
The excellent Toni Kroos was given space at the base of midfield to dictate the tempo, and it was a pair of arrowed balls forward from the German that put Madrid in charge.
The first he fired between Nat Phillips and Alexander-Arnold for the scampering Vinicius, who did brilliantly to chest the ball beyond his opponents and shoot low into the Liverpool net.
Seven minutes later, Kroos did it again, this time with the aid of a badly misguided Alexander-Arnold header, locating Asensio, who lifted over Alisson Becker to leave himself with an open net.
The break briefly had an effect, Liverpool pulling a goal back five minutes after as Georginio Wijnaldum tore forward and Diogo Jota’s shot deflected into the path of Salah, who sent it in off the crossbar.
Yet another Madrid chance was not far away, as Liverpool failed to react to a throw-in down the right and Modric was allowed to drift inside, teeing up Vinicius to sidefoot in a second.
Liverpool pushed for another away goal in the final minutes, but Madrid were not troubled. It was Spanish cheers that could be heard when the whistle blew.
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