Irish Daily Mail
IT’S ALL OVER
Wasteful Reds crash out... but City march on
LIVERPOOL exited the Champions League with a whimper having failed to properly test Real Madrid in a goalless draw at Anfield last night.
Jurgen Klopp’s side paid the price for a disastrous 45 minutes in the Spanish capital last week as that 3-1 quarter-final first-leg defeat essentially put them out. They created enough chances to have clawed back the two-goal deficit but goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was hardly extended as yet another wasteful performance from their forwards proved costly with 15 attempts producing just four on target.
In the night’s other quarter-final, Manchester City survived an early scare to see off Borussia Dortmund and reach the Champions League semi-finals for the first time under Pep Guardiola.
(Real Madrid win 3-1 on aggregate)
FOR Liverpool, the moral would appear to be, if possible avoid teams from Madrid. It was 2009 when they were last removed at the knockout stage of the Champions League by a team from outside the Spanish capital. There have been group stage exits since then of course — although one of those was in part to Real Madrid — and Europa League campaigns, but since losing to Chelsea 12 years ago, only Real and Atletico have had the beating of Liverpool in this competition.
Ultimately, Madrid’s experience showed. Not that Liverpool lack it after their past successes, but this Madrid squad is unique in the way it has dominated this competition in recent years.
They resisted Liverpool’s pressure, intensity and physicality in a way Barcelona simply could not in 2019. They weren’t the better side on the night but they were across two legs — dominating at home and then standing strong at Anfield, sometimes with nine outfield players in banks behind the ball.
No shame in that. Liverpool are a good team, demand respect and at one stage played with four forwards after the introduction of Diogo Jota.
To no avail. Jota came close, shooting into the side-netting from a tight angle after 70 minutes, and Roberto Firmino had several good second-half chances and could have done better, but Madrid looked dangerous on the break and could have put the tie away with 66 minutes gone.
Federico Valverde, enduring a difficult night in an unfamiliar right-back role, hit a clearance that morphed into the pass of the night, falling at the feet of Vinicius Junior, who sped through one or one. Out came Alisson to make a fabulously brave save at his feet.
Then, with 10 minutes, to go, Karim Benzema planted a free header into the turf and over the bar. Madrid’s chances were not plentiful, but the ones they carved out were good.
But it was at the back, and with the hard-working guardians in midfield, that this game was won. As nimble as Madrid looked in the first leg, so they were resilient here and, try as they might, Liverpool could find no way through.
It is Atletico that have the record for cussedness in Spain, but they were comfortably dispatched by Chelsea in the last round. Thomas Tuchel’s men may find the men in white — los merengues, as they are known — have an inner steel.
There is, of course, a blueprint for Liverpool up against the odds, playing the giants of Spain at Anfield, and it was enacted here in the opening three minutes.
Step one, a thunderous livener to remind the opposition exactly where they are — remember Andy Robertson on Lionel Messi, and that little ruffle of his hair, when Barcelona visited in 2019?
Step two, a swift assault on the penalty area, crosses, attacks on the weakest full back. Tick and tick. Liverpool got off to a flier, just as they did when 3-0 down to the Catalans two years ago.
So in the first minute, James Milner hit Benzema with such force — fairly, one might add — that he might as well have struck him over the head with the ‘This Is Anfield’ sign, so that the frame nestled on his shoulders, like in silent comedies. As if Madrid needed any reminding. Missiles had already smashed a window of the bus on its way to the ground. Liverpool apologised immediately and profusely but it really can’t keep happening. Might it be too much to ask that the Merseyside police find the culprits this time, or at least give the impression of caring?
The reducer moment over, Liverpool then set about Madrid’s goal. It was Sadio Mane who caused all the early trouble, no doubt thankful to be up against makeshift right back Valverde. Madrid were two full backs down on that side and Valverde was preferred to third choice Alvaro Odriozola.
Heaven knows what Zinedine Zidane must make of him, because Valverde is a 22-year-old central midfield player. And looked it. Mane had him on toast within two minutes and crossed for Mohamed Salah who should have done more than steer a shot straight at goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who parried it with his legs.
A minute later, and Mane again. Poor Valverde nowhere and the ball finding Salah this time at the far post. He couldn’t get the ball back into the centre, however, and his cross was blocked for a corner.
The barrage continued. After 11 minutes, Salah broke down the inside-right channel, finding Mane, who passed the ball on to Milner.
He struck a lovely shot from 20 yards, but Courtois was equal to it, diving acrobatically to tip round the far post.
A free-kick from Robertson soon after was met by Ozan Kabak, who headed over, but at this point Real Madrid were struggling for air, such was Liverpool’s intensity.
Indeed, it took them until 20 minutes in to force a chance, Benzema dispossessing Nat Phillips on the left and chasing on goal, his clever jinking run bamboozling the Liverpool defence, his low shot striking the near post.
No team gets to win four Champions League trophies in swift succession, as this Madrid team have done, without being able to fend for themselves, however, and in the 24th minute the proof of that arrived. Casemiro had been caught by Fabinho and was hobbling and angry. After play restarted the ball ran loose for Milner in front of the Liverpool dug-out — and Casemiro put him through the back of it.
What was it Roy Keane said about his tackle on Alf-Inge Haaland? ‘The ball was there — I think.’ That was pretty much Casemiro’s attitude, too. The Liverpool bench were furious, Robertson went in for some afters and was booked. So was Casemiro — rather lucky in the circumstances. Unlike Milner’s earlier one, it was hard, but certainly not fair.
And Liverpool’s pressure continued. A cross from Trent Alexander-Arnold that Mane just couldn’t reach after 36 minutes; a cross from Mane that Salah shot over after 41; a run by Alexander-Arnold that got lucky after the ball bounced the right way following a tackle, finished by Georginio Wijnaldum, again without the necessary control.
When play restarted after halftime it was more of the same, Firmino with a shot from close range again kept out well by Courtois, and then a header from an Alexander-Arnold cross directed over.
As the hour approached Jurgen Klopp was ready to play his wild cards. Thiago Alcantara and Jota on, Milner and Kabak off. Fabinho moved to centre-half. It was time for that roll of the dice.
LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): Alisson 7; AlexanderArnold 7, Phillips 7, Kabak 6 (Jota 60min, 7), Robertson 7; Milner 7 (Thiago 60, 6), Fabinho 7, Wijnaldum 7.5; Salah 7, Firmino 6 (Shaqiri 82), Mane 7 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 82). Subs not used: Adrian, H Davies, B Davies, Williams, Tsimikas, Cain, Clarkson, Keita. Booked: Robertson, Phillips. Manager: Jurgen Klopp 6.5. REAL MADRID (4-3-3): Courtois 7; Valverde 7, MILITAO 8, Nacho 8, Mendy 7; Modric 7, Casemiro 7, Kroos 7 (Odriozola 72, 6); Asensio 6 (Isco 82), Benzema 6, Vinicius 6 (Rodrygo 72, 6). Subs not used: Lunin, Altube, Marcelo, Park, Arribas, Chust, Mariano. Booked: Casemiro. Manager: Zinedine Zidane 6.5. Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (Hol) 7.