Liverpool’s hopes in this year’s Champions League already appear to be over.
In the first leg of their round of 16 tie with Real Madrid, they were thrashed 5 -2 at home by the defending champions despite taking an early two-goal lead.
It was the heaviest home defeat they have ever suffered in European competition and leaves them with a proverbial mountain to climb ahead of the second leg in Spain.
Jurgen Klopp’s team came close to winning four trophies last season, but this is rapidly turning into a campaign to forget.
Unless there is a miracle in Madrid, there will be no silverware to add to the trophy cabinet at Anfield this season.
Champions League Final repeat
This tie was arguably the pick of the round of 16 ties because it offered a repeat of two recent Champions League finals, the 2018 final in Kyiv and last year’s final in Paris, both of which Real won.
For Liverpool, this was a chance to avenge those defeats.
Last year’s final in Paris was marred by serious crowd problems before the game, with a crush developing as fans queued to gain access to the crowd.
At the time, the French authorities and UEFA attempted to lay the blame for the issues at the feet of Liverpool fans, but a recent independent report completely exonerated them and has said that UEFA bore the lion’s share of responsibility for what has been termed a “near miss”.
Liverpool fans were in no mood to forgive before the match as banners were unfurled bearing the message “UEFA Liars” whilst the Champions League anthem was booed.
On the pitch
Liverpool started like a house on fire and were two goals up inside 14 minutes with strikes by Darwin Nuñez and Mohamed Salah. But then things began to go horribly wrong.
Vinicius Junior pulled a goal back with a fine strike and then was gifted an equaliser in almost comical fashion. He went to close down Alisson in the Liverpool goal, but had his back turned to his fellow Brazilian when Alisson booted the ball into him, watching in disbelief as the ball bounced into the net.
Two minutes after the break, Eder Militāo headed the Spanish side ahead from a free-kick by Luka Modric with Liverpool defenders rooted to the spot like statues.
And then it was time for Karim Benzema to get in on the act, adding a fourth via a deflected shot, and then getting his brace after more fine work by Modrić.
It could have been more. Real were content to keep their opponents at arm’s length after that with the Anfield crowd, so often acting as an extra man for their side, reduced to virtual silence by the end.
There will be no comeback this time
Historians may point to the fact that Liverpool have a history of stirring comebacks in the Champions League. They will recall “ the Miracle of Istanbul” when the Reds were three down in the final to AC Milan and still recovered to win the Cup on penalties.
Or they will point to the semi-final against Barcelona in 2019 when they trailed by three goals from the first leg in Spain, but then hit four unanswered goals past them in the reverse game at Anfield.
But the circumstances this time are different, not least because of the calibre of Real. They are far too experienced to allow themselves to begin the second leg with any sense of complacency, and manager Carlo Ancelotti will be at pains to remind them that the tie is not over yet.
And Liverpool are just not the same side that they have been in recent years. Last season, they acquired the sobriquet “Mentality Monsters” because of their continuous ability to withstand pressure and keep winning whatever the circumstances.
It seems that their efforts may have come at a price. This season the team has often looked jaded and in needs of rejuvenation.
There have even been suggestions that Klopp may walk away from Anfield at the end of the season, something the German has consistently denied.
Liverpool’s priority in what remains of this season is to get themselves up the table and into the Champions League places again. Otherwise, there will be no opportunity to face Real again for at least two years.
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