Zinedine Zidane’s astute tactics and a sensational Vinicius Jr. ensured an easy 3-1 victory for Real Madrid against Liverpool in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final on Tuesday. Liverpool’s recent resurgence was not enough to take on an injury-hit Real Madrid, who played the entire 90 minutes with discipline and consistency.
Let’s take a look at how the Real Madrid vs Liverpool fixture panned out on the field:
Real Madrid were not the favourites to win the Champions League title this season – Zinedine Zidane’s side were not at their best in the group stages of the tournament. They won just three out of their six Group B fixtures, but finished at the top of the group nonetheless. But Los Blancos have been consistent in recent weeks, winning nine out of their last 11 fixtures across all competitions and losing none. They entered Tuesday’s fixture with four consecutive victories, including a 2-0 victory over Eibar on Sunday.
Liverpool were not at their best this Premier League season, falling off the top-four race in the middle of the season. But Jurgen Klopp’s men were showing signs of fighting back, with a fine performance on Saturday to claim a 3-0 away victory against Arsenal. Jurgen Klopp’s sights are still firmly set on claiming a top-four spot in the Premier League, as well as putting up a good performance in the Champions League. The Reds also entered Tuesday’s fixture on the back of three consecutive victories, including a 2-0 drubbing of RB Leipzig in the round of 16.
Real Madrid have returned to their classical 4-3-3 formation after few experiments with a back-three formation. Zinedine Zidane did not have Eden Hazard, Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane available for the fixture.
Starting XI: Courtois; Lucas Vazquez, Eder Militao, Nacho, Mendy; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Asensio, Benzema, Vinicius Jr.
Substitutes: Arribas, Lunin, Altube, Marcelo, Valverde, Odriozola, Isco, Mariano Diaz, Rodrygo, Chust.
Liverpool continued with their usual 4-3-3 formation, but Jurgen Klopp made a few changes to his side as well, with the in-form Diogo Jota replacing Roberto Firmino, and Naby Keita making a surprise entrance ahead of Thiago Alcantara.
Starting XI: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Phillips, Kabak, Robertson; Keita, Fabinho, Wijnaldum; Salah, Jota, Mane
Substitutes: Adrian, Davies, Milner, Firmino, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jones, Tsimikas, Shaqiri, Davies, R Williams, Cain, Thiago.
REAL MADRID IN POSSESSION
Real Madrid were composed, controlled and tactical throughout the course of the match. Zinedine Zidane’s astute tactical mind identified the weakness inherent in Liverpool’s formation – their high backline. When defenders move ahead nearer to the midfield line, the goalkeeper is left alone. The most effective way to counter this is to prefer long passes over shorter ones, which Real have executed perfectly on Tuesday.
Both their first-half goals came from long passes, initiated by Toni Kroos with some spectacular accuracy. The first came with a long pass to Vinicius Jr. who got behind an unaware Nat Phillips and was able to effectively net the ball with a second touch 27 minutes into the game. The second goal was a product of Toni Kroos as well as Alexander-Arnold’s mistake. Kroos’ long ball from the halfway line was deflected by Alexander-Arnold, who headed the ball straight to Marco Asensio near the penalty area.
Throughout the match, Real Madrid targeted Alexander-Arnold, who looked clumsy at best, losing possession of the ball 13 times. Real’s domination of the game had been so complete in the first half that by the 41st minute, they had eight attempts at goal, while the Reds had none.
Zinedine Zidane was content to make his side sit a lot deeper in the second half, but the tactics had to change with Mohammed Salah’s goal. Noticing Liverpool’s counter-attack, Zidane ordered his side to regroup, which paid off with a soft goal from Vinicius Jr. that gave Madrid an unassailable lead.
LIVERPOOL IN POSSESSION
Liverpool’s three back-to-back victories raised hopes of a revival – Jurgen Klopp’s side entered the match as favourites. But the Reds were clumsy from kick-off on Tuesday, sitting deep and hoping for counter-attacks. The strategy did not pay off; they did not even make a single attempt on the goal well into the first half. Liverpool’s defence was weak, allowing Vinicius Jr. and Marco Asensio to penetrate their half and leaving them unmarked, which allowed Toni Kroos and Karim Benzema to build up masterful link play.
Jurgen Klopp’s bet on Naby Keita was misplaced; the midfielder misdirected numerous passes while allowing Real to counter-attack. The situation was so bad that Jurgen Klopp made a rare 43rd-minute substitution to bring in Thiago Alcantara to stabilise the situation.
The half-time talk by Klopp must have been hard, as Liverpool were much better in the second half, retaining possession most of the time. It was left to Salah to net the ball after it bounced back off Luka Modric after an attempt by Gini Wijnaldum. Diogo Jota came close to equalising the score in the 62nd minute, he had a chance to shoot the ball but preferred to flick it to Sadio Mane, only to be cleared by Ferland Mendy.
Vinicius Jr.’s soft goal left the Reds behind, with Real’s defence not allowing the Liverpool attack to penetrate their back-line.
Liverpool have much retrospection to do as they head back home. Jurgen Klopp’s men were clumsy and disoriented in the first half, and their counter-attack in the second half wasn’t enough to bridge the goal difference. Real Madrid have shown why they are one of the best teams on the continent, even without their star players. They were able to capitalise on Liverpool’s mistakes, successfully using the Reds’ high back-line to build play and score goals.
The second leg of the quarter-final takes place on April 15, and it will take a miracle performance from Jurgen Klopp’s side to progress in the Champions League.
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