Real Madrid left Liverpool needing another special European night at Anfield after Vinicius Junior’s double helped them beat the Premier League champions 3-1 in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.
After a sluggish start from Jurgen Klopp’s team, Vinicius Junior capitalised to convert Toni Kroos’ exquisite long pass to give Real Madrid a deserved 27th-minute lead.
Liverpool’s night got even worse when Trent Alexander-Arnold’s poor header gifted Real Madrid a second, Marcos Asensio lifting the ball over Alisson Becker and into the back of the net 11 minutes before the interval.
Klopp reacted just before half-time, hauling off Naby Keita and bringing on Thiago Alcantara, and they started the second half in much better fashion.
They were rewarded with a precious away goal though Mohamed Salah in the 51st minute, but Real had a response of their own as Vinicius struck his second of the night in the 65th minute to restore Real’s two-goal advantage and leave Liverpool with plenty of work to do ahead of next week’s second leg.
At the weekend, Liverpool ripped Arsenal apart, winning 3-0 in a display that some felt represented the turning of a corner for a side that have fallen well short of the standards they set during last season’s stellar title-winning campaign.
If that was one step forward, this was two steps back, with the Reds largely outclassed by a notably superior opponent. They repeatedly gave the ball away under pressure and were – barring a brief rally at the start of the second half – uncharacteristically pedestrian and toothless.
It said much that manager Jurgen Klopp opted for a substitution just before the break, correcting his decision to start Naby Keita ahead of Thiago.
It could easily have been any of the Reds’ outfield 10 withdrawn, though, with the front three largely passengers, the centre-back pairing of Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak looking every bit second-string and Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson often found out of position and exposed.
They were aggrieved that a foul was not awarded for a challenge on Sadio Mane ahead of Asensio’s goal, but 2-0 was the least Real deserved at the break.
It is to the credit of Klopp and his players that they were able to rectify some of their problems and get themselves back into the tie through Salah’s neat finish.
They were unable to build on it, though, with Salah and Diogo Jota spurning chances to restore parity.
Real’s third goal killed their momentum and turned the match into one Real could manage.
Salah’s goal keeps the tie alive, but it is very much Real’s to lose.