• Tom Abadie


For the first night of the Champions League quarter finals of this season, Real Madrid were hosting Liverpool in their training centre, Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano. Named after the legendary goal scoring machine of the club, it is fair to say Vinicius Junior paid him a little tribute with two great finishes. Asensio and Salah also scored, giving Madrid a 2-goal lead after a 3-1 victory. The crucial away goal could help Liverpool in the second leg. Let’s look at what went wrong for the Reds and what went right for Los Blancos.

Where’s the energy?

Naby Keita started ahead of Thiago, a choice deemed by most as controversial to say the least. In the scenario where Real would have the ball, having Keita harassing the midfield could make sense. However, neither him, Fabinho or Wijnaldum were capable of pressing the opposition hard enough. On the contrary, they were trodden over, dominated and ultimately lost the battle of the midfield. Incapable of getting the ball back, they were even less capable of keeping it for a major part of the game.

Up front, bar the first ten minutes of the second half, the trio of Jota, Mane and Salah were muzzled by a solid defence. Salah’s goal saves somewhat the performance, but they didn’t have a single chance of scoring in the first half an hour of the game. Arguably, the referee was very lenient on a few challenges which could have been fouls, but overall, it was a poor performance up front. They were not fed many balls and struggled to get out of Madrid’s marking in order to create some space. Once Thiago came in, the domination of midfield changed for the start of the second half, and Casemiro dropping Jota’s marking meant he was left alone in the box. A lap of concentration which gave Liverpool hope to get back into the game.

However, like many times this season, the back line was at fault once again. The first goal comes from a lack of marking on Vinicius, the second from a headed assist from Alexander-Arnold and the third another problem of marking. Many times, Liverpool were left wide open, and it could have been far worse if Madrid had converted their chances. The spine of the team was at fault, yet again, and while injuries can be blamed, the lack of concentration at points feel like another valid explanation.

Indian summer

Casemiro, 29 years old, Kroos, 31 and Modric, 35. These three players have been around for ages, won everything with the club and yet do not seem to age. While the Croatian was master of midfield in the last round, the passing from Kroos and the sheer number of tackles from Casemiro were the main components to Real’s success. The German dominated midfield; his short passing was never in doubt. His long passes, two of which led to goals, were exquisite. By pressing opposition, forcing them to lose possession, and then calming the tempo once they have the ball, Madrid showed character and experience. Winning the battle of the midfield was crucial to winning the game.

More importantly, their efficiency up front. Yes, they could have scored more on the counter, but Vinicius scored twice, chances he sometimes could have missed, and Asensio’s chip over Alison for the second goal was perfect. While having possession at times for 50 passes straight, it was truly on the break that Madrid was the most dangerous. Benzema did not score today, but his passing and positioning were central to a large quantity of attacks from his team. Vinicius was direct, incisive and more importantly, putting away his chances. This could be the start of something.

Finally, defensively, not much can be said about the performance other than the goal. The lap of concentration from Casemiro left Jota unmarked. Otherwise, the performance from the backline that lost Varane the very afternoon of the game was impressive. Militao, Nacho and Mendy were all able to contain Liverpool’s attacks in great fashion. Vasquez was at times showing that he is not exactly a right-back, especially when he kept Salah onside for the goal. Overall, however, the pressing on opposition players and close marking meant Liverpool were not able to use their front line to the best of their ability.

Bring on Anfield

Zinedine Zidane yet again came up with a master plan and his experienced players showed who they were and how they won 4 European cups in 5 years. The away goal will be trotting in their mind, but it was otherwise a close to perfect performance. They will be travelling fairly confident to the United Kingdom next week, after hosting Barcelona in El Classico this weekend.

European nights in Anfield usually bring special things to Liverpool. That night against Barcelona in 2019 for example. However, without the fans and the sheer number of injuries Liverpool has, this looks like a very difficult result to get. Let’s see what happens next week, if somebody is capable of doing this, it has to be Liverpool.