Liverpool rue string of missed chances as Real Madrid set up Chelsea semi-final
Wasteful night in front of goal sees Jürgen Klopp’s side exit at quarter-final stage
James Milner of Liverpool is fouled by Casemiro of Real Madrid during the Champions League quarter-final, second leg at Anfield. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Liverpool 0 Real Madrid 0 (Real win 3-1 on agg)
The Anfield factor was not the vital ingredient that Liverpool ultimately missed most in their attempted comeback against Real Madrid. It was the finish. Jürgen Klopp’s side performed as though the energy of 55,000 fans was behind their backs but a wasteful night in front of goal allowed the Spanish champions to escape the punishment that has befallen so many others. Liverpool’s hopes of another Champions League triumph in Istanbul is over.
A goalless draw was enough to take Zinedine Zidane’s team into a semi-final meeting with Chelsea but Liverpool will rightly ponder what might have been. They had more than enough chances to have added Madrid to their list of great European comebacks but missed them all. Over 180 minutes Madrid defender better and finished better.
Klopp had urged Liverpool to show “our best selves” against Madrid and his players followed the instruction from the first whistle. There had been a sombre start to proceedings, with a minute’s silence for the 96 Liverpool fans who were unlawfully killed at Hillsborough on the eve of the 32nd anniversary of the disaster. A window on the Madrid team coach was smashed as it approached the stadium. Allegedly by a bottle. Certainly by an idiot. From the moment referee Bjorn Kuipers got the second leg under way, however, the sterile atmosphere was forgotten as an absorbing European tie took shape.
Liverpool seemed to carry the pulse of a raucous Anfield with them as they launched a full-throttle assault on the Madrid goal from the start. But for the legs and fingertips of Thibaut Courtois, the Premier League champions would have had the 2-0 lead they required after only 11 minutes.
The first chance, and first indication that this was going to be a long and uncomfortable night for the Spanish champions, was golden. It arrived in the second minute when a hopeful ball over the top from Ozan Kabak was all it took to prise open a makeshift Madrid defence that had exceeded all expectations last week.
Sadio Mané, racing in behind Eder Militao, squared the defender’s pass inside to the in-rushing and unmarked Mohamed Salah. Liverpool’s leading goalscorer struck first time with his favoured left foot but too close to the visiting goalkeeper, who blocked with his legs.
With Lucas Vásquez joining fellow defenders Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane and Dani Carvajal on the sidelines Zidane opted for the more attacking instincts of Federico Valverde over Alvaro Odriozola at right back. He must have been reconsidering that decision by the third minute, when Mané skipped away from the Uruguayan before sweeping an inviting cross through the Madrid area that eluded Roberto Firmino but found Salah at the back post. The striker’s attempted pull back for the recalled Brazil international was intercepted by Ferland Mendy.
As in the first leg, Klopp again omitted Thiago Alcântara from his starting line-up only this time chose James Milner to replace the midfielder who won the competition with Bayern Munich last season instead of Naby Keïta. Milner’s brief may have been to destruct, and he left an early mark on both Karim Benzema and Luka Modric, but he almost delivered a stunning goal after Salah and Firmino combined to find him in space 25 yards from the Madrid goal. The veteran curled a precision finish towards the top corner but Courtois, flinging to his left, was equal to the effort with a superb finger-tip save.
The 13-time European champions were on the ropes and Klopp was doing his best to generate whatever atmosphere he could inside the almost deserted arena, punching the air when Kabak beat Marco Asensio to a header and when Salah cut out an attempted cross by Vinícius Junior.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Georginio Wijnaldum gave the Brazilian little time or space to recreate the problems he caused in the first leg. Likewise, with Firmino quick to shut down Toni Kroos’s options in midfield, another key tenet of Madrid’s victory last week was addressed.
Madrid’s quality in the final third could not be stifled completely, of course. Benzema almost plundered the away goal that Liverpool had to avoid when he spun away from Nat Phillips near the touchline and darted across Kabak into the area. A deflection off Kabak’s knee took the French forward’s shot beyond Alisson and on to the base of the post.
Casemiro, moments after being fouled by Fabinho, brought the entire Liverpool bench to their feet when he took retribution on Milner in front of the home dug-out. The booking was inevitable without their protestations. Groans also emanated from that small section of Anfield as their team continued to create and squander opportunities to turn the quarter-final on its head.
Mané was yards away from connecting with a glorious Alexander-Arnold cross to the far post. Salah blazed over after Wijnaldum had spun away from Kroos in midfield and picked out Mané with a delightful chip into the area.
Wijnaldum himself then skied a clear opening after Alexander-Arnold had driven his way through four static white shirts. The pattern continued at the start of the second half with Courtois thwarting Firmino at his near post and the Brazilian heading over when found by another Alexander-Arnold right wing delivery.
On the hour, and as he had to, Klopp went for it with the introduction of Thiago for Milner and Diogo Jota for central defender Kabak.
It had been an extremely quiet night for Alisson but the Liverpool goalkeeper produced another important stop in the Champions League when Valverde released Vinicius Junior with an exquisite crossfield ball. Alisson blocked his compatriot’s chip with his chest before gathering the rebound at the feet of Benzema.
At the other end Militao blocked from Salah and Firmino in quick succession while Jota struck the side-netting. Benzema missed a glorious chance to extinguish Liverpool’s hopes when, unmarked in front of goal, he headed Mendy’s whipped cross down and over Alisson’s crossbar. – Guardian