Vinicius Junior’s brace and a defensive error help Real Madrid get the better of Liverpool in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal.
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It was a strange case of déjà vu for Liverpool who went down 3 – 1 to their European rivals Real Madrid in the same way they lost their way in the UEFA Champions League final three years ago. It was a strange starting eleven for Jurgen Klopp as he made two critical changes to his side. One was the in-form Jota replacing Roberto Firmino and the other was Naby Keita coming in for Thiago in midfield. For Madrid, it wasn’t all smooth sailing as news broke eight hours before kick-off that Raphaël Varane had tested positive for COVID-19. It was a key blow but managed beautifully by Zinadine Zidane who then adopted a 4-3-3 strategy.
Madrid was better at keeping and passing the ball in the initial stages of the game and in the 27th minute, the deadlock was broken. A delightful lofted through ball from Toni Kroos landed right on Vinicius‘ path and the young Brazilian after a wonderful first touch, tucked the ball into the back of the net. Nacho, Militão and Courtois were all tremendous under pressure, with smarts on the ball and knowing when to boot the ball forward with long balls, often in the direction of the efficient Vinicius. The second goal was a disaster for Liverpool and Trent Alexander-Arnold. After being dropped out of the England squad, he had a lot to prove but things got worse for him as his defensive-headed pass towards the goalkeeper went straight to Asensio who was clever enough to chip the ball over Alisson and then smash it into the net. What could have been a really crucial game in Naby Keita’s career turned out to arguably be his worst match in Liverpool colors as the midfielder misplaced passes and was seen out of position on multiple occasions. He was subbed off in the first half for Thiago as a tactical substitution & Liverpool’s top goalscorer Salah scored in the 51st minute of the game to give the Liverpool fans some hope. But that didn’t last long as they conceded yet again in the 65th minute. Vinicius Junior placed the ball into the bottom corner which Alisson got a hand to but couldn’t stop, an attempt that many believe he should have done a lot better with.
Madrid were the better side as they took their opportunities and managed to find those pockets in the Liverpool defense. As for Liverpool, they lacked confidence in front of the goal and just couldn’t penetrate the Madrid defense even without Ramos and Varane. Madrid have an El Clásico vs Messi & Barcelona to contend with in between now and next Wednesday’s second leg, but given this success, it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see Zidane go for the same set-up at Anfield. Liverpool perhaps won’t for many obvious reasons, but the only positive for Liverpool here is the crucial away goal which could make the difference in the second leg which is on the 15th of April. Liverpool fans are now hoping for yet another Anfield miracle as they find themselves trailing by two goals but this season, Anfield hasn’t been quite the fortress it is known to be for. It will be quite the challenge for The Reds as they have only managed to score one goal at Anfield in the year 2021 and they’ll need to re-kindle the UCL spirit that has lifted them in the past!
[Image Credit: UEFA Champions League]