This isn’t the post-Madrid article I was expecting to write.
True. I foresaw a game with a team playing with high-energy; pressing and harassing opposition defenders and midfielders and then striking with a directness that slices through the opposition’s makeshift defence.
However I may as well send that version of this article over to Empire of The Bernabeu (or is it, Empire of the Training Ground?). Because that was exactly what Real did.
Madrid out Liverpool-ed Liverpool.
Their midfield three dominated, their pacey wide-forward caused all sorts of problems and their work-rate was unrivalled. On top of that, they also played with the technical precision you’d expect from Modric, Kroos et al. Overall, Real Madrid were excellent.
And now onto the Reds…
Mel Reddy quite rightly pointed out before the game that Keita is Liverpool’s best presser. I’d agree with that. She surmised that Keita’s selection would allow Liverpool to press-high, set a tempo and run Madrid’s ageing team ragged.
All seemed to make sense. Nice one, Jurgen. Pre-match confidence increased. A Liverpool victory was on the cards.
Instead, what unfolded before us was one of the worst 45 minutes of football I’ve seen from any Liverpool side in my 28 years of being a Red.
From minute one we couldn’t string three passes together. Time and time again the passing was either intercepted, off target or put their team-mate on the back foot. Trent, Robbo, Fabinho, Gini, Naby Keita were the most guilty of this.
Keita didn’t break sweat. The number 8 didn’t show for the ball once. He just didn’t look arsed. I don’t recall him making a tackle and I don’t recall him making a pass. There was one dribble from midfield but that was only once the ball landed in his lap.
He was given a massive opportunity here. An opportunity that he more than wasted. He was lucky to make it to 42 minutes. His time at Anfield is very much on a ticking clock.
Trent was terrible too. I’ve defended him more than most in recent weeks and months but that first 45 was probably his worst performance in a red shirt. Inaccurate passing and a defensive howler. Kieran Trippier might well have packed his suitcase for the summer on the back of that first-half.
Fabinho was over-run. Gini was almost as bad as Keita, although at least he didn’t hide. Phillips was made to look like the defender he is. Jota was innocuous. Ali covered himself in no glory. And then there was Sadio Mané.
Sadio is a physical specimen, the likes of which we’ve not seen at Liverpool since John Barnes’ day. He gets kicked, punched, pulled by two or three opponents almost every phase of play. He is faster, stronger and can jump higher than most. For seasons defenders couldn’t get the ball off him. He’d pinball his way into the box.
But it’s looking like this street-fighter of a forward is starting to feel the wear and tear of years of scrapping and grappling with defenders twice his size.
We can speculate about the impact of contracting Covid back in October too. It is worth pointing out that the game before his diagnosis was a man-of-the-match performance away at Stamford Bridge. Maybe contracting Covid has accelerated his physical demise? Speculation isn’t helpful, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if it had.
Either way, it’s utterly heart-breaking to see this version of our number 10.
There needs to be a mention for the manager too. It wasn’t a great night for Klopp. With hindsight he got his team selection wrong. Thiago should have started. He was excellent against Arsenal and made a difference last night off the bench.
You could also argue that Klopp’s second-half substitutions made us a weaker attacking outfit. Jota may not be in the game all that often but I’d back him to score given the opportunity. With him off the field, I was struggling to see who our centre-forward was.
Conversely, Zidane had a very good night. The lazy impression from afar may be that he’s just a figurehead at the club and has won things on the back of his superstar’s individual brilliance. Not this time. His team of non-Gallacticos followed out his game-plan to a tee.
Onto next week then…
The Reds can be buoyed by the fact that they are still in the tie. They can legitimately claim that the second-half performance shows that they can hurt Madrid. And of course, we’ve done this kind of thing before.
I wouldn’t rule anything out but I’m not feeling confident.
But, it’s football — you never know.