Heading into the tie, many expected Liverpool to press a Real Madrid side without Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane into eventual submission, but that was far from the case. Instead, the Real Madrid midfield stood tall, almost mocking any attempt at the Reds’ press, and played their way through in ruthless fashion.
If Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro were not regarded as the best midfield three in the world before the game, they certainly are now. They are the first combination to completely derail the likes of Fabinho, Thiago and Gini Wijnaldum. They were classy, calm and calculated on and off the ball. In contrast, Liverpool were anything but.
Real Madrid Midfield Humble Liverpool
The Toni Kroos Show
What was meant to be the showdown of two European giants soon became the Toni Kroos show. He acted as the conductor of the footballing masterclass put on by the Spaniards. And, yes, Liverpool didn’t help themselves by handing the German so much space, but what he did with that space was the difference-maker.
His assist, straight onto the chest of the on-running Vinicius Junior, was sublime. Kroos oozed the class, a class that Liverpool could not match. By the end of the game, the aforementioned conductor had left the Liverpool midfield gasping for air.
No matter how hard they chased, Toni Kroos and the rest of the Real Madrid mockingly passed it around and around again. In the end, a Liverpool press which usually works so well looked like a side full of headless chickens.
The Night Vinicius Proved Himself
It’s been an ongoing debate in the recent week or so whether Trent Alexander-Arnold is good enough defensively to play for England. Many have been quick to come to his defence, too- especially after the Arsenal game.
As for Vinicius Junior, even at a tender age, patience seemed to be running thin for him at Real Madrid. But, on a night when both needed to perform, it was the Brazilian who came out on top. He was ruthless, quick and almost unstoppable on the ball at times- in classic Brazilian fashion.
That is the Vinicius Madrid fans had been waiting for. Two goals and 90 minutes later and, any remaining doubters have been silenced. Meanwhile, Alexander-Arnold’s first-half display left many questioning his capabilities once more.
Jurgen Klopp Not Blameless
On paper, a midfield three of Fabinho, Keita and Wijnaldum looks set to do the job. In reality, it was the worst decision of the night from Jurgen Klopp. Keita had yet to start a game after injury. Ideally, in that scenario, you ease a player back in. What you don’t do is throw him into a Champions League quarter-final tie against the best midfield in Europe.
Klopp soon realised this, too, taking Keita off for Thiago with three minutes to go before halftime. It made a small difference as Liverpool went on to secure the away goal. In reality, it may have been too little too late. The damage of Keita’s rusty nature had already been done via two Madrid goals.
Perhaps, more crucially, the game against the Real Madrid midfield was a lesson learnt for Klopp, who will be far more prepared heading into the second leg.
Real Madrid Midfield Will Look for Repeat at Anfield
Dominating the midfield at home is a natural occurrence, but doing it on a European night at Anfield- albeit without Liverpool’s 12th man, is another task entirely. This time, Klopp will be prepared. He will study the loss and, make no mistake about it, this tie is far from over.
One of the first things Jurgen Klopp said when he came to Liverpool many years ago was that he wanted to turn Liverpool from doubters to believers. A famous corner taken quickly, Champions League and Premier League trophy later, and Liverpool fans have more than been converted.
Liverpool’s history suggests we’ll be in for a treat at Anfield in the second leg.
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