The Champions League quarter-finals pitted two of Europe’s finest teams against each other on Tuesday when Real Madrid welcomed Liverpool to their makeshift home ground at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium.
As expected, the game was filled with tough tackles, controversial refereeing decisions and lots of goals. Real Madrid eventually won 3-1, but it wasn’t a walk in the park for the Spanish side.
The Blancos completely dominated the first half, taking a 2-0 lead into the break, thanks to goals from Vinicius Jr. and Marco Asensio.
However, Liverpool stepped up in the second half and looked like a team that could earn something from the game after Mohamed Salah halved the deficit. Real Madrid, though, killed any hope of a comeback when Vinicius Jr. beat Alisson Becker at his near post to make it 3-1.
Real Madrid’s superior midfield wins the day
The result was always going to be defined by the battle in midfield and Real Madrid proved to be superior on the day. Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric completely bossed Liverpool in the middle of the park.
Both Kroos and Modric ended the game with an assist apiece while Casemiro was rock solid for 90 minutes. Unfortunately for Liverpool, their midfield just couldn’t match their opponents.
Jurgen Klopp’s decision to play Naby Keita backfired, with the Guinea international being replaced by Thiago Alcantara even before the first half ended.
“We know all about the players we have, and of course, they’re doing a great job. They’re highly experienced and they want to show how good they are, which they do time and again,” Zinedine Zidane said of his midfield trio after the game, as quoted by Realmadrid.com.
The Blancos were simply a different class on Tuesday evening and their superiority in midfield was just too much for Liverpool to handle.
Liverpool were punished for their mistakes
Klopp's post-match press conference was a mixed bag. The German went round in circles, blaming the referee over some decisions. However, he ultimately admitted that his side’s mistakes cost them.
Real Madrid’s first goal came as a result of a lack of defensive awareness by Ozan Kabak and Nathaniel Philips, which allowed Vinicius Jr. to run free behind the two centre-backs to score.
Trent Alexander-Arnold was also culpable for the second goal as his attempted back header fell straight to Asensio, who chipped the ball over the onrushing Alisson.
"First and foremost, I don't think we deserved to win tonight. We didn't play well enough and that is my first concern," Klopp told Sky Sports after the game.
"We didn't play good enough football, especially in the first half. We conceded the first goal, served the second on a plate [after Trent Alexander-Arnold's mistake]. But that was not the real problem of the game. Of course, conceding goals is a problem but it is not 'the' problem," added Klopp.
Liverpool now face an uphill task to overturn the 3-1 defeat in the second leg at Anfield. However, they will have to sort out their mistakes first if they do not want to get punished again.