After a tremendous performance at the weekend, hopes were high that Liverpool had turned a corner in this tumultuous season, but that optimism was largely dashed by an impressive Real Madrid side tonight.
Below, we take a look at some winners and losers on the night, and try to figure out why it
The Tie Being Alive?: There aren’t many positives to take away from tonight, but at least there’s still a chance to make things right next week. Certainly — although pundits will be quick to point out the Power of Anfield and other famous nights that have taken place on Merseyside — the Reds’ home won’t be its vibrant self without the crowd, but a two goal-deficit is not some insurmountable task in any stadium, against any team.
If Liverpool get their tactics right, perform on the night, get a slice of luck, or some combination of all three, there is every opportunity to advance to the semi-final for the third time in four years. All things considered, that’s not a complete disaster.
Trent: After bouncing back from criticism and a national team omission with a tremendous performance against Arsenal at the weekend, Trent Alexander-Arnold was brought rudely back to earth tonight.
Getting skinned by the vibrant Vinícius and giving the ball away with a sloppy pass across his backline, alarm bells were ringing early for Trent, and as the Reds were struggling to find their way back into the game following the Brazilian’s opener, the 22-year old headed a long ball over the top directly into the path of Marco Asensio, who had two bites at the cherry before tucking the ball into an open net behind Alisson.
Making 0 tackles and completing 0 crosses, contributing only a single shot assist despite being on the ball more than any other Red, this was a night to forget for the future captain, and one hopes he will bounce back quickly, as Liverpool head into the home stretch of the season.
Number Eight: Michael Edwards’ track record as the brains behind Liverpool’s incoming transfers in recent years has been absolutely astounding, with a hit rate far exceeding the 50 percent one traditionally expects, but it seems like it might be time to call Naby Keïta’s Anfield move a failure.
While long bouts with inactivity due to injury has previously been interspersed with exactly the sort of do-it-all midfielding the Guinean displayed in the Bundesliga, those performances have utterly disappeared this season, and the 26-year old looks timid and reserved both on and off the ball.
With a largely buried and forgotten sexual assault allegation having already turned many supporters off the former Leipzig man last summer, his injury issues and lackluster performances when healthy may prove enough for the rest of the fanbase to give up on Keïta, and despite Klopp giving him the chance in a big moment tonight, the decision to take him off before half-time might indicate that the manager is in the process off doing so as well.
The Doctor: Not many refereeing performances are going to make you miss Premier League officials, but having the man with the whistle call literally every foul for one team in the final 44 minutes of the match — this is not an exaggeration, every free kick from the 50th to the 94th minute was awarded to Real Madrid — just might.
The German with the stellar but perhaps undeserved reputation was timid throughout, safely calling every 50/50 in favour of the defense, seemingly terrified of making a call that could impact the result of the match, including disregarding a trip by Kabak on Benzema in the box, and ignoring five or six fouls on Sadio Mané, among them a blatant bodycheck by last-man Nacho in the first half.
As the Reds piled on the pressure and possession in the second half, this tendency predictably led to the visitors frustratingly being robbed of the ball fairly or unfairly, halting their ability to generate sustained threat to the Madrid goal.
Given their position in the league table, this might just come to pass regardless, but hopefully it will be a long time before the Reds have to deal with Doctor Felix Brych again.
Credit to the Opposition
They were certainly helped by some head-scratching tactics and personnel decisions, as well as some headless and/or lackluster defending, but Real Madrid played really well tonight. Sitting in a wide medium block, they dared Liverpool to try and stitch their way through the middle, and when that failed, made easy work of the Reds’ attempted switches and vertical passes.
The dynamic Vinícius will undoubtedly garner most of the plaudits, but Casemiro was absolutely outstanding as the midfield anchor. Racking up 8 tackles, as many as the entire Liverpool team put together, to go with a pair of interceptions and an ability to pick the right pass under pressure, the Brazilian displayed combination of awareness and decision making that made him the best player on the pitch by a solid margin.
Overall, the hosts appeared more composed and technically superior to their opponents on the night, and if the Reds are to have any prospects of turning the tie around, they’ll need to improve on both fronts.
What Happens Next
The season run-in has begun in earnest, and the Reds play another eight games over the course of the next 38 days, 10 if they can overturn tonight’s deficit when Real Madrid come to Anfield next Wednesday.
Until then, Liverpool will have the chance to avenge their historic 7-2 loss to Aston Villa at the weekend, as the Villans come to Merseyside on Saturday.