Liverpool Suffer Their Biggest Home European Loss Against Real Madrid

Anfield played host to an exhilirating rematch from the 2022 Champions League final
21:54, 21 Feb 2023

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Sure, the television advertisements told a different story. Broadcaster BT Sport told you this was a meeting of 14-time Champions League winners Real Madrid and six-time champions Liverpool. “European royalty” was the phrase echoed again and again. But the La Liga side are trailing archrivals Barcelona by eight points domestically. Liverpool sit eighth in the Premier League, below Fulham and Brighton & Hove Albion. In short, this box office attraction looked set to be a case of diminishing returns. But in practice, this 5-2 thriller justified the glitzy billing. It also signified Liverpool’s biggest home defeat in European competition, with the previous low arriving against the same opposition in 2014.


It took just three minutes for Liverpool to break the deadlock and provide the first evidence that we were in for a classic. Mohamed Salah picked a peach of a pass, sliding the ball between David Alaba and Antonio Rudiger. His intended target was Darwin Nunez, who needed no further invitation to backheel the ball past the stranded Thibaut Courtois. This goal would be special in any game. But in a Champions League knockout tie with Real Madrid, it became a timeless moment set to be replayed for years to come.

Salah went from provider to goalscorer next. After sending a sighter just wide of the mark from a Cody Gakpo pass, he was sharp enough to seize upon a moment of goalkeeping madness. A backpass confounded Courtois, who allowed the ball to bobble off his knee. The Egypt international was there to slam the rebound home. It was Salah’s 42nd goal for Liverpool in Europe, a club record. He hasn’t scored an easier one.

Jurgen Klopp’s side looked like running away with this, cheered on by an appreciative Anfield crowd. But Los Blancos aren’t the most decorated club in this competition’s history for nothing. Vinicius Jr burst into life to pull one back, leaving Joe Gomez scrambling with a curled shot past Brazil teammate Alisson.

The 22-year-old then benefited from the same stripe of good fortune that Salah had enjoyed. Gomez went back to his goalkeeper, the usually-confident Alisson. But the elegant sweeper-keeper slice his pass tamely into the path of Vinicius Jr, who had to do nothing but watch the ball arc over his opponent and into the empty net. It was a bizarre but memorable equaliser befitting an unhinged first half.

Any thoughts of a quiet second half were immediately dispelled when Eder Militao headed Real in front two minutes into the second half. The ageless Luka Modric whipped in an inch-perfect free kick, with set-piece specialist and Bernabeu forebear Roberto Carlos watching on. A moment of magic to give Carlo Ancelotti’s men the lead. 

As Anfield caught its breath, and reacted to a soft penalty appeal for a slight contact between Dani Carvajal and Nunez, suddenly Karim Benzema roared into life. The veteran forward had been quiet, but he sprung to life with a slick one-two before a shot deflected off Gomez and past Alisson. After a lightning fast start from Klopp’s men, they suddenly found themselves on the ropes.

Stefan Bajcetic has often taken on the role of bright spot in the dark for Liverpool this season. The energetic 18-year-old nearly played that part once more when he bent a shot from outside the box narrowly wide. But this moment of brief optimism was swiftly snuffed out when Benzema went up the other end and scored again. Modric created the opening with a defensive interception, before passing to Vinicius who teed up the French striker. It was a moment of counter-pressing brilliance that even caused Klopp himself to grin.

While Madrid’s comeback was as good as it gets, those opening two goals were as good as it got for Liverpool. For a club whose season was hanging by a thread, this sort of capitulation could cause it to unravel entirely. Klopp’s men cannot afford to dwell, either against Crystal Palace at the weekend or at the Bernabeu in three weeks time. It will take a comeback to rival Istanbul in 2005 if they’re to stay in the Champions League, while consistency is needed in the Premier League if they are to qualify for next year’s instalment.

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