693 views | Francis Azuka | April 9, 2021
Fans of Liverpool would have been quietly confident when their side were drawn against Real Madrid in the quarter-final of the Champions League. After all, the feeling around the wider football community is that Los Blancos are a side in decline.
The players that helped the Spanish giants win an impressive four European titles between 2014 and 2018 are aging and their careers are declining, whilst the club’s younger generation are failing to step up and be counted as potential replacements.
Earlier in the season, Real Madrid crashed out of the Supercopa with a defeat to Athletic Bilbao, whilst perhaps most embarrassing of all, they were beaten by minnows Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey. You could even argue that Madrid’s progression to the knockout stages of the Champions League was rather on the lucky side.
In the league, things weren’t much better.At one point they trailed cross-city rivals Atlético Madrid by 10 points as their defence of La Liga title looked in tatters. It’s worth noting, however, that a run of poor form from Atléti has let them back into the running and they now lag just three points behind Diego Simeone’s side.
It’s fair to say that their form has certainly left a lot to be desired, especially as the standards are set so high by head coach Zinedine Zidane and club president Florentino Pérez.
Yet, against Liverpool at Real Madrid’s training ground, where they are currently playing their home games while the Santiago Bernabéu is renovated, everything seemed to click into place for Zidane and co.
Like their opponents, Madrid have had their own struggles with injures. In fact, a large portion of their starting XI missed the game, including regular centre backs RaphaëlVarane and Sergio Ramos.
However, stand-in central defenders Nacho Fernández and ÉderMilitão, who is one of the young players that has received flak for not playing to his true potential, seemed unfazed about the prospect of trying to keep Mohamed Salah, SadioMané and Diogo Jota at bay.
And, whilst they didn’t entirely succeed, as Jota’s deflected shot landed at the feet of Salah, who squeezed his effort past the giant Thibaut Courtois to cut the deficit to 2-1, you can’t really fault either of the centre backs. In fact, they deserve plaudits for their respective performances. Alongside stand-in right-back Lucas Vázquez, the defenders made it yet another frustrating night for Liverpool.
In midfield, Toni Kroos, Luka Modrić and Casemiro looked excellent. Kroos cut Liverpool open with his deep ball to Vinícius Júnior, which resulted in the Brazilian opening the scoring, whilst it was Modrić who squared his pass to the 20-year-old for Madrid’s third goal.
Viní Jr, Marco Asensio and the experienced Karim Benzema ran Liverpool’s defence ragged for the 90 minutes. The Brazilian has been heavily criticised for his performances in the famous white shirt of Madrid. However, against Liverpool, he seemed unstoppable. He was a nightmare down the left-hand sidefor Trent Alexander-Arnold, and he finally showed he has an end product with his two well-taken goals, doubling his tally from his previous 17 Champions League appearances.
Alexander-Arnold was at fault for Asensio’s cheeky goal. The 25-year-old intercepted a wayward header by the out-of-form right-back, dinked it over Alisson before tapping it into the back of the open net.
Of course, the tie is far from over. But, if Real Madrid, who are now much more fancied in the outright UEFA Champions League odds, can click like that again in the second leg at Anfield next week, it will be massive hill to climb for Liverpool to find a way back into the game.