Liverpool 2-5 Real Madrid: Ruthless holders complete stunning comeback
Vinicius Junior and Karim Benzema heaped more Champions League pain on Liverpool as Real Madrid produced a storming fightback to secure a stunning 5-2 victory at Anfield.
Darwin Nunez’s sublime flick and Mohamed Salah’s strike following a Thibaut Courtois howler gave the Reds a two-goal lead only 14 minutes into a dramatic first leg of the round-of-16 tie on Tuesday.
That proved to be a false dawn as the holders stormed back in a rematch of last year’s final, Vinicius pulling one back with a classy finish before a bad mistake from Alisson gifted him a second goal in an enthralling first half.
Eder Militao headed Madrid in front early in the second half before Benzema’s double gave Carlo Ancelotti’s ruthless side a commanding advantage to take back to the Spanish capital for the second leg on March 15.
Nunez produced a moment of magic in the fourth minute to put the hosts in front, meeting Salah’s whipped ball with an audacious right-foot flick that flashed past Courtois.
Courtois endured a nightmare 10 minutes later, controlling a back past on his chest before the ball bounced off his knee to present Salah with a simple chance to double Liverpool’s lead.
Madrid looked like they did not know what had hit them, but Vinicius halved the deficit in the 21st minute by showing excellent close control in the box before bending a sumptuous right-foot finish into the bottom corner.
The winger was celebrating in front of The Kop again nine minutes before the break after Alisson’s terrible attempted pass struck his Brazil team-mate and looped into the net.
Madrid lost David Alaba to injury during a pulsating first half which they would have ended with a lead had Andy Robertson not shown great awareness to deny Rodrygo a tap-in.
Los Blancos were in front two minutes into the second half, though, when an unmarked Militao capitalised on terrible defending to head in the influential Luka Modric’s free-kick.
An evening that had started well then took another turn for the worse for Liverpool, with Benzema’s shot striking Joe Gomez and giving a wrong-footed Alisson no chance.
Liverpool were opened up again after 67 minutes, Modric and Vinicius combining before Benzema sat Alisson down and demonstrated great composure to finish with his left foot.
What does it mean? Masterful Madrid stun fragile Reds
Liverpool could hardly have had a better start, but they were taught at harsh lesson by the newly crowned Club World Cup winners and paid the price for being so vulnerable at the back.
Los Blancos beat Jurgen Klopp’s side 1-0 in the 2022 Champions League final at Parc des Princes and blew them away as Liverpool became the first team in the history of the competition to lose by a three-goal margin after being 2-0 up.
Liverpool had never conceded four goals at home in Europe, let alone five, and are in great danger of missing out on Champions League football next season given they are eighth in the Premier League.
Vinicius too hot to handle, Benzema brilliance
It was Vinicius who scored the only goal of the final last year and he sparked the comeback with a brilliant finish.
He and Benzema both took their goal tallies for the season to 18 and must be rubbing their hands together at the prospect of facing the Reds again after tearing them apart on Merseyside with Modric pulling the strings behind them.
Salah’s record strike in vain
Salah became Liverpool’s record goalscorer in Europe with 42 when he was on target early on.
He will be in no mood to celebrate breaking Steven Gerrard’s record after 14-time European champions Madrid rocked the Reds in devastating fashion.
Key Opta Facts
– Liverpool conceded five goals in a European game at Anfield for the first time, while it was just third time this century they shipped five or more goals in a home game in all competitions, also doing so in January 2007 (6-3 defeat to Arsenal) and October 2019 (5-5 draw with Arsenal).
– Real Madrid are the first team in Champions League history to come from two goals down and win by a three-goal margin.
– This was only the fourth time a Jurgen Klopp side conceded five or goals in a home game in all competitions, after Mainz in 2006 (6-1 v Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga), Borussia Dortmund in 2009 (5-1 v Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga) and Liverpool in 2019 (5-5 v Arsenal).
– Darwin Nunez’s opener (three minutes 10 seconds) was Liverpool’s earliest ever Champions League goal at Anfield.
Klopp’s side travel to Crystal Palace for a Premier League encounter on Saturday, when Los Blancos face Atletico Madrid at home in a LaLiga derby.