The good, the bad & some perspective – Debating Liverpool 0-0 Real Madrid

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Following Liverpool’s exit from the Champions League, three Reds supporters try to find some perspective, as a disappointing season continues.

Jurgen Klopp‘s men were hoping to overturn their 3-1 deficit against Real Madrid on Wednesday night, with a place in the semi-finals up for grabs.

Liverpool played well throughout at Anfield, but that all-too-familiar wastefulness in the final third proved to be the main stumbling block.

Eventually, the Reds ran out of steam and Madrid sealed a 0-0 draw, once again inflicting European misery on their opponents.

Here, This Is Anfield’s Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) is joined by a pair of Irish Reds, Liam Togher (@liamtogher88) and John O’Sullivan (@NotoriousJOS), to discuss a disappointing night, but also to make a level-headed assessment of the season so far.

 

The good…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, April 14, 2021: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold crosses the ball during the UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg game between Liverpool FC and Real Madird CF at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

LIAM: We got a clean sheet, I suppose.

That we at least managed that much was thanks to Alisson producing one big moment to deny Vinicius Jr and Benzema in quick succession in the second half.

After a difficult few weeks for the goalkeeper on the pitch and especially off it, that magnificent stop was a timely reminder of his overall class.

The much-debated Trent also enjoyed a tremendous game off the back of his winner against Aston Villa last weekend.

A constant threat going forward and producing a couple of vital challenges defensively, he can at least feel he did his utmost in trying to help the Reds to pull off another epic European performance.

I don’t really care whether or not he’s in England’s Euro 2020 squad; I just want him to keep producing his best in a Liverpool shirt, and last night he came up trumps in that regard.

JOHN: I thought the performance, especially in the first half, was largely good.

Milner set the tone in terms of intensity, and Liverpool played with dynamism and pace. On another night, they would have capitalised on the chances they created, but such is football.

As Liam rightly says, Trent was absolutely superb, in both defence and attack. Some of his passing was sublime, especially the outside-of-the-foot ball to Firmino, but he also excelled defensively.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, April 14, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp with Nathaniel Phillips after the UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg game between Liverpool FC and Real Madird CF at Anfield. The game ended in a goal-less draw, Real Madrid won 3-1 on aggregate. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Vinicius, who was their dangerman in the first leg, didn’t get a sniff, which shows how much of a nonsense the narrative that Trent can’t defend is.

People are at pains to take sides in this, but I think both central defenders were good. Phillips got caught once or twice, but he excelled aerially and his passing looked as crisp and incisive as it has ever been.

Kabak was similar and his gorgeous pass to Mane created the first Salah chance.

They’re far from perfect, but in a season of constant defensive upheaval, it’s great to see familiarity, even if it’s flawed.

HENRY: The performance was strong – I can’t really fault Klopp’s tactics and there was one major reason why we went out (more on that later).

I agree with the lads that Trent was outstanding, with his performance further proof that Southgate appears to have lost his mind.

I thought Phillips and Milner were standouts as well – Gini was excellent in the first half – doing almost nothing wrong in the jobs they were tasked with.

The sight of seeing fans lining Anfield Road before the game also filled me with great warmth, because it felt like another step towards normality.

On that point, at least another match has gone by, meaning it brings us closer to next season and better times, and this awful version of football in empty grounds means the defeat is easier to take.

 

The bad…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, April 14, 2021: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah looks dejected after the UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg game between Liverpool FC and Real Madird CF at Anfield. The game ended in a goal-less draw, Real Madrid won 3-1 on aggregate. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

LIAM: We’re out of the Champions League so that’s obviously a kick in the personal area.

It wasn’t for the want of trying, but there must have been an enormous sense of regret in the home dressing room over the multitude of presentable scoring chances which came and went for Liverpool.

Salah could have put the fear right up Real Madrid had he not shot straight at Courtois in the first two minutes.

Wijnaldum, Mane and Firmino may also feel disappointed that they failed to capitalise on scorable opportunities on a night when goals were essential for the Reds.

It was also a rare off-night for Jota, who was given half an hour to try and change the course of the tie but was barely noticed during his time on the pitch.

One scuffed shot towards the end of the night summed up his unusually subdued performance – perhaps it is a sign of how brilliant he has been all season that his 30-minute cameo last night is being viewed as poor.

Still, on a night when we could really have done with him coming good, he didn’t come close to making his mark.

JOHN: The finishing was awful. Salah was particularly guilty in this aspect, missing at least two, if not three, good chances.

Wijnaldum and Firmino ought to have done better in front of goal, too, with a couple of openings.

It has been a familiar story since Liverpool used all their goal luck up in the 7-0 hammering of Crystal Palace in December.

The second-half performance tapered off in terms of whirlwind energy, which was maybe inevitable.

Making so many subs also ruined the synergy, but, in truth, the tie was lost in Madrid and Liverpool can’t complain too much.

HENRY: PUT THE BALL IN THE NET, LADS!

Quite what has happened to Liverpool’s finishing I don’t know, but it again proved to be the reason for a bad outcome, rather than the makeshift defence.

As John alludes to, Salah was the most guilty party, which hasn’t been the norm this season, and he will be furious that he hasn’t avenged his 2018 heartache against Madrid.

Mane and Firmino frustrated me more, however, and they continue to be a shadow of their former selves. How do you expect to win trophies when two-thirds of the attack is bordering on hopeless?

I agree with Liam that Jota was also fairly insipid when he came on, as was Thiago, who I wanted more from in such a big game.

 

And some perspective…

LIAM: That Liverpool’s aim for the next six weeks is to finish fourth highlights just how disappointing the 2020/21 season has been – the first under Klopp in which there has been regression.

I’m not overly bothered that we’ll finish it without a trophy, but the failure to mount any sustained title defence has to be seen as a letdown, irrespective of the severe injury blows we have been dealt.

Nor does it help that, despite our improved Premier League form of late, our top-four fate remains out of our hands.

Not only do we need to make sure we take care of our own business against Leeds, Newcastle, Man United, Southampton, West Brom, Burnley and Crystal Palace, we also require favours from elsewhere if we are to call ourselves a Champions League club next autumn.

It helps slightly that West Ham and Chelsea are due to play each other soon.

I, for one, am very fearful about the medium-term future of the club if we fail to finish in the top four. When we missed out in 2010 after a sustained run of being in Europe’s top competition, we then qualified only once in the subsequent seven seasons.

I also look at how Arsenal went from being in it annually for two decades before we edged them for fourth in 2017 and they haven’t been back in the Champions League since.

I wish I could strike a more defiant note, but I feel that we have a lot more to lose than to gain between now and May 23.

JOHN: There is zero shame in exiting the Champions League at the hands of the Spanish champions. Real are as streetwise a team as you’ll find.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, April 14, 2021: Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara during the UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg game between Liverpool FC and Real Madird CF at Anfield. The game ended in a goal-less draw, Real Madrid won 3-1 on aggregate. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool saddled up to the tie with a defensive pairing of Phillips, a 24-year-old who didn’t play top-flight football until this January, and Kabak, a 21-year-old on loan from one of the worst teams in Bundesliga history.

Given what the Reds have been through, it would have been miraculous if they had reached the last four in Europe.

As it is, they’re in a good place to qualify for this competition again via the league. With all their injury strife and rank misfortune, it should be viewed as a hell of an achievement, if they manage it.

HENRY: I’m not going to be as negative as Liam, even though I fully understand his stance.

It has been a disaster of a season, without question, but everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong, whether it be endless injuries, shocking VAR decisions, key men falling off a cliff and fans not being present.

Injured players, Van Dijk, Henderson, Gomez (Image: Darren Staples / Sportimage)

I have total faith in this side returning to the very top again once the likes of Van Dijk, Gomez and Henderson are back, legs and minds have been rested and new faces have been brought in.

That being said, a lot now hinges on the top-four battle – Liverpool simply have to find a way of getting over the line, or risk going backwards.

Even if they do miss out, I believe Klopp will mastermind a big response, but not playing Champions League football would clearly make life more difficult.

We need to make sure we don’t all go from believers to doubters now – this manager and these players have done more than enough to justify our trust in them.

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