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Fragile Reds, classy Anfield & end of an era? – Last word on Liverpool 2-5 Real Madrid

Five unanswered goals after surging to a two-goal lead, everything good and bad was on show from Liverpool as Real Madrid taught them another European lesson.

Darwin Nunez and Mohamed Salah both on the scoresheet inside 15 minutes, you’d be forgiven for thinking this could finally be the day that the Reds topple Real Madrid.

It did not quite pan out that way, and that’s an understatement as Jurgen Klopp‘s men crumbled at the back to leave themselves praying for a miracle at the Bernabeu.

Here, This Is Anfield’s Joanna Durkan (@JoannaDurkan_) and Chris McLoughlin (@chrismackop) agonisingly breakdown the defeat after a rollercoaster evening at Anfield.

 

That was a humbling evening, wasn’t it?

Fabinho, Stefan Bajcetic, Cody Gakpo, Darwin Nunez, Andy Robertson Liverpool Real Madrid Anfield (Peter Byrne/PA)

JOANNA: That it was. I couldn’t believe it when we were 2-0 up but jubilation quickly turned into a feeling we’ve all become too familiar with this season.

Just a comedy of errors that leaves you dumbfounded. From Alisson to the unbelievably poor defending for their third and the sheer ease at which Real could slice through our defensive half for the last two.

This team needs to learn how to make the foul, and take the blow of a yellow if needed but don’t just let them waltz through. Tired minds, tired legs and a fightback never felt on the cards.

Real, though, what a unit they are. Nothing fazes them.

CHRIS: Liverpool had never conceded four at home in Europe before so for Real Madrid to get five was a shock to the system, but in some ways, it had been coming.

We’ve seen in away games at Napoli, Arsenal, Brentford, Brighton and Wolves that the Reds are defensively fragile this season and while only Brighton had really exposed that fragility at Anfield, a team with some of the best players in the world took full advantage.

That’s what champions of Europe do.

 

What was the atmosphere inside Anfield like?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, February 21, 2023: Liverpool supporters on the Spion Kop before the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg game between Liverpool FC and Real Madrid at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

JOANNA: It was electric to start off with. The last two results injected some much-needed hope but on a European night, Anfield is always up and about.

The Kop looked incredible, “f*** UEFA” was class, and the response to Nunez and Salah finding the net was even better, I couldn’t quite believe the position we’d got ourselves in.

By the end of the 90, though, heads were in hands, and there were vacant seats everywhere – James Milner‘s pass straight over the touchline was the breaking point for many it seemed.

There was frustration but also a sense of inevitability that this is what we’ve become, a team all too easily swept aside and all the opposition need to do is sit and wait for a mistake.

A nice, classy response at the end to the team, though, and also clapping Real off.

CHRIS: The welcome the team coach got outside Anfield was outstanding and You’ll Never Walk Alone was magnificent. Seeing the Real Madrid fans joining in with their scarves aloft was a classy contrast to the disrespect often shown by fans of other clubs.

And in the opening 20 minutes or so, with Liverpool playing some great football and scoring twice, Anfield was bouncing – but then if conceding five doesn’t kill an atmosphere I don’t know what does.

Credit to the Kop for chanting Alisson‘s name after his error, applauding Luka Modric off and as Jo has said, singing YNWA at the end.

They stuck with the lads and I know from what the players tell me in interviews that means a lot.

 

There’s been calls that this truly signifies the end of an era, a time to accelerate change – how do you view it?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, February 21, 2023: Liverpool's goalkeeper Alisson Becker looks dejected after Real Madrid scored the third goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg game between Liverpool FC and Real Madrid at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

CHRIS: It’s too early to say for sure, but it feels like a moment we’ll look back on as signifying the need to change.

As unlikely as it may seem, if Liverpool win every remaining Premier League game and finish in the top four things may feel different, but it didn’t take a 5-2 defeat to the European champions to make it clear that new blood is needed in certain areas of the team and that some players are nearing the end of their Liverpool careers.

Ultimately, a chastening night like this one, when the team is also eighth in the Premier League, must accelerate change and that will need shrewd investment in the team.

JOANNA: As Chris has mentioned there, it’s not come out of the blue, this. We’ve known for some time that this team needs fresh blood, it’s desperately crying out for it.

Teams must evolve and a big summer lies in wait, one that needs to see Liverpool forget sentimentality and get right.

Let’s just hope this wasn’t the battle for Jude Bellingham!

 

Klopp said the result is “not allowed” to destroy confidence, but did you see anything to keep top four hopes alive?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, February 21, 2023: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg game between Liverpool FC and Real Madrid at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

JOANNA: I think there are positives still to take, as hard as that may seem for some to reason with.

I thought we saw Salah back to his best up until he became isolated as Liverpool lost their intensity and mojo, Cody Gakpo pressed and won the ball back well early doors and Stefan Bajcetic was handed another invaluable lesson.

Heads dropped after every goal that went in, understandable and expected, but this team have to cut out the careless mistakes and constantly being their own worst enemy if they’re to salvage this season.

Easier said than done, I know!

A miracle may be needed at the Bernabeu but I think top four is still within reach.

CHRIS: The opening 20 minutes were great, arguably the best the Reds have started any match during the whole season.

Given how few games the front three of Salah, Nunez and Gakpo have actually started together it was also encouraging to see them beginning to gel more, but conceding five at home will knock confidence.

For me, taking that intense, attack-minded opening to the game is the big thing because if Liverpool go 2-0 up against most Premier League teams they won’t be getting beaten.