KLOPP’S LAST GAME SOUVENIR

“Predictable” Champions League exit Liverpool’s latest “sobering reality check”

Liverpool limped out of the Champions League in meek fashion as Real Madrid eased to a 6-2 aggregate win.

Jurgen Klopp‘s men were looking to produce one of the greatest comebacks in not just the Reds’ history but any club’s, but it rarely looked on the cards in Spain.

Both sides created chances in the first half, but Liverpool’s belief disappeared after the interval and Karim Benzema’s goal secured a 1-0 victory.

Here’s how the media assessed the Reds’ European exit, as a horrible season keeps on churning out fresh punches to the gut.

 

It was a flat night that summed up Liverpool’s season…

MADRID, SPAIN - Wednesday, March 15, 2023: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 2nd Leg game between Real Madrid CF and Liverpool FC at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Miguel Delaney of the Independent wasn’t surprised by the result on Wednesday night:

“Liverpool aren’t quite coming apart at the seams, but a season of injuries, issues, chaos and wild unpredictability eventually came to bear on a tie at this kind of level.

“It was asking a lot to overcome all of that against opposition like this, and means Klopp is now left to just focus on trying to get back to this level next season.

“All they have got remaining in the campaign is the race for the top four.

“That might work in their favour, because this is a side that can’t currently seem to perform to top levels twice in a week. They never got going here, although that isn’t really down to any failure of planning or quality.”

Delaney’s Independent colleague, Richard Jolly, echoed that sentiment:

“So, in the most unpredictable of seasons for Liverpool, this was the most predictable of exits.

[…]

“They had overturned a three-goal deficit against a Spanish superpower in the Champions League before, but it was Barcelona, at Anfield, in 2019, when the team was at the peak of its powers.”

“There was no 2023 version of Gini Wijnaldum or Divock Origi, no one etching his name into history, just a team toiling, an attack misfiring in front of goal, a keeper making a defiant effort that still did not spare them a 13th defeat of the campaign.”

Goal‘s Neil Jones felt it was all a little flat from Klopp’s side:

“No miracle. No comeback. In the end, not even a goal for the travelling Liverpool supporters to get excited about.

“The Reds had descended on the Spanish capital dreaming of the most unlikely of escape acts, but all they got was another harsh lesson from Real Madrid, their Champions League bete noir.

“For the fourth time in six seasons, Liverpool’s European dreams were dashed by the kings of this competition, with Karim Benzema’s late strike securing a 6-2 aggregate win and sending Carlo Ancelotti’s men into the quarter-finals.

“A sobering reality check for Reds fans, many of whom made an early exit as the game, and indeed the tie, petered out in the dying stages.”

Sid Lowe of the Guardian admitted he was watching a different Liverpool to the one of old:

“Liverpool played but this was not the full-throttle, the madness, that refusal to let opponents breathe.

“Which may have been the plan or just a reflection of reality, the limitations they have now.

[…]

“There was little sign of Liverpool making an epic of this, an opportunity to open it up slipping them by almost immediately with Salah under-hitting a pass to release Nunez.

“Jota and Nunez soon made way for Harvey Elliott and Roberto Firmino but this was starting to feel like a case now of just seeing out time, Madrid managing the evening and settling into a pattern, keeping the ball at their feet and Liverpool at arm’s length.”

 

There were similar sights on show yet again…

MADRID, SPAIN - Wednesday, March 15, 2023: Liverpool's Ibrahima Konaté (L) and Virgil van Dijk during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 2nd Leg game between Real Madrid CF and Liverpool FC at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

This Is Anfield‘s Mark Delgado criticised both individuals and the team:

“Lots of good players, lots of poor showings. Liverpool have had the big men for the big occasion many times over in recent years, but few have been such this season.

“At the Bernabeu, too many of the potential match-winners were downright poor.

Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s passing was well below his best level again, while defensively he never once stopped Vinicius Jr. He did make a big block on Benzema, but he just hasn’t had a good year.

Diogo Jota‘s goalless run continued with a wild swing and a miss, Darwin Nunez offered nowhere near enough on the night and behind them, Fabinho‘s distribution was often wayward too.

“Individual performance aside, the team just still isn’t functioning well as a unit. It’s not dangerous enough consistently enough in one half of the pitch, and remaining way too open in the other.”

Freddie Keighley of the Mirror felt Klopp’s substitutions were odd, as they have been too often:

“Liverpool ended the first half the team in the ascendency as Real Madrid were seemingly content to let their visitors dominate possession without creating much of note.

“Perhaps these encouraging signs convinced Jurgen Klopp not to make any changes at the interval, but it became increasingly evident that Liverpool needed a shot in the arm if they were going to pull off the unthinkable with just over half an hour remaining.

“One change the Reds were crying out for saw Roberto Firmino come on for Diogo Jota, but it was the other half of the double substitution – as Harvey Elliott replaced Darwin Nunez – which raised eyebrows.

“Nunez had been Liverpool’s standout attacker throughout the first 57 minutes and his early withdrawal will raise fears that he sustained a knock.”

Jones was at least praiseworthy of the excellent Alisson, with the Brazilian easily Liverpool’s Player of the Year:

“He may have blundered in the first leg, gifting a crucial goal to Vinicius Junior, but nobody could fault Liverpool’s goalkeeper here.

“What a performance the Brazilian turned in.

“His first-half save from Vinicius, an instinctive block with his forearm from point blank range, was superb. His next, from Eduardo Camavinga, was even better, a touch onto the crossbar at full stretch.

“There was another after the break, one-on-one against Fede Valverde, and only some slapstick defending and a lucky ricochet denied him a deserved clean sheet, as Benzema pounced late in the day.”

 

It’s time to go all in on a top-four finish…

MADRID, SPAIN - Wednesday, March 15, 2023: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp reacts during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 2nd Leg game between Real Madrid CF and Liverpool FC at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Telegraph‘s Jason Burt described missing out on Champions League football “unthinkable”:

“Now the desperate task for the remainder of the campaign is clear: finish fourth and qualify again.

“It would be unthinkable for a team who played every possible game they could have played last season and nearly won it all to not only be empty-handed this campaign but no longer be at European football’s top table.

“Liverpool have 12 games to overhaul Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur and maybe even Manchester United – and hold off Brighton – and salvage something from a season that promised so much but is in danger of disappearing in soul-searching and inevitable recrimination.”

Finally, Delgado looked ahead to a crucial period starting next month:

“After so many false dawns even since the World Cup, we can now accept this year is simply awful and won’t be consistent in terms of performance level – but Klopp does still have to find a way to eke out more consistent results.

“We return to action at Man City, then face Chelsea away and Arsenal at home. Three huge games in any season, but this time three which might define whether we can really make a late charge for the top four.

“Needless to say, the Reds cannot afford to have any outings with the mindset and quality shown against Bournemouth.”