Neil Atkinson’s post-match review for The Anfield Wrap after Liverpool 2 Real Madrid 5 in the Champions League last 16 at Anfield…


IT was a game of two halves.

The issue is that Liverpool drew their half 2-2, whereas Real Madrid won theirs 0-3.

Within the issue is a lot of other issues. Real Madrid kept their threat level high, even when they were very much coming off second best. They suffered well. They took their chances and once they had got their gifts, they never looked like giving another back.

Liverpool suckered themselves, switched off at key times and suffered so, so poorly. They denuded themselves of an outball, they were scared to cheat in both ways — cheat with positioning and cheat with tactical fouling — and they didn’t manage to keep the tie alive.

Who knows, in a sense. It isn’t beyond the realms of possibility Liverpool find their way to another two-goal lead in Madrid. It isn’t beyond the realms of possibility they lose 5-2 again. Both in tandem aren’t beyond the realms.

What’s tough to take is that part of why Liverpool start well is because they start wise. They contest in a smart way, pick their battles and get their rewards.

Darwin Nuñez does brilliantly in terms of the first of those rewards. It’s an excellent ball and finish and the start we needed.

When it goes two it could have gone four. Liverpool get Mo Salah in four times and get Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold in too. But they don’t convert.

The lack of conversion felt like it may be a thing across this tie; it never, at that stage, seemed like it would be tonight.

The whole while, though, Vinicius Jr remains so live. He is both outball and biggest threat. He scraps and fights and shows so much quality. His first is something special, but he is also the anchor Madrid can drop. He gets them 40 yards when they need it.

Yet the first wasn’t enough to turn the tide. It told us that Madrid were live but Liverpool remained more live. There was another significant showing from Cody Gakpo who looks quicker every week.

But the second and third just kill Liverpool. The second is the goalkeeper’s error. There is simply no getting away from it. The third is soft in every sense. It didn’t look a foul to me, Liverpool should insist it gets taken from the goalline, and then they should look interested in winning the first ball.

Liverpool do my head in at three and 4-2. There is a lot of tie left but you wouldn’t know it. They are showing their vulnerability and you don’t do that to this Madrid side. They will punish you and they do. The fourth is fortunate but Liverpool are wide open; Madrid would choose to suffer — Liverpool choose to bleed.

In the end, the contest is Luca Modric’s. Vinicius Jr may well be the best player in the world at the minute and Karim Benzema may well be so dangerous, but it is Modric who is a match made in heaven with Carlo Ancelotti. The match wears on and he finds his space to function and finally control. The first 30 minutes were almost none of his business. The last 30 belonged to him.

Liverpool have had hard lines, but they have brought them on themselves, as well as coming up against an excellent side. They need to regain the ability to have nothing happen for a bit at the very highest level. That will include going over to Madrid for the second leg.

You can’t be a bit smart and a bit stupid. You need to hammer home your advantage. You need to cut out gifts and you certainly don’t have to exchange them.

And don’t you dare feel sorry for yourselves.

That goes for you, too.

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