Liverpool in double trouble

Vinicius punishes poor defending to score twice, Real in prime position to progress

Real forward Vinicius Jr celebrating after scoring the opener in the 27th minute of the Champions League quarter-final first-leg clash against Liverpool at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium in Madrid. He netted again in the 65th minute to record his fir
Real forward Vinicius Jr celebrating after scoring the opener in the 27th minute of the Champions League quarter-final first-leg clash against Liverpool at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium in Madrid. He netted again in the 65th minute to record his first brace for the La Liga giants. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MADRID • Liverpool have a mountain to climb to reach the Champions League semi-finals after losing the first leg of their last-eight tie 3-1 to Real Madrid on Tuesday, but manager Jurgen Klopp says they have a chance to turn the tables when they host the second leg at a "proper stadium" next week.

Vinicius Jr and Marco Asensio put the hosts ahead before the break at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium, and while Mohamed Salah grabbed an away goal in the second half, poor defending allowed the La Liga side to net a third.

Winning the Champions League might be the only avenue for Liverpool to return to the competition next season as they are struggling to secure a top-four finish in the Premier League - they trail fourth-placed West Ham (52) by three points - which would bring automatic qualification.

Asked about the challenge of chasing a top-four spot and trying to come back in the tie against Madrid, Klopp admitted his team cannot pick and choose their battles, with the defence of their league title over and their exits from both domestic cups.

"We have to go for everything," he said. "It's not like we can now make the decision after that game, there's no chance in the Champions League any more.

"We have to fight until the end and we will. This is a good result for Real and it's not that we have any kind of advantage, but... there's a chance."

However he warned his side they had no margin for error in the second leg.

"We made it too easy for them," the German said. "If you want to go to the semi-final, you have to earn the right to do so. We didn't do that tonight, especially in the first half. The only good thing I can say, apart from the goal, is it's only the first half of the tie."

The Reds overturned a 3-0 deficit against Barcelona in the semi-finals in 2019 before going to lift their sixth European Cup, but in the second leg, they will be unable to count on the atmosphere at Anfield, where they have lost their last six Premier League games.

Despite the absence of fans due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Klopp felt his team would be more at ease at home compared to Madrid's training facility, which is doubling as their home ground while the Santiago Bernabeu is being renovated.

Real coach Zinedine Zidane is confident of finishing the job on Merseyside even though he is again likely to be without first-choice central defensive pair Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.

Captain Ramos is out for a month after picking up an injury while on international duty with Spain and Varane is unlikely to recover in time after returning a positive test for Covid-19 on Tuesday.

But replacements Nacho Fernandez and Eder Militao did well to largely contain Liverpool's attackers and a solid defensive base can allow Vinicius to be just as clinical in England as he was here.

In his three seasons with Real, the mercurial Brazilian has faced plenty of criticism over a lack of end product so Zidane hopes that this is the 20-year-old's star turn.

Before Tuesday, the forward had netted just 12 goals in 105 games.

"We are seeing some fantastic stuff. We know how good he can be when he gets into space... he deserved what happened tonight," the Frenchman said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2021, with the headline 'Liverpool in double trouble'. Subscribe