Reds zero in on top-four spot

Champions League return is Liverpool's sole mission after failed bid to break down Real

Left: Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois saving an effort by Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, just one of the many chances thrown at his direction during the Anfield match. The hosts took 15 shots, finding the target four times. Below: The bus c
Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois saving an effort by Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, just one of the many chances thrown at his direction during the Anfield match. The hosts took 15 shots, finding the target four times. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Left: Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois saving an effort by Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, just one of the many chances thrown at his direction during the Anfield match. The hosts took 15 shots, finding the target four times. Below: The bus c
The bus carrying the Real team was damaged by items thrown by fans along the route to Anfield. PHOTO: MADRIDXTRA/ TWITTER

LONDON • Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp admitted his side have to quickly bounce back from the disappointment of their Champions League elimination at the hands of Real Madrid to ensure they do not miss out on the competition next season.

Despite enjoying a host of chances, the Reds fluffed their lines in front of goal as the visitors ground out a 0-0 draw in the second leg of their quarter-final tie at Anfield on Wednesday, ensuring their 3-1 first-leg lead was enough for a semi-final berth.

Liverpool, out of the two domestic cups and the Premier League title race, have nothing to play for this season other than to try and finish in the top four, which guarantees a spot in Europe's premier club competition.

They are sixth in the top flight with just seven games remaining and three points adrift of fourth-placed West Ham (55).

Klopp's side have qualified for the Champions League for the last four seasons, twice reaching the final and winning in 2019 under the German.

Missing out on Champions League football would not only be a blow to Liverpool's prestige, but also have financial ramifications, with the club looking to augment the squad in the summer transfer market.

With third-placed Leicester only a point above the Hammers, two of the four Champions League spots - Manchester City and Manchester United are favourites to clinch the top two places - are up for grabs and Klopp urged his side to finish what has been a bitterly disappointing season on a high.

"We have to (bounce back). We love this competition and for different reasons, it is very important for the club," he said. "Now we can concentrate on the Premier League. Monday night, Leeds, is the next challenge. We have to run and work our socks off."

Liverpool have won just one of their last nine league games at Anfield as a previously impregnable home record has crumbled in a season behind closed doors due to coronavirus restrictions.

On Wednesday, Mohamed Salah and Georginio Wijnaldum were guilty of wasting glorious opportunities as the hosts could not replicate their remarkable recovery from 3-0 down to beat Barcelona 4-3 on aggregate at the semi-final stage two years ago.

While Klopp claimed his team "lost it (the tie) definitely in Madrid", he was disappointed at their failure to take advantage of Real's makeshift central defensive pairing of Eder Militao and Nacho Fernandez, as well as Federico Valverde, playing in an unfamiliar role at right-back.

The visitors were also unruffled despite their team bus being damaged by debris thrown by Liverpool supporters on the way to Anfield.

A video on social media depicted flare-waving fans hurling abuse as the bus passed by and other pictures showed the outer frame of a reinforced window was smashed.

Merseyside police have since launched a probe into the incident, while Liverpool slammed "the totally unacceptable and shameful behaviour of a few individuals".

Real coach Zinedine Zidane instead chose to praise his side for winning the 14th of his 15 Champions League knockout ties.

"All you can say is that we are all in this together, with everything that has happened to us this season, all the injuries we have had. This team can never be written off," the Frenchman said.

The 13-time European Cup winners have now reached the Champions League last four for the ninth time in 11 seasons and will meet Chelsea for a place in the Istanbul final on May 29.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

  • UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

  • SEMI-FINALS

    R. Madrid* (Esp) v Chelsea (Eng)

    PSG* (Fra) v Man City (Eng)

    First legs: April 27-28

    Second legs: May 4-5

    *Teams to play first leg at home

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2021, with the headline 'Reds zero in on top-four spot'. Subscribe