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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp undeniably had his work cut out trying to spark another Champions League miracle in Madrid against the competition’s most successful club but there were several calls at the Bernabeu that hindered the Reds’ small chances of qualification. Carlo Ancelotti’s side cruised into the quarter-finals as they successfully kept Liverpool at bay before securing a 1-0 victory late into the game courtesy of Karim Benzema’s tap in.
The Reds were always facing a near-on impossible task following their second-half capitulation at Anfield when Real Madrid ruthlessly ripped Liverpool’s defence apart to score five goals after going 2-0 down.
Yet despite needing three goals, Liverpool never truly looked like scoring due to their lack of cutting edge and conviction in the crunch moments.
Klopp’s decision to play 4-2-4 left the Reds exposed in midfield and allowed Luka Modric and Toni Kroos to assert control.
In the wide areas, Liverpool were overly attack-minded and Vinicius Jr enjoyed another fine evening as he revelled in the chance to target Trent Alexander-Arnold’s defensive frailties.
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While Klopp deserves credit for going for broke and showing courage with his starting XI, the tactical tweak actually proved to be their Achilles’ heel.
Diogo Jota was poor and rightfully subbed while Mohamed Salah was once again too far away from the goal on the right flank. Cody Gakpo also looked lost as failed to make any form of real impact in attack.
Klopp evidently knew the balance was not quite up for scratch as he made a double change on the hour mark, withdrawing Jota and Darwin Nunez.
While Liverpool looked more solid with Harvey Elliott and Roberto Firmino on the field, they never really looked like breaking down the Real Madrid door.
Had Firmino or Elliott started as the No.10 or in a three-man midfield alongside Milner and Fabinho at the expense of a forward, Liverpool would have stood in far greater stead of pulling a rabbit out of the hat. But that’s hindsight.
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The decision to take Nunez off the field was also very questionable. Liverpool lost their goal threat when he was removed and although this was far from the Uruguayan’s best game, he was at least prepared to shoot on sight – something others failed to do.
Nunez had three shots on target in the first half alone and although a change was warranted around 60 minutes, withdrawing the £85million summer signing was evidently a mistake.
Klopp jumped the gun on the double change and Nunez appears to be one of the players the Liverpool boss is always willing to take off the field during matches.
Whether you rate Nunez or not, he is always an active goal threat that is a magnet for chances.
His pace, strength and desire to shoot at goal means he is a player worth keeping on the field right until the end of the match.
As seen against Manchester United earlier this month, Nunez is more than capable of getting on the scoresheet despite delivering a sub-par performance.
He was off the pace and more than likely on the verge of being subbed against United following a ropey first-half display before he came up trumps with two well-taken headers.
Picking a Liverpool team without Jordan Henderson and Stefan Bajcetic was always going to be difficult for Klopp – particularly against Real Madrid – but on his occasion, there is a small lingering feeling of disappointment.
Liverpool must now dust themselves down and avoid injuries over the international break before they prepare to go again against Manchester City, when Luiz Diaz could potentially return.
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