Jürgen Klopp insisted there was no anger left from 2018 but Tuesday night might be a different matter. Some things have changed since these two teams last met in that Champions League final yet the result remained the same, two goals from Vinícius Júnior and one from Marco Asensio taking Real Madrid to another 3-1 victory. The difference is that this time Liverpool will get a second chance and that is the hope to which they must cling after a reunion in which they extracted neither revenge nor redemption.
Anfield, though, is not the same without fans and on this evidence that hope will be limited, Liverpool beaten by a side that might even have lamented that their lead is not larger. Klopp may reflect that they were also complicit in their own demise, Madrid finding imposing themselves easier than they had dared expect and a mistake from Trent Alexander-Arnold gifting the second of the three goals they did score.
Defender Nacho Fernandez, superb here, had warned that there is something about Madrid in this competition and so it proved. It was not just the score; it was the sense Zinedine Zidane’s team was always beyond Liverpool’s reach, even when Mohamed Salah scored the goal that momentarily gave them a foothold or during the final minutes when they sought a second that would have shifted expectations before the second leg.
Cristiano Ronaldo may have gone, as Salah had pointed out. Zidane might have been away and come back since. And his players may be older now. But Madrid can still play, boasting an enviable expertise and a sense that Europe is theirs. Watching Karim Benzema here was to see a superior talent. Watching that midfield was, too: Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro offering a reminder that talent can resist time. In Vinícius, there is youth, a 20-year-old often accused of not scoring enough who this time got two.
The dominance of those familiar footballers helped ensure that the absence of Sergio Ramos, Raphaël Varane and Dani Carvajal went largely unnoticed. Liverpool rarely got close enough to truly test the men who replaced them, although there were two sharp interceptions from the full-backs Ferland Mendy and Lucas Vázquez, and the moment when Salah made it 2-1. There was not much else from the men in red.
Kroos in particular had exercised control from early on. Vinícius headed just wide and was blocked by Ozan Kabak, who was then quick to deny Benzema, in the opening quarter of an hour. Vinícius was alive, the outlet on the left – until, on 26 minutes, he was decisive in the middle.
Kroos dropped deep to the right, inside his own half. If allowing him time felt unwise, that was only with hindsight after the event: no one could imagine he would deliver a pass quite as he did, except perhaps Kroos himself and the Brazilian running for it. The German struck a long diagonal delivery that speared 50 yards and dropped between Kabak and Nat Phillips and on to Vinícius’s chest with absurd precision. The forward controlled, stepped between the defenders and shot low into the net.
Often accused of lacking the efficiency to go with his electricity, his finish here was almost as impeccable as the one that Marco Asensio provided to make it 2-0 nine minutes later. Again, Kroos’s delivery started it but the “assist” this time came from Alexander-Arnold, who headed into his path. Asensio coolly lifted the ball gently over Alisson. From Madrid’s substitutes there was a roar, from Klopp there was remonstration because of what he thought was a foul on Sadio Mané a moment before.
There was no hiding the reality though, and a moment later Asensio almost got another, Liverpool again facilitating things for their opponents. Beyond Kabak, his shot slipped past the post. Liverpool had been oddly passive; now they were poor. Madrid seemed aware that they had an opportunity to end it and Klopp sensed it too, sending Thiago Alcântara on to get a hold of the game. The stats showed it too: by half time Madrid had taken nine shots, Liverpool none.
If Madrid’s regret was that the lead was only two goals, that deepened when Georginio Wijnaldum set off five minutes into the second half. Running from deep on the right, he carried the ball to the edge of the area and found Diogo Jota, whose deflected shot fell at the feet of Salah to nudge past Thibaut Courtois. Liverpool were alive, Alexander-Arnold immediately delivering a cross for Jota to head wide. A moment later Jota and Andy Robertson combined to create an opportunity for Mané, but Ferland Mendy intercepted superbly.
Liverpool remained easily opened, though. A Courtois roll, a Benzema pass and Asensio was clean through. That chance wasn’t taken, but the next was. Again, Madrid were largely unopposed as they advanced into the area. Benzema turned the ball to Modric, who stepped into the box and fed Vinícius. He swept a low, clean shot into the bottom corner.
More could have followed, Asensio almost escaping Alisson, Benzema’s effort saved, Alexander-Arnold getting increasingly frustrated at Vinícius constantly accelerating away. Inevitably, obligation imposed a late shift, Liverpool pushing for the goal that would change the tie, but genuine chances were few and when Thiago did get space his shot sailed on to the bank behind the goal. Next week it will be an empty Kop instead. It will also have to be very different.