Jürgen Klopp accused German referee Felix Brych of having a personal issue with Sadio Mané but admitted Liverpool had only themselves to blame for a damaging 3-1 defeat by Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final.
Liverpool require another momentous second-leg comeback at Anfield next Wednesday after suffering a repeat of the 2018 Champions League final scoreline, and their 10th defeat of 2021, courtesy of two goals from Vinícius Júnior and one from Marco Asensio. The Spain international scored following a dreadful mistake by Trent Alexander-Arnold and seconds after Brych dismissed Liverpool’s appeals for a foul by Lucas Vázquez on Mané. An incensed Klopp made his feelings known to the match officials at half and full time, and claimed the referee was “unfair” on the Senegal international throughout the first leg.
“Most importantly, we didn’t deserve to win tonight,” the Liverpool manager said when asked about the Mané incident. “We didn’t play good enough for that. That’s my first concern. Especially in the first half we didn’t play good enough football.
“A game is a summary of momentum if you want and when we had good momentum on the ball we changed that immediately by giving the ball away. We conceded the first goal and served the second on a plate but that was not the real problem of the game. Second half we played better football, and tried to create against a really passionate and deep defending Real side which is difficult. We scored our goal and that is ‘the’ positive of the night. Did we deserve more than 3-1? I’m not sure.
“The situation with Sadio – what the ref did tonight I don’t understand. For me that was something personal because he dealt with the situation with Sadio, which was a clear foul, like he was a diver or whatever. From that moment on whenever Sadio went down he didn’t get anything. That is not right. That is what I told him after the game, that I thought he was unfair with Sadio. That doesn’t change anything at all. He didn’t lose the game. We were not good enough to get a better result, but in these moments you need just an ‘ok’ ref. That would have been enough.”
Klopp started with Naby Keïta over Thiago Alcântara but the surprise decision back-fired as the Guinea international toiled for 42 minutes before being replaced by the former Bayern Munich midfielder.
“It was tactical. These are the things,” said Klopp of Keïta’s substitution. “I don’t like in the job; you do that and it’s like one player is responsible for the performance in the first half. Naby was not responsible for that. He didn’t play for a while, especially not from the start, and we were not good in the game. Naby was not good in the game but I could have made a few more changes in that moment.”
Mohamed Salah’s 26th Champions League goal for Liverpool gave Klopp’s team a glimmer of hope for the second leg but the manager conceded that, without a volatile atmosphere at Anfield, the responsibility is entirely on his players to rescue the tie.
The Liverpool manager added: “Of course, it is completely different. If you want to have some emotional memories you watch the Barcelona game back and 80% of it is the atmosphere in the stadium. It’s not like I sit here and say ‘comebacks are our thing’. We had supporters then and I don’t know if we can do it but we will give it a proper try. It must be a really tricky task for Real Madrid at Anfield with or without supporters.”