Liverpool needed a miracle against Real Madrid and miracles have happened to them before in this competition. But this time they failed to catch light.
It was always somewhat unlikely, wasn’t it? Coming from three behind to beat Barcelona in 2019 was a sensational achievement, but even that came in front of a baying home crowd and against a team which had lost from three goals up a year earlier. And while what happened in Istanbul in 2005 might have been the most remarkable comeback in the history of the European Cup final, that came in a final against a Milan team who’d managed to convince themselves by half-time that they’d already won.
But this was different. This was against the old masters of European football, and on their patch. Real Madrid don’t soil themselves in public in the way that the Barcelona team of the end of the last decade did. They’re disciplined enough not to let them start believing that a job is done when it’s actually only half-done.
And Liverpool arrived at the Bernabeu in a dramatically Jekyll & Hydesque frame of mind, having followed up the result of a lifetime against Manchester United, with all its ‘LIVERPOOL ARE BACK’ implications, by losing to Bournemouth in a manner of Sideshow Bob on a lawn covered in garden rakes. These were two performances in less than six days that looked as though they were played by two completely different teams.
Liverpool needed something remarkable, but by half-time they were no closer to overturning Real’s advantage than they had been at kick-off. When you’ve won the competition you’re competing in six times, the concept of ‘damage limitation’ becomes somewhat redundant. You have to go for it, and run the gamut of whatever risks come with making that commitment.
Diogo Jota was added to the front three of Salah, Nunez and Gakpo. And they did create chances in an open first half. Inside seven minutes Darwin Nunez got through in the right-hand channel and had his shot blocked by the feet of Thibaut Courtois. What might have happened had that gone in? Might it have been the moment to finally crack that famous Madridista sangfroid?
But there were also gaps at the back, the upshot of which was that Alisson was called upon to be at his absolute best as well, blocking from Vinicius Junior and flicking a deflected shot from Eduardo Camavinga onto the crossbar, while Luka Modric also shot narrowly over. Madrid dominated possession for twenty minutes, controlling the…
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