For a player who has been utterly sucking at the finishing department, Vinicius Junior sure found his form at a good time for his side. His first goal was a beauty, and so classically Liverpool, that one could be forgiven for momentarily being mistaken about which side actually scored it. But it was Kroos, not Trent, who made the pass, and it was Vini Jr, not Salah or Mane, who was was on the receiving end. On his part, the winger took it extremely well and placed it past Alisson in emphatic fashion.
It was an excellent goal. It was also well deserved.
My lifelong love for the Reds aside, they played terribly in the first half, only really waking up from what seemed like a deep slumber following the replacement of Naby Keita with Thiago. Keita was having a torrid game (were I to rate the players, I’d award him a solid 3, perhaps a 2), and even Klopp, who doesn’t usually like to make these kinds of early changes, had had enough. By that time, Liverpool were already two down, having gifted one to Marco Asensio, courtesy of defensive miscommunications and a rather unfortunate error from Trent. His resulting assist to Asensio was, in its own way, pitch perfect, and the latter took it in stride, chipping it over an onrushing, frustrated Alisson.
The Liverpool keeper must have felt quite abandoned during that half.
The second half showed significant improvement, with Liverpool dominating most of the play, and Salah got himself on the score sheet as a result of another energetic Jota moment. As has been a problem recently, Salah bungled his feet a bit as the ball got to him, but it still dropped kindly and he was still able to squeeze it past Courtois, if only just barely. The entire character of the game changed at that point, as the precious away goal could make a big difference in the return tie at Anfield.
Liverpool was close to scoring a second several times, but its problems up front are still evident, especially when it comes to Sadio Mane. Had the Senegalese been conscious, he would have ended the game with at least one. Instead, he seemed to play for the opposition defense when it mattered, and in a game where significant opportunities were difficult to come by, this ended up being very costly, as Vini Jr got his second and Real’s third. From that point onwards, it remained for the Blancos to stave off the shaky and increasingly desperate merseyside offensive unit, and that they did, with much of the credit going to Luka Modric, my man-of-the-match. His tremendous contributions in between the boxes were absolutely essential in a game where nobody particularly excelled. It also, incidentally, served as a reminder of how valuable Bobby’s contributions can be to this Liverpool side, at least until Bobby made a showing to personally serve that reminder. Alas, it was too late to count.
There is no question that a 3-1 scoreline is far better than a 2-0 one, and that Liverpool can turn this around at Anfield, especially as even with their somewhat efficient win, Real didn’t look a particularly compelling side – just a winning one. Yet it won’t happen if the Reds can’t really find their form by that time.
Can they? Yes.