Champions League quarter final first leg, April 6 2021
Vinícius Júnior (27, 65)
Real Madrid took a significant step towards progressing into the final four of the Champions League by building a two-goal lead over Liverpool. Injury has deprived both Zinedine Zidane and Jürgen Klopp of their senior central defenders, but it was Real who punished Liverpool's vulnerability via first-half goals from Vinícius Júnior and Marco Asensio, and a further finish in the second half from Vinícius. Mo Salah's goal, earlier in the second half, means Liverpool remain in contention ahead of the second leg. "If you want to go to the semi-final, you have to earn the right to do so," said Klopp. "We didn't do that, especially in the first half. We just didn't play good enough football to cause Real Madrid more problems. We made it too easy for them. The only good thing I can say, apart from the goal, is it's only the first half of the tie. It gives us a lifeline." Zidane said: “Liverpool’s fullbacks go forward a lot, so it worked out well for us and for Viní. There was an order to look for long balls behind them when we recovered the ball.”
15 / 6
SHOTS / ON TARGET
7 / 1
Attacks into area
Expected goals (xG)
Zinedine Zidane retained the same 4-3-3 formation he has mostly overseen at Real Madrid. Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric again formed their midfield three, and though Casemiro started as the most defensive of that three, they rotated, as dictated by the whereabouts of the ball. Liverpool, too, defended with a 4-3-3.
Real's central defenders Éder Militão and Nacho Fernández played at a considerable distance from each other so that Lucas Vázquez and Ferland Mendy, the full-backs outside of them, could move into advanced positions, and Casemiro moved to create a passing lane for those behind him in defence. Vinícius Júnior also retained a high position outside of Trent Alexander-Arnold and, with Mendy, created an overload against him.
If it complemented the speed of their attack for them to do so, Modric and Kroos withdrew into deeper positions and Vázquez and Mendy advanced to increase their width in midfield. One of Real's front three – most commonly Asensio – also withdrew into midfield to create an overload against Liverpool's midfield three that also forced Mo Salah and Sadio Mané into deeper territory. Vinícius' fluid approach, similarly, meant that when possession was towards the right he drifted infield and Mendy overlapped outside of him
The energy they offered during moments of transitions was crucial to Real's success. After turnovers they sought to counter at speed, before Liverpool could recover their defensive positions, and that they did so for so long proved particularly difficult for Liverpool to defend against and led to Asensio scoring Real's second goal. The speed of those transitions also didn't owe simply to combinations; their first two goals followed longer, direct assists.
During the second half Liverpool adopted a more aggressive, high press that instead contributed to Real playing out from defence, and from deeper positions, in an attempt to encourage that press towards the ball and create space further forwards from which Real could play. If regains were made, they were followed by attempts to send the ball into spaces beyond Liverpool's deepest-positioned defenders.
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp organised his team into a 4-3-3 formation that on this occasion featured Diogo Jota, instead of Roberto Firmino, as their central attacker. Their hosts, Real Madrid, defended with both a 4-3-3 and 4-5-1, via Marco Asensio and Vinícius Júnior withdrawing from alongside Karim Benzema into a compact midfield.
Real’s high press, regardless, forced Liverpool to play more directly, and by extension often cost them possession and invited Real to continue to counter at pace. After Real took the lead that applied to an even greater extent.
From the start of the second half, Robertson and Alexander-Arnold adopted even more advanced positions intended to stretch Real's compact shape, given the numbers contributing in defence as they sought to preserve their lead. Jota, similarly, withdrew into midfield in an attempt to draw one of those defenders with him. Liverpool also worked to hold their attacking positions and move the ball with the intention of tempting their opponents to follow it, and they succeeded in forcing Real to defend with greater numbers and become compact to the point of adopting a 5-4-1 in which Casemiro withdrew into defence
The tempo of Klopp's team increased in the second half when they transitioned into possession and targeted the spaces that existed before Real had recovered their defensive shape. It was that approach that led to their only goal, when Jota tempted Éder Militão towards the ball after drifting to towards Sadio Mané, inviting Mo Salah to move in behind unnoticed and score.
Author: Tony Hodson