“I think Carlo thinks the tie is over, and I think it is as well in the moment, but in three weeks…”
Liverpool have certainly mounted fairytale comebacks before, but while Jurgen Klopp believes his optimism in overturning a three-goal deficit against Real Madrid will return, he will know significant improvements will be needed from Tuesday’s 5-2 defeat at Anfield.
The loss – Liverpool’s worst at home in Europe – means they have it all to do to reach the quarter-finals of this season’s Champions League.
“We will go there and play a football game,” Klopp said of the second leg in Madrid against the holders on Wednesday, 15 March.
“It will be a massive challenge. We have to make sure we learn from this game.”
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson felt errors throughout the game proved costly against Carlo Ancelotti’s men.
“We made too many mistakes around the goals,” he added. “When you make too many mistakes, teams like Madrid punish you.”
Deja vu, but too much to do?
Liverpool have been in situations before where the odds are stacked against them, yet they have found a way to bounce back.
They famously overturned a 3-0 half-time deficit to beat AC Milan and win the Champions League in 2005, and four years ago came back from a 3-0 first-leg loss to beat Lionel Messi’s Barcelona 4-0 to reach the Champions League final.
This Liverpool, though, have looked a different side this season. Eighth in the Premier League and out of both domestic cup competitions, they have won just three of their 10 games so far in 2023.
Former England and Newcastle striker Alan Shearer feels the Reds are “a mile away” from what they have been previously.
“Last season must have been very tough physically and mentally,” said Shearer, of Liverpool’s unsuccessful battle for a quadruple of trophies in the previous campaign. “It was relentless and perhaps they didn’t get the investment with signings.
“Put all that together and there are excuses for looking physically and mentally tired, but they have been unrecognisable.
“Every single player – bar the keeper – has lost the form. There is an argument to say they have all been a mile away from the standards they have been set.”
Former Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana believes the hangover from last season’s exertions is still having an effect.
“Last season Liverpool played in every single match possible and that produces a lull,” he said on BBC Radio 5 live.
“On the back of a tough season I think you are witnessing too many moments when players are flat. They need to find something in them to go again.”
What went wrong for Liverpool in the first leg?
If you hadn’t watched the game and just checked the post-match statistics, you would be forgiven for thinking that Liverpool were very unlucky.
The Reds had more possession than Real, more shots on goal and a higher expected goals rating (2.01 to 1.66)
But the statistics do not paint the true picture. After an even first half, Liverpool were comfortably second best after the break, but their defending throughout was poor.
“The second goal is slapstick,” Klopp said of Real’s equaliser at 2-2, where Alisson hacked a clearance against Vinicius Junior and the ball rebounded past him and into the net.
“[For one of the goals] we have five or six players and no challenge. That can’t happen. We were passive until the ball arrived there.”
Shearer offered a more blunt assessment.
“They were hopeless at the back,” he added. “I was concerned after the Newcastle game because Newcastle created a lot of chances.
“They haven’t got the protection they used to have. You can’t do that against world-class players.”
Former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard said: “It’s a reality check.
“At any club, if you concede five goals there’s got to be an inquest into why and how? I’m sure Jurgen will do that in the coming days.”
The heavy defeat produced some unwanted statistics for Liverpool that make it difficult to see how they can recover:
- They are the first team in Champions League history to take a 2-0 lead but then lose the game by a three-goal margin.
- They conceded five goals in a European game at Anfield for the first time.
- It is now seven successive successive games against Real Madrid without winning.
Mission ‘impossible’ – but can Liverpool turn the tie around?
In the Champions League knockout stage, the unexpected often does happen.
But Real Madrid are unbeaten at home so far this season and given Liverpool’s poor recent record against them, Klopp’s side will have to produce something special to turn things around.
“They will have to dust themselves down very quickly,” said Lallana.
“It is near on impossible for Liverpool to overturn this deficit.”
Shearer added: “It would take a brave man to bet against Real Madrid.
“They are a club with huge experience. They have seen it all and done it all. They know what they have to do.”