“We want this Champions League again,” said Karim Benzema after masters of Europe Real Madrid produced another magic night to become “favourites” for a 15th crown.
At 2-0 down to Liverpool within 14 minutes at a jubilant Anfield, many teams would have crumbled – but Vinicius Jr scored twice, Eder Militao powered in a header and then Benzema claimed two goals as Real won 5-2.
No away team had ever scored more than three goals at Anfield in a European tie. Nobody had ever come from two goals down to win a Champions League game by three.
Real is the Spanish word for royal and Madrid are true European royalty. They have won 14 European Cups, including five in the past nine seasons. Two of those final successes were against Jurgen Klopp’s Reds.
“We played with personality, we produced goals – we want this Champions League again,” said Benzema. “And that produced a match which was lovely to play in and for those who were watching.
“After those first 15 minutes we saw the true Real Madrid. Football at this level is hard. They started better than us but this was a big game and we were ready.”
Newcastle and England legend Alan Shearer, watching the game for BBC Radio 5 Live, was hugely impressed.
“Real Madrid don’t panic,” he said. “They have been in situations like this before and they believe their pedigree will get them through. It has been incredible, unbelievable – because of their experience and knowhow, Real got themselves back into the game.
“Real Madrid have just demolished Liverpool. You have seen a masterclass in how not to panic. It would take a brave man to bet against Real Madrid. Absolutely they can win it – yes.
“They are a club with huge experience. They have seen it all and done it all. They know what they have to do.”
Adam Lallana, now at Brighton, played for Liverpool in the 2018 final in Kyiv which Real won 3-1.
“I was in awe watching Real Madrid. This team is evolving. It felt like I was watching the favourites of the competition,” he said.
In La Liga, Real are eight points behind Barcelona – who did not even make it out of their Champions League group. But Carlo Ancelotti’s side are always a different beast in Europe.
Dramatic comebacks were the theme of their success last season. They trailed Paris St-Germain 2-0 in the last 16, were behind against Chelsea with 10 minutes to go in the quarter-finals and in the semis they needed two goals in the final minute from Rodrygo to catch Manchester City before winning in extra time.
In the first leg of that City game, in Manchester, they were 2-0 down after 11 minutes and lost 4-3.
“Obviously we didn’t expect to start like we did but at 2-0 down I thought about the City away leg last year in the hope that we could do the same,” said Ancelotti. “But it turned out even better.
“Liverpool are a great team which made us suffer in the first half so I’d say that, unfortunately, this tie isn’t finished.”
Vinicius, Benzema and Modric steal the show
Real’s team is a mix of youth and experience.
Five of the them who played at Anfield have won five European Cups – Benzema, Dani Carvajal, Nacho, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos (who won one of his five with Bayern Munich).
Only one player in history – Real legend Paco Gento – has won more, with six from 1956 to 1966.
Benzema (six) and Vinicius (five) have scored more goals in the Champions League or European Cup against Liverpool than any player. Benzema netted in the 2018 final with Vinicius scoring the only goal at Stade de France in May.
Vinicius is only 22 years old.
“I think that, right now, Vinicius Junior is the most decisive player anywhere in the world – the one who determines matches most on a consistent basis,” said Ancelotti after this latest win.
Klopp concurred. “Vinicius is one of the best players in the world,” he said.
The Brazilian is Real’s top scorer in all competitions with 16 goals this season. Current Ballon d’Or winner Benzema is next on 14. At 35, he became the oldest visiting player to score at Anfield in Europe.
Former Reds midfielder Steven Gerrard said on BT Sport: “Benzema is one of the best players I have ever seen at drawing players out. He’s one of the best players in the world by a mile.”
Former England defender Rio Ferdinand called the Frenchman “the most complete number nine I have ever seen”.
Real midfielder Modric also caught the eye at Anfield. “To play like that at 37 is incredible,” said Lallana, 34.
“We are talking about true greatness here,” said Gerrard. “Modric and Benzema perform on a completely different level from most players.”