Madrid (AFP) – Real Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1 in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday.
AFP Sport looks at three things we learned from a clash of European heavyweights in Spain:
No revenge but Salah gives Liverpool hope
Mohamed Salah suffered the most painful moment of his career in Liverpool’s 3-1 Champions League final defeat against Real Madrid in 2018.
Salah left the pitch in tears after being forced off with a dislocated shoulder suffered in a clash with Real defender Sergio Ramos.
The Egypt forward would go on to miss that year’s World Cup as a result of Ramos’s cynical foul, so when Liverpool were handed their first meeting with Real since that agonising night in Kiev, it was inevitable the rematch would be billed as Salah’s revenge mission.
The absence of Real captain Ramos due to injury took the sting out of that sub-plot and Liverpool’s sloppy performances ensured there would be no revenge for Salah.
But the 28-year-old, who angered Liverpool fans recently by refusing to rule out a future move to Real, did give his team a glimmer of hope in the 51st minute.
With Liverpool trailing 2-0 after a wretched first half, Salah scored what could yet be a priceless away goal.
Salah pounced on Diogo Jota’s blocked shot and fired a low strike that bounced off Real keeper Thibaut Courtois and into the net via the underside of the crossbar.
Real repay Zidane’s trust
Real boss Zinedine Zidane is adamant his team have been unfairly criticised throughout a season that could yet end with La Liga and Champions League glory.
Although Real are not the force they were in the glory days of Cristiano Ronaldo, Zidane still believes in his players, saying this week: “In the end, we deserve trust.
“Through history, this team turns around the things that have been said. We never give up on things. While there is a chance we always fight.”
Zidane’s insistence that players of Real’s experience and past success should be trusted proved prophetic as they delivered a dynamic display against Liverpool.
Despite the absence of central defenders Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, Real were too strong for a Liverpool team even more erratic than Zidane’s men this term.
With a key showdown in the La Liga title race against Barcelona on Saturday before next week’s second leg at Liverpool, Real have a chance to silence the doubters, temporarily at least.
And, while Liverpool shouldn’t be written off yet, the groans that came with Real’s poor start to the campaign will be a distant memory if Zidane can lead them to a 14th European Cup and the fourth of his two spells in charge.
Keita gamble backfires
Jurgen Klopp’s decision to start Naby Keita instead of Thiago Alcantara backfired so badly that the Liverpool boss was forced to take the Guinea midfielder off before half-time.
Keita has been an inconsistent figure for Liverpool since arriving from Leipzig in 2018, but Klopp felt his energy and dribbling ability would prove useful against Real’s man-marking tactics.
The 26-year-old was making only his second Champions League start this season as one of three changes from Saturday’s 3-0 win at Arsenal.
Justifying his gamble, Klopp told BT Sport: “I couldn’t avoid Naby Keita anymore with his performances in training in the last two weeks.
“He is in a really good moment and he brings special things in. Real kind of man-mark, so you need dribblers who can turn and make the next situation a big advantage. That is Naby’s job.
“Leaving Thiago out was not easy. It’s about how we can get fresh legs in.”
But Keita was so anonymous and Real so dominant in midfield that, with Liverpool trailing 2-0, Klopp opted to put remedy his mistake by replacing him with Thiago in the 42nd minute.
Thiago restored a little of Liverpool’s equilibrium, but the damage had already been done.
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