Liverpool s German manager Jurgen Klopp reacts during the UEFA Champions League last 16 first leg football match between Liverpool and Real Madrid at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on February 21, 2023. - Real Madrid won 5-2. (AFP)
Down by two goals after 14 minutes at Anfield, defending champion Madrid rallied to win 5-2 on Tuesday and take a commanding lead into the second leg of the round-of-16 matchup.
Vinicius Jr. and Karim Benzema scored two goals each to stun the hosts — Liverpool conceded four goals in a home European match for the first time — and confirm the Spanish club will take some stopping in its defense of the trophy.
“We played with personality, we produced goals. We want this Champions League again,” Benzema said. “And that produced a match which was lovely to play in and for those who were watching.”
If anything, this Madrid team appears more complete than the one that beat Jurgen Klopp's team in last year’s Paris final. Yet this win echoed the memorable comebacks that led to that record-extending 14th Champions League title.
There was the chaotic defending that allowed Liverpool to race into a 2-0 lead as Darwin Nunez struck with a backheel in the fourth minute and Mohamed Salah doubled the advantage thanks to Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois’ blunder.
Then came the rousing comeback, led by one of European soccer’s emerging stars in Vinicius and sealed by an aging icon in Benzema.
Eder Militao was also on the scoresheet when he headed Madrid into a 3-2 lead just after halftime.
The 22-year-old Vinicius became the youngest player to score two goals against Liverpool at Anfield in one of Europe's leading competitions since Johan Cruyff for Ajax in 1966 when the Dutch great was 19.
The Brazil international is establishing himself as Madrid’s star player and, in the face of a typically daunting Anfield atmosphere, he rose to the occasion.
“Vinicius right now in my opinion is the most decisive player in world football, the man who can make the biggest difference, and if he can keep this consistency let’s hope he can continue in this vein,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said.
Just as the visitors appeared to be in danger of buckling under the pressure, Vinicius produced a moment of magic with his first goal in the 21st.
Exchanging passes with Benzema just inside the box, there was no obvious danger until he flashed a low shot through a crowd of legs and into the bottom corner.
Vinicius evened the score in the 36th when Alisson’s attempted kick rebounded straight off him and looped into an empty net.
While the goal was a moment of good fortune, it was also a measure of the panic he sparked in Liverpool’s defense that Alisson was rushed into making the mistake.
Two minutes after halftime, Madrid took the lead when Militao headed in Luka Modric’s free kick from the left.
It went from bad to worse for Liverpool as the 35-year-old Benzema, the inspiration for Madrid’s triumph last year, got in on the act.
His shot was deflected off Joe Gomez in the 55th to make it 4-2 and he added and fifth when rounding Alisson in the 67th.
It had all started so well for Liverpool, which went into the game with confidence after back-to-back wins against Everton and Newcastle in the Premier League.
Those victories had sparked hope of an unlikely run in Europe and came just in time for the ultimate test of trying to halt Madrid.
Nunez struck early to shock the visitors before Salah capitalized on Courtois’ mis-control to tap in from close range in the 14th.
The home fans were rocking until Vinicius sparked a comeback that seems likely to propel Madrid to the quarterfinals.
“I think Carlo thinks the tie is over and I think it as well in the moment,” Klopp said. “But the closer you get to the game, the bigger our chances become. Tonight 5-2 they are pretty good in counter attacking and we have to go there and take some risks to score three goals. We go there to try and win the game.”
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