It was a frenetic seven-goal thriller at Anfield as Real Madrid came from two goals down to pulverise Liverpool 5-2 in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie.
The fuse was lit in the opening minutes at Anfield as Darwin Nunez struck an impetuous flick past Thibaut Courtois less than five minutes in. And that early deadlock-breaker set the tone for a breathless first half that seesawed between the mesmeric and the utterly madcap.
Mohamed Salah doubled Liverpool’s advantage 10 minutes later to capitalise on the early onslaught caused by Jurgen Klopp’s side, poking home after an absolute clanger from Courtois. Vinicius Junior, match-winner in May, once again grabbed the contest by the scruff of the neck to haul his side back into proceedings.
The Brazilian star bagged a brace to restore parity before half-time, and then the European champions went to work after the break. Carlo Ancelotti’s team talk must have carried the motivational brio of a public speaker as Los Blancos came out in the second half with the bit between their teeth.
An obligatory Karim Benzema brace took the contest beyond Liverpool’s reach, following on from Eder Militao’s bullet header, and giving Real a huge advantage heading back to the Bernabeu for the second leg.
It was an exhilarating Merseyside encounter — and here’s how the players rated at Anfield:
Alisson – 3 – The Brazilian is so often error-free and assured between the sticks, but his nonchalant clearance to Vinicius Junior was a real hare-brained moment, and really threw his side right into the deep end.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – 5 – Sublime in the first half as his fluid passing rhythm kept the Liverpool press in full motion, but it was a different state of affairs after the restart. Still, Alexander-Arnold continued to press forward, always offering an attacking threat and an option for Salah.
Joe Gomez – 4 – A night to forget for the defender. Real really exposed his soft underbelly after the restart and made him pay for some very rash and reckless defending.
Virgil van Dijk – 5 – Put this one in the filing cabinet as ‘one to forget’. Not as mistaken-laden as his centre-back partner, but is was hardly vintage VVD.
Andy Robertson – 6 – A bit like his partner in crime on the opposition flank, Robertson continually tapped into his second wind to provide a consistent out-ball down the left — and spare a moment for his last-ditch tackle/clearance on Rodrygo in the dying embers of the first half. Looked a certain goal.
Fabinho – 5 – Against his former club, the Brazilian tempo-setting appeared back to his best in the first half, showing for his team-mates, controlling the rhythm and caring for the ball like it were a Faberge egg. However, after the restart he capitulated and exhibited symptoms of his current struggle. Modric ran rings around him, and nicked the ball off him for Real’s fifth.
Stefan Bajcetic – 5 – Similar to Fabinho, the youngster looked controlled in the first half, albeit with a few loose touches. But that ultimately proved to his detriment as an overcooked touch fell into Valverde’s path and led to Real’s equaliser.
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Jordan Henderson – 5.5 – A silent workhorse, Henderson exploited the half space with enthusiasm for large spells of the match, and can hold his head high above Fabinho and Bajcetic for not giving the ball away in the lead up to conceding, though ultimately it wasn’t enough.
Mohamed Salah – 8 – Despite the scoreline, he was a source of inspiration with a goal and an assist. The Egyptian’s ball to set up Nunez for Liverpool’s first was a moment of instinctive purity. Ever alert, he was then Johnny-on-the-spot to capitalise on Courtois’ overextended touch and poke home.
Cody Gakpo – 6 – A few nice touches in the first half, but nothing really to write home about and his influence eventually waned.
Darwin Nunez – 6.5 – A more improved showing from the Uruguayan, even if his influence fell short as the game went on like Gakpo. His opening goal was simply world class, and he tracked back with the frenetic energy of a man who was tapping into the buzz on the terraces.
Roberto Firmino (for Gakpo 64′) – 6 – Some trademark touches and flicks, but not enough to galvanise a comeback.
Diogo Jota (for Nunez 64′) – 6 – Similar to the above, Jota had a few moments and looked to inject some energy, but it was too little too late.
Joel Matip (for Gomez 73′) – 6 – Didn’t do what Gomez did, so that’s a plus.
James Milner (for Henderson 73′) – 6 – No-nonsense, no drama, just came on to settle the game for Liverpool and not conceded anymore.
Harvey Elliot (for Bajcetic 85′) – N/A – Came on for the last five minutes.
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Thibaut Courtois – 4 – The hero in Paris, but tonight he was ruthlessly exposed to the frictionless attacking prowess of Liverpool early on. Hardly to blame for Nunez’s opener, his clumsy touch allowed Salah to pounce and nip in to double the Reds’ advantage. From a faultless display in May, to a mistake-strewn showing on Merseyside. His blushes were ultimately spared by his teammates.
Dani Carvajal – 6 – Always alert and willing to run forward, Carvajal struggled early on against Nunez, but kept his nerves in check to grow into the game, much like his team-mates. Didn’t put a foot wrong from there.
Eder Militao – 7 – Questions can be asked of his marking for Nunez’s opener, and a few loose touches, but really inspired the second-half comeback with his bullet header, and kept Liverpool muzzled and defanged from there.
Antonio Rudiger – 6 – Didn’t do anything recklessly ‘Rudiger’ and kept composure after a heavy onslaught early doors.
David Alaba – 5 – The Austrian factotum lasted just 25 minutes, but it was a difficult night for him as Salah tore him to ribbons early on. Most of Liverpool’s joy in that opening sequence came down Real’ left-hand side.
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Eduardo Camavinga – 7 – Suave and collected, but it took him a while to get going, first ceding possession to send Liverpool through early on, only for Gakpo to slip, and then losing the ball with a slip of his own for Liverpool’s second goal. From there, though, he composed himself to showcase swagger and authority. An even better rating if he didn’t give the ball away for Liverpool’s second.
Luka Modric – 8 – Hang this man in the Louvre, he is a work of art. Timeless, the veteran metronome was simply irresistible this evening, oozing class and keeping the ball within his orbit with a carefree arrogance. It was poetic to watch.
Federico Valverde – 7 – If one player summed up the pace of this frantic encounter, it was Valverde. Manning the engine room with distinction, the tenacious Uruguayan did not stop running, covering every blade of grass and putting in the hard yards so Modric could dictate. I’m convinced he doesn’t actually have a position in Real’s team, he’s just sort of let free by Ancelotti to run wherever he wants.
Rodrygo – 6.5 – The quieter of Real’s attackers, the Brazilian had an understated assurance when gliding forward and combined well with Benzema for the Frenchman’s first.
Vinicius Junior – 8 – Once again the tormentor of Liverpool, the Samba sensation played like a man possessed at Anfield. His opening goal was a snapshot of the sublime as he manipulated his body and unleashed into the far corner. A bit like Salah later into the half, he was on hand to leave egg on the face of his compatriot, as Alisson’s ricocheted clearance landed in his own net.
Karim Benzema – 8 – He hardly had a touch in the first half-hour, but this is Benzema. Give him a sniff and he will ruthlessly pick you apart. A Ballon d’Or holder living up to his name.
Nacho (for Alaba 27′) – 7 – A very astute and commanding defensive display from the early substitute.
Dani Ceballos (for Rodrygo 81′) – N/A – Came on for the last 10 minutes.
Marco Asensio (for Benzema 87′) – N/A – Came on for the last five minutes.
Toni Kroos (for Modric 87′) – N/A – Came on for the last five minutes.