What had struck Jürgen Klopp most vividly on Sunday when he finally watched a re-run of last season’s Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid was the streetwise conviction that the Spanish team showed; how they did not panic during the low moments, how they knew they would find a way.
Madrid dug a hole for themselves here, shipping two early goals – the second after a terrible goalkeeping blunder by Thibaut Courtois. It felt as though this last 16, first-leg tie could be about to slip away from them. And yet they barely blinked.
Instead, it was Liverpool who fell apart at the first sign of turbulence, which came after a first goal of the evening for their nemesis, Vinícius Júnior. It was the 21st minute and the extent of the home team’s collapse thereafter laid bare the fault lines that have framed a difficult season.
The reality was that their supporters were left to watch through their fingers, Klopp’s players taking leave of their defensive senses, seemingly forgetting the basics. The collective confidence is brittle and, in the face of a litany of individual errors, it cracked.
Alisson was at fault for Vinícius’s equaliser on 36 minutes, trying to be a bit too cute with a clearance and sending it straight at the Madrid forward. The ball ricocheted off Vinícius and looped into the net. He did not know much about that but he was across everything else during a virtuoso performance.
It was Vinícius who got the only goal in last season’s final; it was him that scored twice in Madrid’s 3-1 aggregate win over Liverpool in the quarter-final of 2020-21. Now this.
The second half would turn into a procession for Madrid, their superiority – and Liverpool’s travails – emphasised when Luka Modric sprinted through a nonexistent midfield, having won the ball off Fabinho and left Stefan Bajcetic in his wake. Modric did not look his 37 years. He found Vinícius, who squared for Karim Benzema and, at that point, it felt as though the centre-forward wanted to toy with Liverpool.