Liverpool has been left with a mountainous task to keep their Champions League ambitions alive after they were torn apart by ruthless Real Madrid at Anfield.
Holders Real – who beat Liverpool in last season’s final in Paris – became the first side to score five at Anfield in Europe despite going two goals down early on as Liverpool made a dream start to this last-16 tie.
Darwin Nunez’s brilliant flick put Liverpool ahead after only four minutes before Mohamed Salah cashed in on Real goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois’ poor clearance to double their advantage 10 minutes later.
Liverpool’s supporters, who had vented their fury at being wrongly blamed for the chaos at last season’s final by holding up a flag emblazoned with “Uefa Liars” and loudly jeering the Champions League anthem, were soon to have their thunderous celebrations silenced in emphatic fashion.
Vinicius Junior’s brilliant 21st-minute strike pulled a goal back before Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson followed Courtois’ lead by hacking a clearance straight at the Brazilian, holding his head in anguish as the ball looped behind him into the net in front of a disbelieving Kop.
It changed the whole emphasis of the contest, Real going ahead two minutes after the break when Eder Militao headed in Luka Modric’s free-kick.
Real then rammed home their superiority as Karim Benzema’s shot deflected in off Joe Gomez, the French striker then coolly adding a fifth after more brilliant work by the ageless Modric.
Liverpool have pulled off spectacular comebacks before, but it would be truly extraordinary if they turned this one around at the Bernabeu.
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Liverpool made the start of their dreams as they rattled Real with their high-tempo play, getting the two goals they thought would provide the platform for a night of glory.
Instead, Anfield was reduced to near silence by the end as Jurgen Klopp’s side was reduced to chasing shadows in the face of Real’s imperious style and lethal threat in front of goal.
Liverpool did not help their cause with mistakes and dreadful defending, offering up invitations to a side of vast experience and world-class quality that is dangerous enough without being delivered gifts.
Alisson was guilty of an uncharacteristic error that saw Real draw level and you could visibly see the belief draining out of the side that has struck fear into opponents so many times at Anfield.
Militao’s routine header from a free-kick was also helped by poor marking while the unhappy Gomez was unfortunate to deflect in Benzema’s first.
The danger then was that Liverpool would concede even more as they barely raised a threat after the break.
Klopp will no doubt invoke the spirit of Barcelona in the 2019 Champions League semi-final – when Liverpool overcame a 3-0 first-leg deficit to advance with a stunning 4-0 win at Anfield – but this is not the same Liverpool, Real are not as flimsy as the Catalans and this time the second leg is in Spain.
If Liverpool somehow pulls this one off, it would be one of the most spectacular feats in their history.
Real’s run to winning the Champions League last season was full of moments when they looked to be in genuine strife, first against Chelsea then, especially against Manchester City in the semi-final.
And yet, under the calm guidance and wisdom the great coach Carlo Ancelotti, Real held their nerve on those occasions to win, eventually lifting the trophy against the opponents they blew away at Anfield on Tuesday.
Vinicius was the catalyst in Paris and turned the game here, firing a shot cross past Alisson before closing down the keeper for Real’s second.
After that, Real was truly outstanding as they controlled possession, kept Liverpool at arm’s length with ease and put away those three second-half goals that put them in complete command of this tie.
Inspired by the two great veterans Modric and Benzema, Real have an iron belief that they will prevail and so it proved again.
Many sides would have subsided after going two goals down so soon but Real simply kept playing, confident their chances would come, and they did.
Ancelotti is too experienced to allow any complacency but he will know this is a truly outstanding result for any side to achieve at Anfield, even the Champions League holders.