MADRID — Karim Benzema’s second-half goal earned Real Madrid a 1-0 win against Liverpool, clinching a spot in the Champions League quarterfinals for the defending title holders.
The result at the Santiago Bernabeu completed a 6-2 aggregate victory for Carlo Ancelotti’s side in the round of 16. With Liverpool needing to win by three goals to level the tie and take it into extra time, manager Jurgen Klopp entered Wednesday’s game saying they only had “a 1 percent chance” of reaching the next round.
Although they kept it tight for over an hour, Liverpool rarely looked like salvaging the tie and their elimination was confirmed when Benzema scored from close range after being teed up by Vinicius Junior.
1. Real Madrid show why they remain the team to beat
Although the hard work was done at Anfield by winning the first leg 5-2, Real Madrid’s achievement in knocking Liverpool out of the Champions League with a 6-2 aggregate victory should not be understated.
Liverpool are one of the most successful and formidable teams in Europe and only Real can surpass their recent run of three finals in five years, so to inflict such a crushing defeat on Jurgen Klopp’s team shows that Real mean business again.
In what is becoming an unusually open Champions League this season, nothing has changed in that Real are still the team to beat. Whether they are drawn against a fellow favourite such as Manchester City or a dark horse side such as AC Milan in Friday’s draw, Carlo Ancelotti’s side will expect to progress.
This Real have never quite been granted the respect that they deserve. People still revere Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez which won two Champions League titles in three years in 2009 and 2011, but several players on this Real team have won four or five during the past 10 years. Karim Benzema, who scored the only goal of this game, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Dani Carvajal are multiple winners, while the rest lifted it in Paris after beating Liverpool last season. Antonio Rudiger didn’t, but he had already won it a year earlier with Chelsea.
They are stacked with seasoned Champions League winners and they still have plenty to offer. Their first-leg demolition of Liverpool was a warning to the rest of Europe, but so was this game in the sense that they were experienced enough to ensure that Liverpool never get going in their attempt to pull off remarkable fightback. Real have already won 14 European Cups and nobody else comes close. Don’t bet against them winning another one this time around.
2. Liverpool need to big push to qualify next season
This time last year, Liverpool were on course for a quadruple and they only missed out on the two biggest trophies — the Premier League and Champions League — in the final week of the season. But 12 months on, their hopes of silverware have already evaporated with Real ending their prospects in the Champions League.
Liverpool’s season is still alive, but only in the sense that now have just over two months to save it by securing a top-four finish and a return to the Champions League next season. With 12 games to play in the Premier League, Klopp’s side are six points behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, albeit with a game in hand. But Brentford and Brighton & Hove Albion are both turning up the heat behind them and Newcastle United are two points ahead in fifth having played one game less.
So Liverpool have a fight on their hands to get back into the Champions League and the outcome of that battle will be crucial to the rebuilding job that is required, regardless of where they finish this season. If Liverpool end up in the Europa League next season, will that be enough to convince top target Jude Bellingham to reject a move to Real in favour of a transfer to Anfield from Borussia Dortmund?
And without the additional finances that come from playing in the Champions League, it will deny Klopp the chance to refresh his squad as much as he needs to, especially in midfield. Liverpool were always facing an almighty challenge against Real having lost the first leg 5-2, but exiting the Champions League at the round of 16 is a failure for a club of their stature and ambition. Finishing outside the Premier League top four would make a bad season even worse.
3. Courtois, Alisson bounce back from first-leg blunders
You could easily argue that the best two goalkeepers in the world right now were facing each other in this game. Real’s Thibaut Courtois and Liverpool’s Alisson Becker both made uncharacteristic errors which led to goals in the first-leg at Anfield, but even their harshest critics would struggle to suggest that those mistakes were anything other than a blip.
But just to prove that those blunders really were out of the ordinary, Courtois and Alisson put on top-class displays in the Bernabeu to highlight their status as the best around.
Courtois probably just shades it ahead of Alisson as best in the world judging by this game. He made a big save from Cody Gakpo in the 36th minute when conceding would have given Liverpool a huge boost in their bid to overturn a three-goal deficit. The former Chelsea keeper is an imposing presence; he is good with his feet, commanding in the air and he makes every save look routine because of his outstanding positioning. Alisson isn’t quite as big from a physical sense, but he is quicker off his line and his ability to spot danger was also key to a number of early interventions against Real.
Manchester City’s Ederson and Paris Saint-Germain’s Gianluigi Donnarumma might stake their case to be judged alongside Courtois and Alisson, but the Real and Liverpool No. 1s are at the top of the list.