While both Real Madrid and Liverpool are rightly considered Champions League royalty, there can only be one king. Down by two goals after 14 minutes at Anfield, defending champions Madrid came back to win 5-2 on Tuesday (February 21) 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 giant 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.”
Benzema also matched PSG star Lionel Messi’s record in scoring for 18 successive seasons in the UEFA Champions League tournament. If anything, this Madrid team looks 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.
1_8_- Karim @Benzema__ and Lionel Messi__ have scored in 1_8_ @ChampionsLeague seasons, a record
_2005/06 — Gracenote Live (@GracenoteLive) February 21, 2023
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 fightback, led by one of European football’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 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.
6 – Karim Benzema has scored more goals against Liverpool than any other player in European Cup/Champions League history with six, scoring four of them at Anfield, also the most by an away player in the competition. To install Brilliant. #UCL pic.twitter.com/NBiQ3EeM1H— OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 21, 2023
Just as the visitors looked 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 didn’t look to be any 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 another fifth when rounding Alisson in the 67th. It had all started so well for Liverpool, who went into the game with confidence after back-to-back wins against Everton and Newcastle in the Premier League.
Those victories had sparked hopes 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 looks 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 afterwards. “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.
(with PTI inputs)