Jurgen Klopp gave Liverpool just a “one per cent chance” of conjuring one of the great all-time Champions League comebacks in Wednesday’s last-16 second leg with Real Madrid.
For any other club, maybe, but this is a side that wrote the book on making the impossible possible in the biggest club competition of them all – none more so than their triumph from three goals down against Milan in the 2005 final.
One of four sides to have progressed from a tie having lost the first leg by three or more goals – doing so against Barcelona in the 2018-19 semi-finals – Liverpool simply could not be completely written off.
Even as Karim Benzema fired in Madrid’s fifth goal in their 5-2 win at Anfield three weeks ago, there was still that glimmer of hope. The one per cent chance, as Klopp put it.
In the end it was the prolific striker’s 78th-minute tap-in that settled the second leg, extinguishing those lingering thoughts among the travelling fans high up in the away end that this would be another of those nights.
Incredibly, that Benzema goal came from the 11th shot on target of the second leg, with the first half in particular on a par with what we witnessed on Merseyside, albeit without the goals to show for it.
But for some fine goalkeeping from Thibaut Courtois, channelling his display from last season’s showpiece in Paris between these heavyweights when making the most saves on record in a final, who knows what could have happened?
Courtois made four saves in the first half alone, three of those attempts from the energetic Darwin Nunez, who only just about managed as many passes (five) in the opening 45 minutes.
The 17 first-half shots attempted at both ends were just one fewer than the whole of the contest at Anfield, while the eight on-target attempts were the most in a Champions League knockout tie without a goal since the 2013 final.
This latest tussle between clubs boasting 20 European Cups between them certainly did not let down in terms of entertainment as a one-off, but Liverpool’s inability to find a way through denied neutrals the jeopardy they tuned in for.
Instead it was Madrid who found a way, as they so often do, to remain on course for a sixth Champions League crown in under a decade. It is a period of dominance the like of which the competition has never seen.
While other teams may have given the Reds that route into the contest they craved, Madrid simply know how to get the job done on the big stage, even if they have struggled for consistency domestically this season.
This is the 27th time in 28 European Cup and Champions League ties they have advanced after winning the first leg away from home, the exception being their 5-3 aggregate defeat to Ajax at this stage in the 2018-19 season.
It was ultimately in that first leg at Anfield the damage was done, a five-goal blast in the space of 46 minutes of playing time completely blowing Liverpool away in a match they led 2-0 at one point.
Not many would have believed you after 20 minutes of the first leg at Anfield if you’d told them that Liverpool would go on to suffer a record equalling defeat across two legs of a European tie.
If not for Alisson, it may well have been a higher margin of defeat in what was an end-to-end game, the Reds keeper making six saves either side of Benzema’s finish, which was his final action before limping off ahead of El Clasico.
It was that type of game, as both men between the sticks arguably proved their respective teams’ best player.
And so there was to be no magical Madrid comeback for Liverpool, but nor too did they get annihilated in a match that saw them commit players forward in desperate search of that much-needed first goal.
The Reds’ sole focus is now on a top-four battle in the Premier League, a far cry from 12 months ago when they already had one cup in the bag and were in hot pursuit of three more.
The era of the ‘mentality monsters’ is surely over. The question is whether Klopp can get a tune out of the new group he is assembling on the back of this record-equalling loss on the continent. Now that really would be some comeback.
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