Liverpool rebuild begins now after Real Madrid humiliation

A night that began with a Liverpool rebellion on and off the field ended with a chorus of “Oles” from the visiting support as Real Madrid ran riot to win the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie 5-2.

A repeat of last season’s final offered the Reds the chance for revenge and to save a season to forget.

Instead Liverpool’s frailties were brutally exposed by the Spanish giants despite conceding twice inside the first 15 minutes.

There was an extra edge to Anfield’s normal noise on a big European night.

An independent investigation into the chaotic scenes surrounding the Champions League final in Paris last May has laid the blame clearly at UEFA’s door for endangering the safety of supporters.

The Liverpool fans were in no mood to forgive European football’s governing body as the competition’s anthem was booed and banners aimed at UEFA and the French authorities sprinkled over the Kop.

Jurgen Klopp’s players were charged by the electric atmosphere that rocked Madrid back on their heels.

The decision to invest the vast majority of Liverpool’s summer transfer budget in Darwin Nunez rather than refreshing a tired midfield has been consistently questioned as the Reds have rapidly gone backwards this season.

But the £67 million ($80 million) striker showed a flash of what he is capable of with a brilliant backheel to open the scoring before Mohamed Salah pounced on an uncharacteristic error from Thibaut Courtois to make it 2-0.

There was a time when a 2-0 deficit to Klopp’s Liverpool would have seemed insurmountable to even the European champions.

But in 2023 alone they have shipped three goals to Brighton, Brentford and Wolves and suffered even greater punishment when faced with the razor sharp quality of Madrid in the final third.

– Self-inflicted damage –

Vincius Junior’s strike to bring Real back into the tie and Karim Benzema’s cool finish to round off the scoring were moments of individual and collective brilliance from the Spanish champions.

But in between times there was plenty of self-inflicted damage from Liverpool.

Not for the first time this season, Alisson Becker’s distribution cost his side as Vinicius charged down his Brazil teammate’s clearance to equalise.

Eder Militao was then given acres of room to head in Luka Modric’s free-kick to suck the life out of Anfield at the start of the second half.

“We didn’t help ourselves for sure,” said Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson.

“They have a lot quality and we knew that. When you’re not at 100 percent defending, they punish you. We caused ourselves problems at times.”

Just as alarming was the lack of a response as instead Madrid struck twice more in the next 20 minutes to realistically kill the tie.

“The third goal it was a horrible goal, but today it was a game-changer,” said Klopp.

“We lost the momentum in that moment and never got it back.”

Languishing in eighth in the Premier League and with their defence of both domestic cups also over, Liverpool now find themselves as a crossroads.

Klopp has made Champions League football the norm again at Anfield, but there is a real risk that six successive seasons in the competition comes to an end this year.

The German at least does not appear to be going anywhere having extended his contract to 2026 only last year.

So too it now seems are the club’s owners after John Henry ruled out a sale despite seeking fresh investment.

But a rebuild is badly needed on the field if Liverpool are to return to the heights Klopp has taken them in recent years.

“This is a reality check,” former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard told BT Sport.

“Liverpool were dominated. Any team that concedes five goals, there has to be an inquest. There’s going to be a bit of soul-searching now.”

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