Gomez disasterclass, Klopp and Real Madrid inferiority complex brings Liverpool crashing down again
Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool are the supposed mentality monsters who have allowed Real Madrid to roam freely and with destructive intent in their heads.
If Jurgen Klopp deemed a rerun of the 2022 Champions League final to be “pure torture” then the latest instalment in an increasingly painful series of games between Liverpool and their unconquerable antagonist might forever go unwatched.
There is a moment in every inconceivable Real Madrid comeback which sums up their irresistible, unstoppable, ludicrous brilliance. The Luka Modric burst from midfield is their calling card, one last insult left imprinted on the psyche of the stricken. The Croatian, having spent most of the game reorganising every player like a Subbuteo set with his inimitable technique and control, suddenly finds the energy and impetus to drive past an opponent and into space to create a cherry-applying, exclamation mark-affixing denouement.
The only surprise is how soon the 37-year-old Modric temporarily traded his cigar and slippers for rocket-powered ballet shoes to tackle Fabinho in his own half and glance past a teenaged Stefan Bajcetic before releasing Vinicius Junior. The forward’s square pass and Karim Benzema’s footwork and finish was yet more routine magnificence as Liverpool conceded their fifth unanswered goal in 46 minutes, with just under a demoralising half-hour still to play. Los Blancos usually leave their escape acts until the closing stages but there was no need for late drama here.
This was a crushing defeat. Liverpool had never conceded four goals in a European game at Anfield. Liverpool had only once conceded five goals in a European game in any stadium, and that was in 1966. Vinicius Junior became the first player to score five goals against Liverpool in European Cup and Champions League history, then set Benzema up to become the first to reach the half dozen. Liverpool beat Real Madrid in their first three meetings but have now lost six of their last seven by an aggregate score of 4-16, drawing the other.
From the Sergio Ramos-fuelled collapse of 2018, to Naby Keita and Trent Alexander-Arnold’s nightmare of 2021, then the failure to launch in 2022 and now this: Joe Gomez’s public career examination. There is enough evidence to suggest that Real Madrid haunt the minds of the mentality monsters. The revenge dish will be practically frozen by the time Liverpool actually get around to serving it.
At least there was ample time to pay homage to the great man on this, Loris Karius Week. The former Liverpool man might have taken a break from his Carabao Cup preparations to enjoy the trials and tribulations of Thibaut Courtois and Alisson, goalkeepers betrayed by their body and minds respectively. This game was played at a frantic pace as both teams pressed high and hard, trading forced mistakes as often as possession itself.
Liverpool scored their quickest ever Champions League goal at Anfield and it was majestic. Bajcetic found Jordan Henderson, then Mo Salah’s stunning delivery met the flicked boot of Darwin Nunez. It was a degree of beauty matched only by Vinicius Junior’s first goal, a sumptuous curler of trigonometric perfection.
Those instances of individual brilliance were interspersed neatly within Courtois and Alisson’s baffling errors and the teams were both somehow yet obviously level at half-time.
The parity did not last more than a few minutes of the second half and momentum only swayed further in Real’s direction with escalating ruthlessness. Eder Militao made it 3-2 with a bullet header. Benzema scored once from a deflection then again with that sublime fifth goal.
Real responded to an early two-goal deficit as they do and can: with arrogant genius from elite players who barely seem to need coaching sometimes. At 2-0 down and as the wind built behind Liverpool backs in the first half, Carlo Ancelotti returned the ball to the hosts for a throw-in without a second thought. He was unfazed, unruffled, unbothered. He knew.
But when Liverpool faced an opponent who stood up to them, they shat themselves. Alexander-Arnold struggled once more against Vinicius, Virgil van Dijk looked vulnerable and lethargic, Henderson, Fabinho and Bajcetic offered no protection and Gomez was abysmal. The centre-half’s calamitous performance took in a needless foul to concede the free-kick from which Militao scored as he stood prone; an unfortunate deflection on the fourth, having played Rodrygo onside in the build-up; and perhaps the least confident exhibition of defending in modern history for the fifth.
Didn't have our first shot in the second half until the 65th minute. Up there with one of the worst 45 minutes under Klopp.
— Sam McGuire (@SamMcGuire90) February 21, 2023
“Joe, fucking wake up,” came one suspiciously Sunderland-sounding, utterly exasperated and ultimately forlorn request soon after the restart. It seemed to go unheeded until Klopp’s merciful removal of Gomez in the 73rd minute, the damage to this game, tie and perhaps even season long since done.
“Generally, I don’t think you can make this team panic,” Klopp said of Real before the game, adding: “Some of their players have won the competition five times, so they probably think they own it and they are probably right. But we still want to give it a try.” If that didn’t underline just how deeply ingrained and inhibiting Liverpool’s inferiority complex against the Spanish giants is, these 90 minutes left no further doubt.