Well, that was shite.
Three changes for the Tricky Reds tonight, as Gini, Baby and Jota replaced Milner, Thiago and Bobby. Gini had obviously been rested against Arsenal, having played in all three of the Netherlands’ internationals last week, while Diogo was also kept in reserve on Saturday with an eye on this game. The big surprise was seeing Keïta start instead of Thiago; one would have thought that this is exactly the sort of game for which we bought the Spanish midfielder.
Benzema had the first shot on target, a tame effort easily saved by Alisson in the third minute, and Vinicius headed narrowly wide with our moustachioed Brazilian scrambling across to his left.
Casemiro clipped in a cross from the right but he failed to find the unmarked Benzema and the ball sailed harmlessly over. A few minutes later, Kroos played a pinpoint long ball to Vinicius, who controlled and swept the ball past Alisson. 1-0 to the bad guys, although it was a quality goal.
Benzema went down in the area under a challenge from Kabak- no foul. Vinicius had a shot deflected wide by Phillips and Asensio missed a decent opportunity from the resulting corner.
It was all one-way traffic in the opening 35 minutes. And, unsurprisingly, it was soon 2-0. Again Kroos lifted it over the top; Trent’s attempted clearing header fell straight at Asensio’s feet and he beat Alisson at the second attempt.
There had been a coming together between Sadio and Vazquez before the ball fell to Kroos, and Sadio was booked for his remonstrations after the goal. It could be argued that the Reds should have been awarded a free kick - looked a clear foul to me- but the defending was still poor afterwards.
Thiago replaced Keïta, who had had a shocker on his return, before half time. Injury or an admission from Jürgen that he had got his selection wrong?
Kabak miscontrolled and saw Alisson come to his rescue; as the players trudged off for their halftime oranges, the Reds were on the ropes and reeling. In fact, they were lucky to only be two goals behind.
The second stanza started with Vazquez receiving a yellow card for scything down Jota. Nothing came of the resulting free kick. A lovely sweeping movement from the back then saw Gini release Jota, who found Salah in the box; Vazquez was playing the Egyptian onside and it was 2-1. The crucial away goal had been scored in the 51st minute.
Trent swung in a brilliant fading cross from deep but Jota could only head wide; the visitors were back in this now. Thiago then picked up his customary yellow card for a late challenge on Asensio.
Kroos put a good chance over; Salah just failed to release Sadio. Mendy then denied Mané with a lunging tackle and Asensio broke free on the counter attack but Trent did well to track back and clear the danger. From the subsequent throw in, Modric found Vinicius on the penalty spot and he swept first-time past Alisson. 3-1 with 65 minutes on the clock; our goalkeeper might have done considerably better.
Benzema drilled a low shot straight at Alisson five minutes later; at the other end, Thiago blasted over from 22 yards. Shaqiri and Firmino replaced Kabak and Jota with ten minutes to play; Jürgen clearly fancied a second away goal. Trent was booked for his reaction after Vinicius went down clutching his face- a rare poor decision by a ref who had generally managed the game well.
Real then set up camp on the edge of their own penalty area and tried to hold us at bay. They accomplished their task, with the Reds huffing and puffing but not even coming close to blowing the house down. Still, the away goal gives us some hope for next week’s return fixture, although it’s going to require one of those magical Anfield nights… but without the crowd.
Next up is a rare Saturday three o’clock kickoff as Aston Villa come to town. Equally rare is a Liverpool home match on Grand National day; the lack of public attendance at both events this year obviously making life much easier for Merseyside Police. And even more rare is Liverpool losing 7-2, as we did in the reverse fixture back in October. I’m sure the lads will be looking to put that one right. And we won’t have that no-hoper Van Dijk hampering our defence this time.
MOTM: Paul Ross, head cider maker at The Newt in Somerset. Yes, you did read that correctly: I said cider. No wine this week; I recently saw this state of the art cidery on television so, naturally, ordered a few bottles from their website. I’m quite partial to a pint of cider in the summer, especially if there aren’t any interesting real ales on, and The Newt makes some of the best apple juices I’ve ever tasted: clean, sharp and a million miles from the mass-produced rubbish you get in most pubs. Their 2018 Somerset Redstreak is particularly highly recommended. It’s absolutely top stuff, which is just as well as I am going to need a lot more of it to wipe the memory of tonight’s game from my brain.