No wonder for lackluster Liverpool
Maybe, just maybe, if Darwin Nunes’ early strike from Mohamed Salah’s cross had been a little closer to either corner. At that point there were still 83 minutes to play. Plenty of time for a miracle. But by the end, Jurgen Klopp wasn’t in the mood for “if onlys.”
“It’s hypothetical,” he said BT Sport: actually. “We prepared for a special performance, but we couldn’t bring it to the field tonight. It was obvious that the best side passed.”
Karim Benzema’s late goal sealed it, but it wasn’t the first time Real had missed Liverpool. In fact, they took almost twice as many shots as they did at Anfield, creating more of the expected goals as well.
Liverpool owed it to Alisson to keep the score going before Benzema’s opener, the Brazilian making a series of superb saves as Carlo Ancelotti’s side again exposed the defensive vulnerability that had become a hallmark of their performances.
Of course, a draw was as good as it got after capitulating in their first game. Liverpool are capable of special things on the European stage, but defeat at Bournemouth dampened the optimism built up after a 7-0 win over Manchester United.
There were flashes of promise in the first half, with Courtois forced into action on several occasions, but Liverpool’s lackluster second half, despite having four strikers on the pitch, was more reflective of their overall performance.
In that period, with Madrid showing the blend of composure and quality that makes them such a force in this competition, Liverpool faded, managing just one shot on target between the break and the bitter end. Now all that remains is the fight for the top four.
Who can stop the owners of Real Madrid?
Real Madrid are the team to beat in the Champions League, if it wasn’t already obvious.
The knockout specialists finished the job against “Liverpool”. A 5-2 lead should have been nothing to worry about and Real Madrid made sure it wasn’t. The owners have an answer for everything.
The visitors tried to disarm them, but shot the blank. Instead, Real could have won by a bigger margin if Karim Benzema had brought his boots. He still found the net without them.
Alisson showed that his Anfield nightmare was in vain, saving Liverpool time after time. In the end, the damage was done in a stunning second half in the first leg.
Who can stop them now? Napoli may ask them a few more questions if the draw ends like that, but there was little the experienced spine of Thibaut Courtois, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Karim Benzema didn’t come across.
Bayern Munich and Manchester City will also provide tough tests, but Real Madrid have beaten them before and can do it again. You certainly wouldn’t argue with that.
De Bruyne ‘keeps the spark simple’
The night belonged to Erling Holland, but Kevin De Bruyne was an actor.
Pep Guardiola has urged the midfielder to “keep it simple” to regain his fitness. “When the simple things are done perfectly and we are at the right moment, the actions of creating incredible passes that only he can find will be easier, better,” said the City boss.
But little about his performance seemed straightforward. It was explosive. De Bruyne was everywhere, constantly wandering to get the ball. He charged through midfield, unleashing a lightning strike that crashed off the crossbar and headed in perfectly for Holland.
Only City defenders had more than De Bruyne’s 75 touches. Bernardo Silva had 19 less despite playing as many minutes. He completed 14 crosses as Leipzig crumbled under relentless pressure.
“Kevin is a dynamic player. If he doesn’t have dynamism or movement, he’s not a player who gets the ball in the pockets and can stop,” Guardiola said after the defeat. “He’s a guy who’s outside, inside, attack here, attack there, make transitions, press high.
“When that happens, assists are free, goals are free.”
It was fitting that De Bruyne curled in a delicious last-minute seventh to cap off his performance, just as the doubters swirled after being benched for three of City’s last seven Premier League games.
This was De Bruyne ‘keeping it simple’.
When is the draw?
The draw for the quarter-finals and semi-finals will take place on Friday 17 March at 11:00 UK time at UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.
The eight winners of the round of 16 are drawn into the draw for the open quarter-finals and semi-finals.
There are no seeds and no country defenses, so clubs can face opposition from the same country. They can also draw teams that have previously played in the group stage.
There will also be a final draw to decide the home side for administrative reasons for the June 10 exhibition event in Istanbul, Turkey.
You can follow the draw Sky Sports’ live blog so you can keep everything right here.