Liverpool 0-0 Real Madrid (1-3 agg): Reds fluff their lines as Los Blancos reach last four

Roberto Firmino takes on a shot against Real Madrid at Anfield.

Roberto Firmino takes on a shot against Real Madrid at Anfield.

Real Madrid reached the Champions League semi-finals for the first time since 2018 after a 0-0 draw at Anfield secured a 3-1 aggregate triumph over Liverpool.

Zinedine Zidane’s depleted side had seized control of the tie in the first meeting a week ago, Vinicius Junior the hero as he scored twice in the Spanish capital.

A makeshift defence stood up to the challenge in a scoreless return fixture, setting up a two-legged showdown with another English side in Chelsea for a place in this year’s final in Istanbul.

The Ataturk Stadium holds fond memories for Liverpool – they were crowned European champions at the venue in 2005 – but there will be no return trip this year, leaving the focus for Jurgen Klopp’s squad on securing a top-four finish in the Premier League.

The Reds will look back with regret on a disappointing display on the road, though they had a number of clear-cut chances to reduce the deficit on Merseyside.

Mohamed Salah was unable to convert a Sadio Mane square pass inside two minutes as the hosts started at a frenetic pace, his first-time attempt aimed straight at Thibaut Courtois.

The Egyptian forward – one of the more consistent performers in a season Klopp recently described as “bumpy” – wastefully fired over following superb work by Gini Wijnaldum, who also failed to keep an attempt of his own down as Madrid made it to the break unscathed.

Liverpool had a let-off when Karim Benzema’s attempted pass to Vinicius deflected off Ozan Kabak and onto a post, much to the relief of Nathaniel Phillips after he had lost possession to present the counter-attacking opportunity.

Roberto Firmino tested Courtois again soon after the interval, while another on-target attempt from the Brazilian midway through the second half was blocked superbly by compatriot Eder Militao.

Vinicius was denied by Alisson in a one-on-one situation as Madrid’s run of scoring in 23 straight knockout games came to an end, but more importantly they held firm at the back to seal their progression.

What does it mean? Double dream lives on

Madrid lifted the trophy for three successive seasons in Zidane’s first stint in charge, yet the competition has not held such great memories in more recent campaigns.

They arrived in England having boosted their hopes of retaining their LaLiga title at the weekend with a hard-fought 2-1 Clasico triumph over Barcelona, and this result will give them further belief that 2021 could be their year in Europe again.

What made their progression to the last four even more impressive is the number of key players missing against Liverpool. Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane may well be back in time to face Chelsea, but the central defensive pairing of Militao and Nacho were outstanding in the second leg.

Keeping up appearances

Courtois becoming the fifth Belgian player to reach the milestone of 50 Champions League appearances, after Axel Witsel, Eden Hazard, Daniel Van Buyten and Vincent Kompany. The former Chelsea keeper will get the chance to face his former team next, having made three crucial saves to keep the Reds at bay.

Salah miss set the tone

For the second straight season, Liverpool’s European campaign ended on home soil against Spanish opposition. It may well have been a different story, however, had Salah – looking to score in a fifth consecutive Champions League game – found the net in the opening minutes. 

What’s next?

Liverpool’s quest to make sure they are competing in the Champions League again next season continues with a trip to Leeds United next Monday, 24 hours after Madrid travel to Getafe in LaLiga action.