MADRID — Karim Benzema’s second-half goal earned Real Madrid a 1-0 win over Liverpool, booking the defending champions a place in the Champions League quarterfinals.
The result at the Santiago Bernabeu sealed a 6-2 victory for Carlo Ancelotti’s side in the round of 16. With Liverpool needing to win by three goals to level the tie and go into extra time, manager Jurgen Klopp entered Wednesday’s game saying they had just a “one per cent chance” of reaching the next round.
Although they kept it tight for over an hour, Liverpool rarely looked like defending the tie and Benzema’s goal from close range after being pulled down by Vinicius Junior ensured their elimination.
– The best! Real Madrid-Barcelona (Sunday, 4 p.m. ET) on ESPN+
– Champions League Knockout Round Draw: Full Details
1. Real Madrid show why they remain the team to beat
Although the first leg was hard won 5-2 at Anfield, Real Madrid’s achievement in knocking Liverpool out of the Champions League with a 6-2 win should not be underestimated.
Liverpool are one of the most successful and powerful teams in Europe and only Real can surpass their recent run of three finals in five years, so such a crushing defeat for Jurgen Klopp’s side shows that Real mean business again.
In what is shaping up to be an unusually open Champions League this season, nothing has changed that Real are still the team to beat. Carlo Ancelotti’s side will be hoping to improve, whether they are drawn against overwhelming favorites like Manchester City or dark horse sides like AC Milan in Friday’s draw.
This real has never been given the respect it deserves. People still revere Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez who won two Champions League titles in three years in 2009 and 2011, but several players from this Real team have won four or five in the last 10 years. Karim Benzema, who scored the only goal of the game, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Dani Carvajal all scored multiple winners, while the rest picked it up in Paris after beating Liverpool last season. Antonio Rudiger didn’t, but he won it the year before with Chelsea.
So this Real team is stacked with season’s Champions League winners and they still have plenty to offer. Their first-leg demolition of Liverpool was a warning to the rest of Europe, but this game meant they were experienced enough to ensure Liverpool never attempted to stop their remarkable fightback. Real have already won 14 European Cups and no one else has come close. Don’t bet against them for one more win this time.
2. Liverpool will have to make a big push to qualify next season
This time last year, Liverpool were on course for a quadruple and they missed out on the two biggest trophies – the Premier League and the Champions League – in the final week of the season. But 12 months on, their hopes of silverware have already evaporated and Real’s chances in the Champions League are over.
Liverpool’s season is still alive, but only in the sense that they now have just over two months to salvage it with a top four finish and a return to the Champions League next season. With 12 matches to play in the Premier League, Klopp’s side are six points behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, albeit with a game in hand. But both Brentford and Brighton & Hove Albion are turning up the heat behind them, and Newcastle United are two points clear in fifth with a game in hand.
So Liverpool have a battle on their hands to get back into the Champions League and the outcome of that battle will be crucial to the rebuilding that is needed, wherever they finish this season. If Liverpool finish in the Europa League next season, will it be enough to convince top target Jude Bellingham to reject a move to Real in favor of a move to Anfield from Borussia Dortmund?
And without the extra money that comes from playing in the Champions League, it will deny Klopp the opportunity to refresh his squad as much as he needs, particularly in midfield. Liverpool always faced an almighty challenge against Real after losing the first leg 5-2, but a Champions League exit in the round of 16 was a setback for a club of their stature and ambition. Finishing outside the Premier League’s top four will make a bad season even worse.
3. Courtois, Alisson bounce back from first leg mistakes
You could easily argue that two of the best goalkeepers in the world at the moment were facing each other in this game. Real’s Thibaut Courtois and Liverpool’s Alisson Becker both made unforced errors that led to goals in the first leg at Anfield, but even their harshest critics will struggle to explain these mistakes as anything other than a blip.
But just to prove that these mistakes were truly out of the ordinary, Courtois and Alisson put in top-class displays to cement their place as the best at the Bernabeu.
Courtois has probably edged Alisson as the best in the world judging by this game. He made a big save from Cody Gakpo in the 36th minute when conceding gave Liverpool a huge boost to overturn their three-goal deficit. The former Chelsea keeper is an imposing presence, good on his feet, commanding in the air and he makes every save look routine due to his outstanding positioning. Alisson is not physically big, but he is quick off his line and his ability to spot danger was also key to the early intervention against Real.
Manchester City’s Ederson and Paris Saint-Germain’s Gianluigi Donnarumma may be alongside Courtois and Alisson to plead their case, but Real and Liverpool are the number 1 top dogs.
Best and worst performers
Best: Alison Baker, GK Liverpool.
Made a number of key saves to keep Liverpool in with no chance of overturning their three-goal deficit.
Best: Luka Modric, MF, Real Madrid.
Few play against another 37-year-old these days, but against Liverpool veteran James Milner, Modric was free to dictate the game and set the pace for Real.
Best: Eduardo Camavinga, MF, Real Madrid.
It’s hard to believe that the Real midfielder is only 20 years old. Could be at the heart of Real’s team for a decade if he plays like he did in this game.
Worst: Darwin Nunez, FW, Liverpool.
All effort and energy, but he needs to slow down. Does everything at 100 mph, but he’d be much better off if he learned that speed isn’t always the focus of everything.
Worst: Nacho, DF, Real Madrid.
The weak link in the Real back-line. Full-back targeting Liverpool struggles to contain Mohamed Salah.
Worst: Trent Alexander-Arnold, DF, Liverpool.
It’s a recurring theme, but he just can’t defend well enough against quality opponents. Vinicius almost had freedom of the pitch against Liverpool defenders.
Highlights and notable moments
Count on Karim Benzema to deliver the goal that made Liverpool’s chances of going to bed very, very slim.
Karim Benzema has kept the tie out of reach! 🎯 pic.twitter.com/BQOY2skeF4
— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) March 15, 2023
What the manager and players said after the match
Karim Benzema, after the performance: “It was a tough game after the first leg, but from the start we wanted to go ahead. It was a good game for the fans, for everyone and we are in the quarter-finals.”
Benzema, if he suffers a late injury: “It’s a knock, that’s all. I’ll be there [for the Clasico on Sunday]”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Data Research)
– With 19 Champions League quarter-final appearances, Real Madrid are second only to Bayern Munich (21) for all-time.
– Karim Benzema has scored 35 career goals in the Champions League, tying Robert Lewandowski for third all-time. More players than Cristiano Ronaldo (58) and Lionel Messi (50).
– Real Madrid: 5-0-1 (WLD) in last 6 games vs. Liverpool with two final wins.
– All six of Liverpool’s exits from UEFA competitions under Jurgen Klopp have been against Spanish clubs (four vs Real Madrid, one vs Atletico Madrid, one vs Sevilla).
Real Madrid: Another big-time clash when they travel to Barcelona on Sunday (Stream on ESPN+ at 4 pm ET) Madrid will aim to move above their La Liga rivals, nine points behind them for the top spot.
Liverpool: All cups are out of competition with no matches before the FIFA international break. Once they return to action, a major league match at Manchester City on April 1 where a positive result will boost hopes of a top-four finish.