No miracle for lacklustre Liverpool
Maybe, just maybe, if Darwin Nunez’s early shot from Mohamed Salah’s pass had been a little closer to either corner. There were 83 minutes still to play at that point. Plenty of time for a miracle. But by the end Jurgen Klopp was in no mood for ‘if onlys’.
“That is hypothetical,” he told BT Sport matter-of-factly. “We prepared for a special performance, but we were not able to put it on the pitch tonight. It was obvious the best side went through.”
Karim Benzema’s late goal sealed it but that was not the first time Real Madrid had carved Liverpool open. In fact, they attempted nearly twice as many shots as they did in the game at Anfield, generating a higher total of expected goals too.
Liverpool were indebted for Alisson to keeping the scores level before Benzema’s opener, the Brazilian making a string of fine saves as Carlo Ancelotti’s side, again, exposed the defensive vulnerability that has become such a feature of their performances.
Of course, the tie was as good as over after their first-leg capitulation. Liverpool are capable of special things on the European stage but defeat to Bournemouth had sapped any optimism created by the 7-0 win over Manchester United.
There were flickers of promise in the first half, with Courtois forced into action on several occasions, but Liverpool’s lacklustre second half, despite having four forwards on the pitch, felt more reflective of their performance as a whole.
In that period, as Madrid showed the blend of composure and quality that makes them such a force in this competition, Liverpool faded, mustering only one shot on goal between the interval and the bitter end. All that is left now is a fight for the top four.
Who can stop holders Real?
Real Madrid are the team to beat in the Champions League, if it wasn’t obvious already.
The knock-out specialists got the job done against Liverpool. A 5-2 lead shouldn’t have been anything to worry about and Real made sure it wasn’t. The holders have an answer to everything.
The visitors attempted to out-gun them yet shot a blank. Instead, Real could have won by a larger margin had Karim Benzema brought his shooting boots. He still found the net without them.
Alisson showed his Anfield nightmare was a blip, saving Liverpool time after time. Ultimately, the damage had been done in a stunning second half during the first leg.
Who can stop them now? Napoli could pose them some different questions if the draw falls that way yet there’s little the experienced spine of Thibaut Courtois, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Karim Benzema haven’t come across.
Bayern Munich and Man City will also pose difficult tests but Real have beaten them before and can do it again. You certainly wouldn’t back against it.
De Bruyne ‘keeps it simple’ to sparkle
The night belonged to Erling Haaland but Kevin De Bruyne was the co-star.
Pep Guardiola had urged the midfielder to “keep it simple” to rediscover his form. “When the simple things are done perfectly and we are in the right moment, the actions to create incredible passes that he – only he – can find, it will be easier, it will be better,” said the City boss.
But little about his performance looked simple. It was explosive. De Bruyne was everywhere, constantly roaming to get the ball. He charged through midfield unleashing a thunderbolt that crashed off the crossbar and perfectly for Haaland to head in.
Only the City defenders had more than De Bruyne’s 75 touches. Bernardo Silva had 19 fewer despite playing the same amount of minutes. He delivered 14 crosses as Leipzig crumbled under the relentless pressure.
“Kevin is a player for the dynamics. If he doesn’t have the dynamic or movements he is not a player who receives the ball in the pockets and can stop,” said Guardiola after the rout. “He’s a guy who outside, inside, attack here, attack there. Make the transitions, press high.
“When it happens, the assists come free, the goals come free.”
It was fitting De Bruyne curled in a delicious seventh in the final minute to cap his statement performance, just when the doubters had been circling after starting on the bench for three of City’s last seven Premier League games.
This was De Bruyne “keeping it simple”.
When is the draw?
The draws for the quarter-finals and semi-finals take place at 11am UK time on Friday March 17 in Nyon, Switzerland at UEFA’s headquarters.
The eight last-16 winners are involved in an open quarter-final and semi-final draw.
There are no seedings and no country protection, so clubs can face opposition from the same country. They can also draw teams they previously played in the group stage.
A final draw will also take place to determine the ‘home’ side for administrative reasons for the showpiece event in Istanbul, Turkey on June 10.
You can follow the draw with Sky Sports’ live blog, so you can keep across everything right here.