MADRID — Karim Benzema‘s second-half goal earned Real Madrid a 1-0 win against Liverpool, clinching a spot in the Champions League quarterfinals for the defending title holders.
The result at the Santiago Bernabeu completed a 6-2 aggregate victory for Carlo Ancelotti’s side in the round of 16. With Liverpool needing to win by three goals to level the tie and take it into extra time, manager Jurgen Klopp entered Wednesday’s game saying they only had “a 1 percent chance” of reaching the next round.
Although they kept it tight for over an hour, Liverpool rarely looked like salvaging the tie and their elimination was confirmed when Benzema scored from close range after being teed up by Vinicius Junior.
– El Clasico! Real Madrid-Barcelona on ESPN+ (Sunday, 4 p.m. ET)
– Champions League knockout round draw: Full details
1. Real Madrid show why they remain the team to beat
Although the hard work was done at Anfield by winning the first leg 5-2, Real Madrid’s achievement in knocking Liverpool out of the Champions League with a 6-2 aggregate victory should not be understated.
Liverpool are one of the most successful and formidable teams in Europe and only Real can surpass their recent run of three finals in five years, so to inflict such a crushing defeat on Jurgen Klopp’s team shows that Real mean business again.
In what is becoming an unusually open Champions League this season, nothing has changed in that Real are still the team to beat. Whether they are drawn against a fellow favourite such as Manchester City or a dark horse side such as AC Milan in Friday’s draw, Carlo Ancelotti’s side will expect to progress.
This Real have never quite been granted the respect that they deserve. People still revere Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez which won two Champions League titles in three years in 2009 and 2011, but several players on this Real team have won four or five during the past 10 years. Karim Benzema, who scored the only goal of this game, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Dani Carvajal are multiple winners, while the rest lifted it in Paris after beating Liverpool last season. Antonio Rudiger didn’t, but he had already won it a year earlier with Chelsea.
They are stacked with seasoned 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 so was this game in the sense that they were experienced enough to ensure that Liverpool never get going in their attempt to pull off remarkable fightback. Real have already won 14 European Cups and nobody else comes close. Don’t bet against them winning another one this time around.
2. Liverpool need to big push to qualify next season
This time last year, Liverpool were on course for a quadruple and they only missed out on the two biggest trophies — the Premier League and Champions League — in the final week of the season. But 12 months on, their hopes of silverware have already evaporated with Real ending their prospects in the Champions League.
Liverpool’s season is still alive, but only in the sense that now have just over two months to save it by securing a top-four finish and a return to the Champions League next season. With 12 games to play in the Premier League, Klopp’s side are six points behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, albeit with a game in hand. But Brentford and Brighton & Hove Albion are both turning up the heat behind them and Newcastle United are two points ahead in fifth having played one game less.
So Liverpool have a fight on their hands to get back into the Champions League and the outcome of that battle will be crucial to the rebuilding job that is required, regardless of where they finish this season. If Liverpool end up in the Europa League next season, will that be enough to convince top target Jude Bellingham to reject a move to Real in favour of a transfer to Anfield from Borussia Dortmund?
And without the additional finances that come from playing in the Champions League, it will deny Klopp the chance to refresh his squad as much as he needs to, especially in midfield. Liverpool were always facing an almighty challenge against Real having lost the first leg 5-2, but exiting the Champions League at the round of 16 is a failure for a club of their stature and ambition. Finishing outside the Premier League top four would make a bad season even worse.
3. Courtois, Alisson bounce back from first-leg blunders
You could easily argue that the best two goalkeepers in the world right now were facing each other in this game. Real’s Thibaut Courtois and Liverpool’s Alisson Becker both made uncharacteristic errors which led to goals in the first-leg at Anfield, but even their harshest critics would struggle to suggest that those mistakes were anything other than a blip.
But just to prove that those blunders really were out of the ordinary, Courtois and Alisson put on top-class displays in the Bernabeu to highlight their status as the best around.
Courtois probably just shades it ahead of Alisson as best in the world judging by this game. He made a big save from Cody Gakpo in the 36th minute when conceding would have given Liverpool a huge boost in their bid to overturn a three-goal deficit. The former Chelsea keeper is an imposing presence; he is good with his feet, commanding in the air and he makes every save look routine because of his outstanding positioning. Alisson isn’t quite as big from a physical sense, but he is quicker off his line and his ability to spot danger was also key to a number of early interventions against Real.
Manchester City’s Ederson and Paris Saint-Germain‘s Gianluigi Donnarumma might stake their case to be judged alongside Courtois and Alisson, but the Real and Liverpool No. 1s are at the top of the list.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Alisson Becker, GK Liverpool.
Made a number of crucial saves to keep Liverpool in with an outside chance of overturning their three-goal deficit.
BEST: Luka Modric, MF, Real Madrid.
Will rarely play against another 37-year-old these days, but up against Liverpool veteran James Milner, Modric was free to boss the game and dictate the tempo for Real.
BEST: Eduardo Camavinga, MF, Real Madrid.
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 continues to play as 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 would be so much better if he learnt that pace doesn’t always have to be at the heart of everything he does.
WORST: Nacho, DF, Real Madrid.
The weak link of the Real back line. Struggled to contain Mohamed Salah and Liverpool targeted the full-back.
WORST: Trent Alexander-Arnold, DF, Liverpool.
It’s a recurring theme, but he just doesn’t defend well enough against quality opponents. Vinicius Junior almost had the freedom of his side of the pitch against the Liverpool defender.
Highlights and notable moments
Count on Karim Benzema to deliver the goal that put Liverpool’s very, very slim chances of advancing to bed.
KARIM BENZEMA PUTS THE TIE OUT OF REACH! 🎯 pic.twitter.com/BQOY2skeF4
— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) March 15, 2023
After the match: What the managers and players said
Karim Benzema, after the performance: “It was a difficult game after the first leg, but from the start we wanted to go forward. It was a good game for the fans, for everyone, and we’re in the quarterfinals.”
Benzema, on if he suffered an injury late: “It’s a knock, that’s all. I’ll be there [for the Clasico on Sunday].”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
– With 19 Champions League quarterfinals appearances, Real Madrid rank behind only Bayern Munich (21) for most all-time.
– Karim Benzema has scored 35 career go-ahead goals in the Champions League, tying Robert Lewandowski for third all-time. Cristiano Ronaldo (58) and Lionel Messi (50) are the only players with more.
– Real Madrid: 5-0-1 (W-L-D) in last six games vs. Liverpool, including two final wins.
– All six of Liverpool’s eliminations from UEFA competitions under Jurgen Klopp have been vs. Spanish clubs (four vs. Real Madrid, one vs Atletico Madrid, one vs. Sevilla)
Real Madrid: Another big-time clash as they head to Barcelona on Sunday (stream on ESPN+ at 4 p.m. ET). Madrid will aim to make up ground on their LaLiga rivals in the standings, trailing them by nine points for the top spot.
Liverpool: Out of all cup competitions with no matches ahead of the FIFA international break. Once they return to action, a pivotal league match on April 1 at Manchester City where a positive result will boost top-four hopes.