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Why Can’t Liverpool Beat Real Madrid?

Liverpool’s awful 2022/23 campaign could get a whole lot worse after their Champions League matchup versus old foes Real Madrid on 21st February.

The Reds have an awful record against Real Madrid, losing three major Champions League fixtures to them within the last five years. Despite winning every trophy under the sun, Jurgen Klopp will be keen to finally get the better of Los Blancos on club football’s grandest stage.

Let’s examine the last three meetings between the two sides and discuss why Liverpool fall short against the Spanish giants so often.


Real Madrid 3 - 1 Liverpool, 2018 CL Final

While Loris Karius' two mistakes made Madrid's third Champions League victory easier, Los Blancos were the favourites heading into Kyiv. 

Liverpool were playing in their first Champions League final of the Jurgen Klopp era, and their trademark gegenpressing was on full-display in the initial stages. Players like Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, and Jordan Henderson made this Liverpool team the preeminent pressing team in Europe, surrounding opposition players and capitalising on unsettled defences. 

Real Madrid, however, fielded elite midfielders in Luka Modric, Toni Kross, and Casemiro, and the trio’s composure in possession made Liverpool’s game plan extremely difficult to pull-off. Casemiro had a particularly great game, showcasing his superb defensive awareness and sense of positioning. As Sergio Ramos moved across to help left-back Marcelo, Casemiro dropped into central defence and helped plug the gaps left by Liverpool’s movement.

Luka Modric, who would win the Ballon D’Or later in the year, had a superb game. Let’s take a look at his stats:

  • 100% tackles won
  •  94% pass accuracy 
  • 88 touches
  • 0 fouls

The Croatian’s world-class ability allowed him to play through Liverpool’s press, linking up with Karim Benzema, who in turn gave license to Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to surge forward.

Combine that with Karius’ howlers and Bale’s stunning overhead stick, and it’s no surprise that Real Madrid walked out of Kyiv with the Champions League trophy. 

Real Madrid 3 - 1 Liverpool, 2021 UCL QF

Liverpool and Real Madrid would meet again in the 2020/21 Champions League quarter-finals, with the scoreline being exactly the same as it was in the 2018 final.

The Reds were unstoppable throughout 2019 and 2020, but a horrendous run of injuries left them paper-thin at the back. 

Orzan Kabak and Nat Phillips were Liverpool’s pair of emergency centre-backs, whilst Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold fielded their usual positions on the defensive flanks. 

The injuries and poor form plaguing Liverpool caused them to alter their pressing style, which in itself played into Madrid’s hands perfectly. Toni Kross unleashed the rapid Vinicius Jr. with a superb long ball, allowing the Brazilian to coolly finish beyond Allison.

Long-balls were a large component of Madrid’s game as they knew all about Liverpool’s defensive frailties and high line. Modric and Casemiro were their usual brilliant best, and a goal from Mohammed Salah did little to change the fortunes of the game. 

The 2020/21 Champions League quarter-final was nowhere near as competitive as the 2018 final, and Madrid would achieve qualification into the semis with a 0-0 draw at Anfield. 

Real Madrid 1 - 0 Liverpool, 2022 CL Final

As fate would have it, the two teams met again in Paris for the final of the 2021/22 Champions League four years after their showdown in Kyiv.

Liverpool were back to their best following the returns of Virgil Van Dijk and the brilliance of Salah and Mane, missing out on the Premier League by a single point and also winning both of their domestic cup competitions. 

The Reds were favourites to beat a Madrid side who had scraped through the Champions League in unbelievable fashion. Stunning comeback wins over PSG, Chelsea, and Manchester City demonstrated that this Madrid side weren’t nearly as ‘past it’ as some previously thought. 

Both teams lined up in their usual 4-3-3 formation, with Real’s superb midfield trio being composed of the same players who had won the previous two games. On this occasion, however, it was both Kross and Casemiro who dropped back into a double-pivot position, allowing Modric to advance and join the first line of the press. As the game wore on and Liverpool started dominating, the midfielders would drop back into wider positions in order to have more time on the ball. 

Carlo Ancelotti’s men would resemble a 4-4-2 in defence, causing them to be overrun in midfield whilst creating space on the counter. 

Liverpool had high-quality chances, evidenced by their higher xG, but Thibaut Courtious was in imperious form. Defeat in Kyiv was caused by goalkeeping errors, while defeat in Paris was caused by goalkeeping excellence. Had Courtious not had one of the best games of his career, then Liverpool surely would’ve left Paris with their 7th Champions League title. 

With Frederico Valverde staying wide for the outball, Liverpool’s defenders sprinted back to cover the oncoming Karim Benzema - who had been in world-class form all season. With Trent Alexander-Arnold moving across to deal with the Frenchman, space was left for the rapid Vinicius Jr. to pounce on the end of a wonderful Valverde cross. 

Liverpool huffed and puffed for the remainder of the game, but they were unable to rattle a side who were all highly-experienced on the big stage. 


Real Madrid have proven that they don’t need to play well to beat Liverpool. With their elite midfielders, pacey forwards, and world-class defensive shape, they have all the attributes to weather the storm of Liverpool’s ‘heavy-metal’ style of pressing football.

The departure of Casemiro may have softened Madrid’s midfield somewhat, but don’t be surprised if they find a way to haunt Liverpool again when the two teams next meet.





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V: 1.38.0 All rights reserved. August 2021