While both Real Madrid and Liverpool are rightly considered Champions League royalty, there can only be one king.
Down by two goals after 14 minutes at Anfield, defending champion Madrid came back to win 5-2 on Tuesday and take a commanding lead into the second leg of the round of 16 matchup.
Vinicius Jr. and Karim Benzema scored two goals each to stun the host — Liverpool conceded four goals in a home European match for the first time — and confirm the Spanish giant will take some stopping in its defense of the trophy.
If anything, this Madrid team looks more complete than the one that beat Jurgen Klopp’s team in last year’s Paris final. Yet this win echoed the memorable comebacks that led to that record-extending 14th Champions League title.
There was the chaotic defending that allowed Liverpool to race into a 2-0 lead as Darwin Nunez struck with a backheel in the fourth minute before Mohamed Salah doubled the advantage thanks to Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois’ blunder.
Then came the rousing fightback, led by one of European football’s emerging stars in Vinicius and sealed by an aging icon in Benzema.
Eder Militao was also on the scoresheet when he headed Madrid into a 3-2 lead just after halftime.
The 22-year-old Vinicius became the youngest player to score two goals against Liverpool at Anfield since Johan Cruyff for Ajax in 1966 when the Dutch great was 19.
The Brazil international is establishing himself as Madrid’s star player and, in the face of a typically daunting Anfield atmosphere, he rose to the occasion.
Just as the visitor looked in danger of buckling under the pressure, Vinicius produced a moment of magic with his first goal in the 21st.
Exchanging passes with Benzema just inside the box, there didn’t look to be any obvious danger until he flashed a low shot through a crowd of legs and into the bottom corner.
He evened the score in the 36th when Alisson’s attempted kick rebounded straight off Vinicius and looped into an empty net.
While the goal was a moment of good fortune, it was also a measure of the panic he sparked in Liverpool’s defense that Alisson was rushed into making the mistake.
Two minutes after halftime, Madrid took the lead when Militao headed in Luka Modric’s free kick from the left.
It went from bad to worse for Liverpool as Benzema, the inspiration for Madrid’s triumph last year, got in on the act.
His shot was deflected off Joe Gomez in the 55th to make 4-2 and he added a fifth in the 67th.
It had all started so well for Liverpool, which went into the game with confidence after back-to-back wins against Everton and Newcastle in the Premier League.
Those victories had sparked hope of an unlikely run in Europe and came just in time for the ultimate test of trying to halt Madrid.
And that form looked like continuing as Nunez struck early to shock the visitor, before Salah capitalized on Courtois’ mis-control to tap in from close range in the 14th.
The home fans were rocking until Vinicius sparked a comeback that looks likely to propel Madrid to the quarterfinals.
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