Toni Kroos has detailed how Real Madrid’s game plan was centred around applying pressure to Liverpool’s central defensive duo Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak to peg the Reds back from the outset on Tuesday.
The Los Blancos found themselves 2-0 up at half-time of the Champions League quarter-final first leg fixture, played at Madrid’s training ground, after dominating Jurgen Klopp’s side for the opening 45 minutes.
Liverpool barely got down Madrid’s end of the field as they were overrun by a swarm of white shirts and struggled to string together a spell of possession.
Kroos was instrumental in setting up the opening goal, picking out Vinicius Jr with an arrowed long-range pass which dropped perfectly over the head of Phillips for his teammate to chest down and score.
The hosts were then gifted a second thanks to a forced error when Marcos Asensio capitalised on a mistake by Trent Alexander-Arnold, manufactured largely from Madrid’s high aggressive pressing.
“Lots of things went well in the first half,” Kroos said. “We came out very motivated and even concentrated in our game plan and it went well.
“We tried to attack them very early because we knew they have had to change some players because they have injured players at the back.
“We thought that’s going to be a good chance to win the ball very early. And of course when we have the ball, our idea was to keep the ball, keep the possession and play forward.
“I think all of this went well especially when we lost the ball, we got the back ball very fast. I think this was one key for this for this great first half.”
It was really a step up in class for Liverpool’s inexperienced pairing, who had to deal with Karim Benzema all evening while also weathering the storm created by those in front of them carelessly and frequently losing possession.
Naby Keita was even hauled off before the break as Jurgen Klopp appeared to lose patience with his midfielder, and even an away goal from Mohamed Salah did not stop Liverpool ending the evening with a mountain to climb.
Vinicius Jr sealed the win by adding his second as Phillips allowed the forward far too much space in the box to score between his legs, with goalkeeper Alisson only able to palm the ball into the net.
It was disappointing for Klopp., who has seen the Kabak-Phillips partnership improve in weeks’ gone by, but they face a big ask to survive the second leg without conceding another.
Madrid’s tactics were two-fold though, as they also cut off the crucial supply line to Liverpool’s attackers, who were virtually non-existent for large periods of the match.
“It’s normal to try to figure out in your rival some points where you can attack them,” Kroos added.
“But it’s not only because they had to change some defenders. We also didn’t want them getting the ball too easily to their forward players because all of us know what quality they have.
One idea of course was to attack the defenders so that they cannot go easily to the front where they have most of their qualities.”
Madrid now have one foot firmly in the semi-finals, with Kroos even delivering a parting shot ahead of the return fixture at Anfield next week.
“There’s no question we deserved the victory.,” he added. “The second half was a little bit different with more possession for Liverpool but we still had the clear chances. The result is okay, but it was more than possible to score four or five.”