Waves of Liverpool pressure crashed on Real Madrid rocks as the Spanish champions secured their passage to the Champions League semi-finals with a 0-0 draw against Liverpool at Anfield.
Last week's 3-1 victory in Valdebedas proved to be more than enough for Zinedine Zidane's side, who overcame an early wave of pressure from Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah in a fine defensive display where Thibaut Courtois and Eder Militao blocked everything that came their way.
Liverpool were certainly improved from the error-strewn side who ultimately lost the tie in the first leg but a Madrid side without defensive mainstays Raphael Varane, Dani Carvajal and Sergio Ramos rarely looked like buckling at an empty Anfield. Where once 50,000 supporters might have helped inspire a late surge this tie instead petered out in front of an empty Kop, meaning Jurgen Klopp's side must now focus on recovering a top four berth if they are to return to the Champions League next season.
Craving even more coverage of the world's game? Listen below and subscribe to ¡Qué Golazo! A Daily CBS Soccer Podcast where we take you beyond the pitch and around the globe for commentary, previews, recaps and more.
Madrid, meanwhile, will face Chelsea in the semifinals with both sides looking to have the sort of stout defense that Liverpool so lacked in the first leg.
Madrid weather Liverpool's early storm
For a time Liverpool had Madrid rocking. Federico Valverde's positioning as a makeshift right-back seemed to serve as an affront to Mane, who took it on himself to teach the Uruguayan some harsh lessons about defending one vs. one against a world-class winger in the mood. It looked like it might bring immediate reward when Mane squared for Salah in the 2nd minute, the Egyptian putting his shot just too close to Courtois' diving legs.
In a half where both of Liverpool's talismanic wide forwards looked to be in something approximating their best form that move was reprised again, on this occasion Salah finding just too many bodies between him and the goal as he stabbed an effort over the bar. Moments later Georginio Wijnaldum wasted another tempting opportunity, blazing over the bar after a cutback from Trent Alexander-Arnold.
In the period between, however, Madrid had succeeded in taking some of the intensity out of the tie. It was their great superpower that they could simply ping the ball around the ground for two or three minutes. Valverde was a problem for his team without the ball but in possession he was yet another outlet alongside Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro. They struggled to advance high through Liverpool's press – though when they did Karim Benzema managed to snap a shot against the post – but every time the Reds gained possession it was hard won.
In a game where all they needed to do was hold firm they managed to hold the edge on possession and got the balance to their breakaways just about right, never committing so many forward as to allow Liverpool to counter the counter but doing just enough that the likes of James Milner would have to come scampering back to make a tackle.
Whether it was Zinedine Zidane's plan to play for a 0-0 is hard to know but if it was Madrid could scarcely have applied it more effectively, holding the Reds to nine shots worth a combined 0.74 expected goals in the first hour of the game.
Klopp's gambit fails
By then Klopp determined it was time to make significant changes, introducing Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota, both surprising absentees from an initial XI defined by its experience of winning in a Liverpool shirt, and switching formation to a 4-2-3-1. An attack-minded change on paper but it did not quite work out like that in practice.
Jurgen Klopp probably did not have any choice, he could hardly allow the game to play out as it was with Liverpool needing two goals in 30 minutes. But in adding another forward the home team's spacing was suddenly askew. Jota and Mane needed to come infield to make room for Andrew Robertson and Alexander-Arnold. With Roberto Firmino and Salah operating like a classic front two there was precious little space to maneuver and little to help in terms of build-up.
Equally Eder Militao in particular rose to the pressure. In the space of three minutes he was in the right place at the right time on three occasions, though even then you suspected it helped that Liverpool's forwards kept attacking the same area.
Ultimately it meant that the late cavalry charge never arrived. Klopp seemed to acknowledge his switch had not paid off by withdrawing Mane and Firmino for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Xherdan Shaqiri. Those two never seemed likely to inspire a fightback that looked beyond Liverpool once the initial changes did not pay off.