In a repeat of last season’s final, Liverpool were looking to prove they really had turned a corner after recent wins over Everton and Newcastle, and were well on track to do so. Darwin Nunez and Mohamed Salah gave the Reds the perfect start, two goals up and flying inside 14 minutes.
If that was surprising, what followed was barely believable. A Vinicius Jr brace got Real level before the break, before Eder Militao completed the turnaround just two minutes into the second-half. By now Liverpool were being ripped apart at the back, and Karim Benzema helped himself to a brace as the visitors ran riot.
Liverpool are tasked with producing a comeback in the second leg at the Bernabeu that would rival even the most impressive entries in the club’s European back catalogue, with defending champions Real once again rising to the occasion in this competition like only they have over the past decade.
The Anfield crowd produced a brilliant atmosphere and the hosts responded on the pitch as they flew out of the blocks. Liverpool took the lead inside four minutes, as Salah played a low cross into the box and Nunez produced a sensational flicked finish.
It got even better too, with Courtois in a generous mood. The Real goalkeeper, so impressive in last season’s final, let the ball bobble off his knee as Salah closed in and the Egyptian was left with the simplest of finishes.
Real made a habit of coming from behind on their way to glory in Paris and that ability was on show again, as they dragged themselves level before the break.
Vinicius hammered a finish into the far corner to halve the deficit with just over 20 minutes played and he then got his side level, though he knew significantly less about his second goal.
Joe Gomez cut out a pass through to the Brazilian and played it back to Alisson, who looked to find his defender but instead fired the ball against Vinicius and had to then watch it loop into the empty net.
The drama in front of goal continued after the break, but unfortunately for Liverpool it was not taking place in front of the Kop. Real needed only a couple of minutes of the second-half to complete an incredible turnaround, as Luka Modric fired a free-kick in and Militao powered home a header.
And the visitors extended their lead further, as a stunned silence fell over Anfield before the hour mark. After lovely build-up play involving Dani Carvajal and Rodrygo, Benzema’s strike took a huge deflection off Gomez and flew past a stranded Alisson.
That was fortunate for Benzema, but his second goal was absolutely brilliant. Liverpool were caught in midfield and Real burst into life, as Modric slid the ball through to Vinicius and he squared for Benzema. The Frenchman chopped inside past Alisson, barely breaking a sweat as he fired a finish past the two red shirts on the line.
There is no away goals rule in place in the Champions League, though the fact Liverpool need to score at least three in Spain on March 15 rather than five will be little consolation.