Makeshift defence holds firm as Real Madrid keep Double dream alive
Real Madrid and Liverpool both went into their Champions League quarter-final heavily depleted in defence, but the Spanish side proved they had greater strength in depth as they advanced to the semi-finals.
Unfamiliar centre-back pairing Eder Militao and Nacho Fernandez held firm as Real ground out a 0-0 draw in the second leg at Anfield yesterday morning (Singapore time) to protect their 3-1 first-leg advantage.
Brazilian Militao was making only his ninth start this season while Spaniard Nacho had played little more than half his side's matches, but their assured displays meant Real barely missed their first-choice pairing of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.
"We had some huge absences, Ramos and Varane are two pillars of this team, but Nacho and Militao proved they have what it takes," said Real midfielder Casemiro, as the 13-time European winners book a semi-final date with Chelsea.
"You never know when you might get your turn, and it's not easy at all to play in this team, but they showed they are up to the task."
Liverpool had far more chances than in last week's defeat, but Real's centre-backs, along with stand-in right-back Federico Valverde and regular left-back Ferland Mendy, did enough to keep Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino at bay.
"Militao and I are first-team players and the fact we're here means we're doing something right," said Nacho after a third big performance for Real in eight days, including a 2-1 win over Barcelona.
Liverpool have been missing their defensive leader Virgil van Dijk for most of the season plus senior centre-backs Joel Matip and Joe Gomez.
But Real were also without right-backs Dani Carvajal and Lucas Vazquez at Anfield.
"All you can say is that we are all in this together, with everything that has happened to us this season, all the injuries we have had. This team can never be written off," said coach Zinedine Zidane.
Real are still on course for the Double, having reduced the gap on La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid to one point, with eight games left.
Liverpool boss Juergen Klopp admitted that the tie was lost in the first leg, adding that his side have to quickly bounce back from their elimination to ensure they do not miss out on the competition next season.
"Monday night, Leeds, is the next challenge. We have to run and work our socks off," said Klopp, whose side are sixth in the English Premier League, three points behind fourth-placed West Ham United.
Meanwhile, the Reds have apologised to Real, whose team bus window was smashed on arrival at Anfield before the game. - AFP, REUTERS