Vinicius Junior scored twice as Real Madrid beat Liverpool for a fourth successive time in the Champions League to take a 3-1 aggregate lead in their quarter-final tie.

Shorn of first-choice defenders Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, Madrid took the game to Liverpool from the off in the first meeting between the sides since the 2018 final, exposing the Reds' own defensive frailties.

Vinicius opened the scoring from Toni Kroos' exceptional pass and Trent Alexander-Arnold's error nine minutes later led to Marco Asensio making it 2-0.

Mohamed Salah snatched a potentially crucial away goal for Liverpool, but Vinicus' second ensured a first-leg lead for the 13-time European champions.

Alexander-Arnold's issues started with a sloppy pass in the 24th minute, Ozan Kabak sparing his team-mate's blushes by blocking Karim Benzema's route to goal.

Liverpool's luck soon ran out. Having spotted a gap between Alexander-Arnold and Nathaniel Phillips, Kroos dropped an inch-perfect pass onto the chest of Vinicius, who took it brilliantly in his stride before drilling home.

Sadio Mane was left furious not to have been awarded a free-kick for a barge from Lucas Vazquez, and Liverpool's anger was compounded from the subsequent Madrid attack as Alexander-Arnold headed directly into the path of Asensio, who coolly nudged it over Alisson to finish into an empty net.

With Asensio spurning another gift-wrapped opportunity, Jurgen Klopp turned to Thiago Alcantara to replace Naby Keita before half-time, and Liverpool restored parity six minutes after the restart, Salah on hand to tuck in after latching onto a deflected shot.

After Diogo Jota headed wide, Ferland Mendy made a perfectly timed challenge to deny Sadio Mane, and Alexander-Arnold was needed to make a similarly vital intervention at the other end to cut out Asensio's pass to Vinicius.

Vinicius would not be denied his second, however, and his low shot was soon helped into the corner by Alisson to restore Madrid's two-goal cushion ahead of next week's second leg.

Jurgen Klopp selected Diogo Jota in attack and dropped Roberto Firmino to the bench for Liverpool's Champions League quarter-final first leg at Real Madrid.

Jota came on with the game goalless and netted a brace in Saturday's 3-0 Premier League win at Arsenal.

Although Firmino was initially on the field along with Jota, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane at Emirates Stadium, the Brazil forward had to be content with a place on the bench in the Spanish capital.

Jota's brace took him up to 12 goals for the campaign in his debut season at Anfield, level with Mane and double Firmino's six, despite injury restricting him to 1,269 minutes on the field.

Firmino has played 2,661 minutes, meaning he averages a goal every 443.5 minutes, with Jota's one per 105.75 minutes the best ratio among all of Liverpool's forwards. Salah's 26 goals in 2020-21 have arrived at one every 128.7 minutes.

Naby Keita has endured another injury-impacted season with the Reds, but Klopp gave him the nod in midfield alongside Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum, with ex-Barcelona man Thiago Alcantara among the substitutes.

Liverpool were set to confront a patched-up Real Madrid back four in a rematch of the 2018 final, with Raphael Varane's positive COVID-19 diagnosis putting him on the sidelines with skipper Sergio Ramos and right-back Dani Carvajal.

Lucas Vazquez, Nacho and Eder Militao were chosen as the men to step in alongside first-choice left-back Ferland Mendy.

Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane will miss the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final with Liverpool after testing positive for coronavirus hours before the match.

Varane had been rested as Madrid defeated Eibar 2-0 in LaLiga on Saturday, the France international an unused substitute for the fixture.

But Madrid will not have the centre-back to call upon as they take on Liverpool at home on Tuesday.

"Real Madrid informs that our player Raphael Varane tested positive in the COVID-19 test he underwent this morning," the club confirmed in a statement on the day of the game.

Varane is a key figure for Madrid. The World Cup winner has started 27 of his team's 29 league games this season and all eight of their matches so far in the Champions League.

Madrid are already without injured captain Sergio Ramos, so Eder Militao may now partner Nacho at centre-back against a formidable Liverpool attack.

The diagnosis comes at a bad time for Madrid, who face Barcelona in El Clasico on Saturday before the second leg against Liverpool next week.

Zinedine Zidane's men are at home for the opening leg in their first Champions League meeting against Liverpool since the 2018 final, which they won 3-1.

Madrid have won the first leg in eight of their last nine Champions League knockout ties, the exception being last year's defeat to Manchester City in the last 16.

They are in the quarter-finals for the first time since winning the competition three years ago, while Liverpool won it in 2019 before joining Madrid in suffering a last-16 exit last season.

Tuesday heralds the start of the Champions League quarter-finals and there are two mouthwatering clashes in store.

With the Premier League title surely wrapped up, Manchester City's attention turns to Borussia Dortmund and the formidable threat posed by Erling Haaland. 

The 20-year-old is in demand, with City one of the clubs reportedly interested in his services, and he could join an illustrious group of goalscorers if he finds the net at the Etihad Stadium. 

The other game sees a repeat of the 2018 final, with Liverpool travelling to face Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid. 

The Reds have endured a torrid Premier League title defence, but a resounding win over Arsenal at the weekend could provide them with the impetus to produce an eye-catching result in the Spanish capital.

 

Manchester City v Borussia Dortmund: Can Guardiola's stubborn defence keep Haaland out?

City's hopes of making the semi-finals could rest on keeping Haaland quiet. 

The Norway striker Haaland is the Champions League's top goalscorer this term, finding the back of the net 10 times.

If he scores in this game, he will become just the fifth player in the competition's history to score in seven matches in a row, after Cristiano Ronaldo (twice), Robert Lewandowski, Edinson Cavani and Ruud van Nistelrooy.

A goal on Tuesday would also take him to seven in his first five Champions League knockout matches for Dortmund, overtaking Lewandowski's record of six in his first five matches in the latter stages of the competition for Bayern Munich. 

He will come up against a defence in fine form, however. City have not conceded a goal in any of their last seven games in the Champions League – only Arsenal in 2005-06 have ever had a longer run of consecutive clean sheets in the competition (10).

City will also be buoyed by their excellent record against Bundesliga opposition, winning 10 of their last 11 Champions League matches against German sides. 

They will need to improve on a poor quarter-final record, though. City have lost four of their five matches in the last eight under Pep Guardiola, with the Premier League leaders going out at this stage in each of the last three seasons.

Prep done for Dortmund! 

  @marathonbet
  #ManCity   |   https://t.co/axa0klUGiM   pic.twitter.com/H85QRGPXxi

— Manchester City (@ManCity)   April 5, 2021

Real Madrid v Liverpool: Klopp's men hoping to halt losing streak against Los Blancos

This will be the first Champions League meeting between the two sides since Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1 in the 2018 final. 

That was the Reds' third consecutive defeat to Los Blancos in the competition. They have only suffered four losses on the spin against the same opponent across all European competitions once before, with Benfica putting together such a streak between 1984 and 2010. 

The LaLiga champions will be in confident mood, having won the first leg in eight of their last nine Champions League knockout ties. 

Karim Benzema is likely to lead the line and the Frenchman has a stellar record against the Premier League outfit. In the history of the Champions League, no player has more goals against them than Benzema's four – level with Didier Drogba.

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp will hope to continue his fine recent record at this stage of the competition, the German winning each of his last five quarter-final games, including all four of his games at this stage while in charge of Liverpool.

Central to their hopes of taking a lead back to Anfield for the second leg will be Sadio Mane. The Senegal international has scored 19 goals in 40 games in the Champions League and could become just the third player in the club's history to reach 20 goals in the competition after Mohamed Salah (24) and Steven Gerrard (21).

Jurgen Klopp insists revenge is not on Liverpool's mind ahead of their Champions League quarter-final first leg against Real Madrid.

Tuesday's showdown at the Santiago Bernabeu will be the first since the sides met in an eventful 2018 final, which Madrid won 3-1 to lift the trophy for a third season running.

Liverpool put that loss in Kiev behind them the following season by beating Tottenham in the final and are in the hunt for a seventh triumph in the competition this time around.

And with nearly three years having past since Gareth Bale scored twice to down Liverpool, Klopp says both he and his squad have drawn a line under the defeat.

"We are not on a revenge tour here. Life is like this. I don't believe too much in revenge, but it would be nice to get through," he said at Monday's pre-match news conference.

"We feel in a good moment in the Premier League. Now we hope to keep that momentum. That would be very helpful.

"Our motivation is at the highest level because it is the Champions League and we want to go to the next round, it has nothing to do with 2018.

"But when we got the draw, because it is the first time that we played them since then, I remembered the game."

One of the big talking points in that game was Sergio Ramos' early challenge on Mohamed Salah that forced the Egypt forward off injured.

Klopp added: "I said it after that game if someone asked me in a press conference maybe a month later if I would invite Sergio Ramos to my 60th birthday party I would say no.

"Now, I would think about it. It's not because he's a great footballer but I said I didn't like what happened that night, for us it was a strange night.

"It was long ago and so I can't get that feeling of anger back so I don't even try. What I try is to prepare my team for tomorrow to show how good we are as a football team."

Klopp has won each of his last five games in the quarter-final stage of the Champions League, including all four at this stage while in charge of Liverpool.

The German has been touted as a future head coach of Madrid, but he joked the weather is the only thing he would regret if he never goes on to manage the LaLiga giants.

"I said if I had at the end of my career only three clubs which would be Mainz, Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool then it's not too bad," he said. "I would not regret it

"But when I came out the plane today I regret already that we don't live here because the weather is so much better here! We were freezing. I have a gilet with me so you are blessed. We do it the hard way."

Asked which Spanish club his management style would best suit, Klopp said: "I would fit all of them. The only problem I have is my Spanish is really bad! 

"You wouldn't enjoy having me in Spain with broken Spanish. All the clubs have great managers. Real Mallorca would be nice!"

Diogo Jota scored twice as a second-half substitute in Liverpool's 3-0 league win at Arsenal on Saturday and is vying for a place in the starting line-up on Tuesday.

That would likely mean Roberto Firmino making way, though Klopp has not ruled out starting both players alongside Salah and Sadio Mane in an all-star front four.

"There will be a moment when we give it a try. Will that be tomorrow? We will see. You will have to wait.

"Did [Zinedine] Zinedine say anything about line-ups? But it looked good at Arsenal, no? It looked good at Man City, too."

Jota missed three months of the season with a knee injury but has now regained full fitness and has netted in four successive games for Liverpool and Portugal.

He previously spent two years on Atletico Madrid's books without playing a game, but the 24-year-old is not using his links to Real's city rivals as extra motivation.

"I signed for Atletico, but I didn't play any official games, so for me obviously I knew they are a rival but I didn't have time to feel that rivalry," he said. 

"I am just focused on winning the game for Liverpool and nothing more.

"Obviously I'm scoring a good amount of goals. That's what I want to do; help the team in the rest of the season. I don't mind if I don’t score as long as the team wins.

"It will take a lot to beat Madrid. They are the team with the most titles in this competition, so they are used to the knockout stages and we are going to need to be at our best."

Liverpool have lost each of their last three games against Madrid in the Champions League - only against Benfica between 1984 and 2010 have they lost four in a row against an opponent across all European competitions.

With the Premier League back following the international break, in many ways it was essentially business as usual.

Manchester United were underwhelming but came from behind yet again, while Harry Kane provided his customary reminder that he's probably a bit too good for Tottenham – or this Tottenham, at the very least.

Liverpool showed signs of having their mojo back in a 3-0 win at Arsenal that was inspired by Diogo Jota, though Manchester City moved another step closer to taking the Reds' crown.

At the other end of the table, Sheffield United – who have long looked doomed – are closing in on a Premier League record… Not that it's one they'll want to brag about.

Using Opta data, we look at some of the more quirky facts from the weekend's top-flight action…

Diogo's Jota lot going for him

How much better off Liverpool would be now had Jota not missed a large chunk of the season is impossible to know, but it's a fair assumption they'd be in a stronger position than they are.

The Portugal international returned following a three-month absence in March, scoring the winner against former club Wolves before then netting thrice for his country during the international break.

He was held back at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday but yet again proved he doesn't need long to make an impact, his brace helping secure a 3-0 win over Arsenal – it was 0-0 when he entered the pitch around the hour mark.

Those goals took him to eight in the Premier League this season from 730 minutes, meaning he boasts comfortably the best minutes-per-goal record (91) among players to have scored at least once this term. The next best is Gareth Bale with five from 561 minutes (one every 112 mins).

His 4.7 xG overperformance suggests either his form is not sustainable or he's developing into an elite-level chance-taker – hopefully an injury-free 2021-22 will unveil the truth.

Kane eyes Cole feat

While 2020-21 has been rather hit-and-miss for Tottenham, the same cannot be said for Kane.

The England captain is enjoying another stellar season but, perhaps more pertinently, he seems to have added another string to his bow when it comes to setting up team-mates.

With that in mind, his brace at the weekend means he now tops both the Premier League goalscoring (19) and assist (13) charts. He probably won't match his personal best of 30 goals for a single season, but in terms of goal involvements he's only four adrift of the 36 he managed in 2016-17 (29 goals, seven assists).

Therefore he's in with a great shout of being only the second player in Premier League history to finish a season with the most goals and assists.

Andy Cole is the only player to lead both outright at the end of a season, accomplishing the feat in 1993-94 when he netted 34 times and set up another 13 – this was before the competition changed from a 42-game season to 38.

Mourinho and Spurs dreaming of Man United's comeback record

It was just another weekend of Manchester United coming from behind to snatch a win and Tottenham throwing away a lead.

United netted twice in the second half to cancel out Danny Welbeck's opener for Brighton and Hove Albion, clinching a 2-1 win at Old Trafford thanks to goals from Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood.

It means they have gained 25 points from losing positions in the Premier League this term, a figure only ever bettered three times – West Brom (27) in 2010-11, United themselves (29) in 2012-13 and Newcastle United (34) in 2001-02.

It's been a different story for Tottenham this season, however, as they've not been able to hold on to leads – Newcastle rescuing a 2-2 draw against them on Sunday being the latest example, with the Magpies' xG of four being their highest figure since 2016-17.

They've now dropped 11 points due to goals conceded in the final 10 minutes of games, the worst record in the Premier League this term, and failed to win the six league games in which they've led at half-time. That's also a league-wide high.

As for Jose Mourinho, the 15 points he's seen Spurs surrender from winning positions in 2020-21 is already a joint-worst for him in a Premier League season.

Sheffield United on course for worst ever Premier League season

Okay, admittedly this one does depend on how you quantify "worst".

After all, Derby County hold the record for the fewest points ever won in a single Premier League season when they amassed just 11 in 2007-08, and Sheffield United already have three more.

However, Derby's 29 defeats equated to 76.3 per cent of their 38 matches, which along with Sunderland two years earlier, is the biggest proportion of losses in a solitary campaign.

Following the Blades' 2-1 loss at Leeds United on Saturday, they have lost 80 per cent of their matches this term (25 in total).

Given their form until now, few would be surprised to see them set a new Premier League record of 30 defeats.

Real Madrid defender Nacho Fernandez has suggested he will wait to see if Sergio Ramos signs a new contract before deciding whether to also agree fresh terms.

Long-serving centre-back Ramos is due to be out of contract at the Santiago Bernabeu at the end of the campaign, while Nacho has another season to run on his deal.

Madrid have been in talks with Ramos over extending his stay, but head coach Zinedine Zidane recently admitted he is unsure if the Spain international will put pen to paper.

Nacho's own future is far from certain and the 31-year-old, who has become a regular for Zidane, will see what Madrid's plans are before making a decision on whether to commit.

"Of course, whether Madrid renew Ramos, or sign a central defender or two, are decisions that influence my future," he said at a pre-match news conference on Monday.

"It's normal, everything affects [the situation]. I will look at it, analyse it and talk with my club and my family.

"I have spoken with the club. I have this season left and one more. I will make the best decision for myself after speaking with my club."

Ramos has not been included in Madrid's 21-man squad for Tuesday's Champions League quarter-final first leg against Liverpool due to a calf injury sustained on international duty.

He has spent the past 16 seasons with Los Blancos but has been strongly linked with a free transfer to Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the campaign.

"The best thing for him is that he stays," Nacho said. "As a team-mate, a friend and a Madridista, I can only say that the best thing for the club is that he stays.

"Sergio is feeling down because he is our captain and will not be present during a key period of games."

Nacho has featured 21 times for Madrid in all competitions this term and started both legs of the 4-1 aggregate win over Atalanta in the Champions League round of 16.

He leads the way for Madrid defenders to have played at least six times in LaLiga this season in terms of interceptions per 90 minutes (1.68), while only Raphael Varane (0.56) averages more blocks than Nacho (0.45).

"This may be the best period of my career," he said. "I have the confidence that I have never previously felt.

"This is a dream and I hope the confidence lasts, which is what a player always wants."

Madrid have won their last three meetings with Liverpool, most recently prevailing 3-1 in the Champions League final three years ago when Nacho was introduced as a first-half substitute.

Liverpool won their only previous two-legged European knockout tie with Madrid 5-0 on aggregate in the 2008-09 last 16, however, and Nacho is expecting a tightly-fought contest this time around.

"Since our previous meeting we have lost Cristiano [Ronaldo] and they have become champions themselves. But there is not that much difference between the sides," he said.

"We enter the tie in a very good way. We are focused on our job."

Eden Hazard has not been included in Real Madrid's 21-man squad for Tuesday's Champions League quarter-final first leg against Liverpool.

The Belgium international has been plagued by injuries during his first two seasons in Madrid, restricting him to just 36 appearances and 29 starts across all competitions.

Hazard missed Los Blancos' last-16 second leg against Atalanta with a damaged hip flexor and played no part for Belgium in their three World Cup qualifiers at the end of March.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane had increased hope of a midweek return following Saturday's win over Eibar but said on Monday he would not select the winger unless he could prove he was 100 per cent fit.

And Madrid subsequently confirmed Hazard will play no part against the Premier League champions, having been omitted from the squad for the game at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Captain Sergio Ramos' absence had already been all but confirmed after he sustained a calf injury on international duty with Spain last week.

Madrid have lost seven of the 10 Champions League games Ramos has missed since the end of 2017-18 when they were last crowned European champions.

Fellow defender Dani Carvajal also remains out, but midfielder Federico Valverde has recovered from a muscular injury that kept him out of the Eibar game.

Tuesday's clash will be the first between Madrid and Liverpool since the 2018 final, which Los Blancos won 3-1 to seal a third successive Champions League trophy.

Eden Hazard will not be rushed back for Real Madrid's Champions League quarter-final first leg against Liverpool on Tuesday, insists Zinedine Zidane. 

Hazard has been plagued by injuries since joining Madrid from Chelsea for €100million in June 2019.

He has made just 36 appearances and 29 starts across all competitions in that time, scoring only four times. 

The 30-year-old returned from injury in March but then missed the Champions League last-16 second leg against Atalanta with a damaged hip flexor – a development Zidane described as "inexplicable". 

That injury kept him out of the Belgium squad for the recent international break and Zidane says he has no intention of playing Hazard against Premier League champions Liverpool if he is not 100 per cent fit. 

"Eden has to be calm," the Madrid boss told a media conference on Monday. "We never risk the return of a player if he is not well. 

"We will do things little by little and we will see when he will be with us. At the moment it is like that.

"I need all my players to be available and fit. I like my players to be fit and in good health. I don't like seeing players out injured. We have had a lot of players out injured this season.

"I hope to have Eden back soon. I hope to have a fully fit squad come the end of the season."

Tuesday's clash will be the first between the sides since the 2018 final, which Madrid won 3-1 to seal a third consecutive Champions League trophy.

Los Blancos have won the first leg in eight of their last nine Champions League knockout ties, while they have claimed victories in their last three matches against the Reds in the competition. 

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, however, has won each of his last five games at the quarter-final stage of the Champions League, including all four of his games at this stage while in charge of the Reds. 

Zidane is an admirer of what Klopp has achieved at Anfield, but says he is not interested in copying the German's methods. 

"Klopp is a great manager, he has been coaching for a long time," he added. "He's got a great CV and has done superbly at Liverpool. 

"I don't have to look at what he does and copy him. Everyone has their way of going about things but I look at all the managers.

"I looked and learned when I was going to be a manager and, of course, I analysed Klopp."

Liverpool will need to be particularly wary of Madrid talisman Karim Benzema, who has scored four goals in his three Champions League appearances against them.

He is level with Didier Drogba as the player to have scored the most against the Reds in the competition. 

Benzema should lead the line on Tuesday and Zidane has attributed his success to the understanding he has developed with his team-mates.

"All the players who are here know how to play and have earned the right to be in this squad, they are the best," he explained. "They all understand Karim well and Karim the others. There is a lot of chemistry between them."

It was hardly the sort of entrance that said "I'm here to save the day". Luka Modric was still putting his headband on as he rather leisurely entered the Old Trafford pitch just a few moments after Nani's controversial sending off in the Champions League last-16 second leg between Manchester United and Real Madrid.

Los Blancos were down 2-1 on aggregate after a Sergio Ramos own goal had put United in the driving seat a short while earlier, but with the hosts a man light, Jose Mourinho sent Modric on as Madrid looked to suffocate Alex Ferguson's men.

Alongside Xabi Alonso, Modric was swiftly into the thick of it as Madrid tried to pull United this way and that, and he soon took matters into his own hands with Kaka, Mesut Ozil, Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo unable to break through.

Allowed space just outside the United area, Modric's motioning for a shot lured Michael Carrick out of position and the Croatian easily breezed past him before lashing an unstoppable effort in off the right-hand post just seven minutes after coming on.

It was only his second goal for the club, but as it spurred Madrid on to seal a 2-1 win and a spot in the next round thanks, Modric has regarded that match as the turning point in his career at the Santiago Bernabeu.

A perfect storm

It's easy to forget how disappointing Modric's first season at Madrid was deemed to be. After all, before Christmas, he was voted as the worst signing of the campaign in a Marca poll, beating Alex Song of Barcelona to top the charts.

Two years Modric's junior, Song has been playing his football in Djibouti this season; Modric remains, at the ripe old age of 35, arguably the finest midfielder in Spain.

There are certainly comparisons to be made with Thiago Alcantara's first season in England, with Liverpool struggling to even maintain a challenge for the top four, let alone defend their title.

Thiago was seen as the missing piece of the puzzle, the sort of central midfielder that balanced flair with genuine playmaking abilities, unlike anyone already in the squad. It was said his arrival would enable to Liverpool to play with greater flexibility, but the reality has been a little different.

Teams are playing deeper against Liverpool, as evidenced by the fact their shots outside the area per game is up from 4.6 per game to 5.2, while they are being allowed 190.4 passes in the final third each match, up from 180.9. Opponents are more confident they can keep Liverpool out if they defend deep.

Of course, Liverpool's issues this term are plentiful – injuries have been particularly frequent, and Thiago himself has lost a significant chunk of the season in this regard.

But even when he has been fit, it's difficult to say the Spain international has transformed the Reds. In fact, they have a better league win percentage (57.1) when he doesn't play than when he does (37.5), while they tend to score more goals (2.4 per game, compared to 1.1 when he is playing).

One theory for Thiago's struggles has been his apparent lack of comfort with Liverpool's intense pressing style, but the data suggests that to be a red herring.

Granted, Liverpool do engage in 18.9 pressed sequences – instances where the opposition have three or fewer passes in a move, which ends within 40 metres of their own goal – per game, with their total of 567 the most in the Premier League this term.

But Bayern averaged 16.9 per game in 2019-20 and led the way in the Bundesliga in this regard. Meanwhile, they allowed 9.8 opposition passes per defensive action, with Liverpool's PPDA this term 10.7, showing the Bayern side Thiago played in wasn't too dissimilar.

So, why would Liverpool's off-the-ball intensity impact him so much? It seems far more likely the issue is simply that he's in the middle of a perfect storm of settling into new surroundings and a new team during an injury crisis that has impacted him as well.

Changing perception

Fans can forget that players are people first and foremost. Upheaval off the pitch can have a demonstrable effect on it – of course it can, just like life at home can impact the job performance of average Joe.

This was a key element for Modric, who explained how he found it difficult to settle in initially at Real Madrid, not only because as a club they are an entirely different beast to Tottenham but also as he didn't have a pre-season and gaining fitness was always likely to be a struggle when playing catch-up.

As for fan expectations, perhaps there was also a degree of misunderstanding from Madrid supporters. Maybe they were initially expecting something more than Modric.

After all, in his final season at Spurs, Modric was a key creator. His 96 key passes in 2011-12 was bettered by only two midfielders in the Premier League (David Silva – 104, Juan Mata – 103), evidence that much of the creative burden was on his shoulders.

So, perhaps the fact his creative ingenuity wasn't being so frequently displayed at Madrid coloured opinion.

Granted, his 17 key passes in 13 league appearances between the start of the season and January 1 left a lot to be desired, but his end-of-season record of 56 was the third-highest in the Madrid squad.

Time, patience and trust were seemingly key to Modric establishing himself, but to suggest he's played the same way at Madrid as in his best season at Spurs would be incorrect – the closest he's ever got to that 96 key passes haul since was 61 in 2015-16.

In fact, when you consider a whole range of his key metrics such as passes, pass completion, chance creation, touches of the ball and defensive areas, there hasn't been drastic fluctuation between 2012-13 and now.

Certainly, his 62.6 successful passes per 90 is up from 55 in 2012-13, while his touches have improved from 80 to 86.7, but those differences certainly aren't major. The fact is his figures have been pretty steady throughout his time in LaLiga.

But at 35, he has still played in 28 of Madrid's 29 league matches this term. He's arguably more important to them than ever before.

Coming back from being a target of ridicule to becoming a club great and winning the Ballon d'Or speaks to Modric's attitude and talent, but also serves as inspiration for Thiago.

While the Spaniard has not had to contend with quite the same level of criticism, there are certainly those unconvinced by him.

With a full pre-season under his belt and allowed to gel into a settled team that isn't constantly being chopped and changed due to injuries, Thiago can surely enjoy a sparkling second season at Liverpool. After all, the data proves the Reds' pressing shouldn't be a long-term issue for him given how Bayern played.

A 25-yard strike of his own against Manchester United would go down very well right now, although a similarly decisive impact against Madrid would surely be a nice compromise for the Barcelona product.

Romelu Lukaku has starred for Inter since arriving from Manchester United in 2019.

Lukaku is spearheading Inter's quest for a Serie A title, with Antonio Conte's side clear atop the table.

His exploits, however, have not gone unnoticed in Europe.

 

TOP STORY – LUKAKU HAPPY AT INTER

Inter star Romelu Lukaku is flattered by Barcelona's interest but is not looking to leave the Nerazzurri, according to Mundo Deportivo.

Lukaku has been linked with Barca, Real Madrid and former club Chelsea following his exploits for Inter, who are closing in on the Scudetto.

But Lukaku is happy at Inter, with the Belgium international only possibly leaving San Siro should the Italian powerhouse seek to raise funds.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tuttosport reports Cristiano Ronaldo wants to see out his Juventus contract, which runs until June 2022. Ronaldo has been tipped to leave Turin, where Juve are struggling under Andrea Pirlo this season. Former clubs Madrid and United have emerged as possible destinations, as well as Paris Saint-Germain. However, Ronaldo is keen to continue at the club, should they qualify for the Champions League.

- PSG star Kylian Mbappe remains a priority signing for Madrid, claims Diario AS. Mbappe has been a long-term target in the Spanish capital, though the economic fallout following the coronavirus pandemic appears to have derailed Madrid's pursuit. But Los Blancos – also linked with in-demand Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland – are still determined to prise Mbappe from Paris.

- Record reports United are ready to make a move for Sporting CP star Nuno Mendes, who has also been linked with Manchester City and Liverpool. United could reportedly use Alex Telles in a deal to sign the Portuguese full-back.

- Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli is eyeing a new deal amid interest from Barca and Chelsea, according to Calciomercato. Romagnoli is contracted to the Rossoneri until 2022. Barca's reported pursuit comes as they eye the likes of Bayern Munich star David Alaba, City duo Eric Garcia and Sergio Aguero, Lyon forward Memphis Depay and Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum.

Can Borussia Dortmund keep a hold of Erling Haaland for another season?

Europe's elite are queuing up to sign the Norway sensation.

Dortmund's disappointing season could be about to force their hand.

 

TOP STORY – DORTMUND TRYING TO RETAIN HAALAND

Borussia Dortmund will try to keep Erling Haaland for another season but their hopes are fading amid the club's struggles to finish in the Bundesliga's top four, according to Fabrizio Romano.

As it stands, Dortmund are set to miss out on Champions League qualification, with the German side fifth and seven points adrift of fourth-placed Eintracht Frankfurt following Saturday's loss.

Haaland is a player in demand, linked with Real Madrid, Manchester City, Barcelona, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Mirror reports United are set to part with star goalkeeper David de Gea. The Red Devils are reportedly prepared to pay a large chunk of De Gea's remaining contract, with Dean Henderson pushing to become the club's first choice.

Haaland is ahead of Lionel Messi on City's transfer list, claims The Mirror. Pep Guardiola's City have been heavily linked with Barcelona superstar Messi, who is out of contract at season's end. But City now appear determined to prise Haaland from Dortmund as Sergio Aguero prepares to leave. Aguero has been linked with the likes of Chelsea, InterBarca, PSG and Juventus on a free transfer.

Neymar has put contract talks with PSG on hold, according to Ara, which claims he is willing to return to Barca.

- It comes as Marca says PSG are eyeing Madrid forward Vinicius Junior amid Kylian Mbappe's links with the LaLiga champions.

Mikel Arteta said Arsenal's dire display against Liverpool had left him "in shock" after the Gunners surrendered 3-0 at home.

The seething manager attempted to take the blame for the performance, but disdain for the effort of his players was all too clear in the Spaniard's verdict.

Substitute Diogo Jota scored twice and Mohamed Salah also netted as Liverpool ran riot in the final half hour at Emirates Stadium.

Until then, Arsenal had been holding on, while never looking capable of going on to win the game. The home side had three attempts at goal, while Liverpool had 16 efforts on the way to winning by their biggest ever margin in an away league game at Arsenal.

Arteta told Sky Sports: "We completely deserved to lose the game. They were better in every department.

"They deserved to win the game with the margin that they have, or more. It was unacceptable from our side, the way we played.

"They won every duel, every second ball, every challenge. They were brave when they had the ball, they made the right decisions; we didn't.

"It was my fault. I had to set the team to play in a different way and perform in a different way. Congratulations to Liverpool because I think they were exceptional.

"We saw the difference today between the two teams, that when we perform at that level the margin is incredibly high.

"The standard has to be much higher from this football club and my job is to get them to perform at that level. We could not put three passes together. There were too many things that were not done right.

"At the moment I'm in shock. I didn't expect that, with the way the team trained, the way the team tries, but it happened. That is the reality."

Arsenal tackle Slavia Prague in the quarter-finals of the Europa League on Thursday. Arteta knows there must be a major response from his players.

He said: "If you have courage and you have big balls and you represent a club like this, you have to stand up in the next game and take it."

Jurgen Klopp insisted he was not intending to prompt "another funny discussion" about Trent Alexander-Arnold after Liverpool's win at Arsenal but could not resist highlighting the right-back's performance.

Klopp had discussed Alexander-Arnold's absence from Gareth Southgate's England squad at length ahead of Saturday's match.

The Reds manager defended the performances of the 22-year-old, who had provided a relatively underwhelming five assists in all competitions this season heading into the weekend - down from 15 in each of his previous two campaigns.

Indeed, Klopp said Alexander-Arnold's form "cannot be the reason" for his England snub and described him as "the standout right-back in world football".

The 12-cap Three Lions star responded to his club boss's backing in impressive fashion at Emirates Stadium, adding a sixth assist of the campaign in a 3-0 win.

Alexander-Arnold created a game-high four chances, including the cross for Diogo Jota's opener.

And discussing Liverpool's improvement after introducing Jota from the bench, Klopp turned the conversation to his defender.

He told Sky Sports: "We scored these wonderful goals - and Trent Alexander-Arnold showed his class... again."

But Klopp added: "Look, I don't want to make another funny discussion about Trent - it's not like that.

"I said it: it's Gareth's decision. And he's pretty much blessed with the choice he has in that position especially.

"But Trent is in a good shape, and if somebody says he's not, I have to say that's wrong. That's all.

"Apart from that, Gareth makes his decisions and I do not. I'm not responsible for his decisions."

Alexander-Arnold shared the spotlight with Jota, who netted just over three minutes after arriving as a substitute and later completed the scoring following Mohamed Salah's strike.

That second-half flurry gave Liverpool their biggest ever away league win at Arsenal and moved Klopp's side to within two points of Chelsea in the top four.

"Great, great," Klopp said. "We don't look at Chelsea or whatever or West Ham or Leicester - I don't know who's around there - because we have to win our own games.

"But in our situation, other teams have to lose games as well. We cannot do it ourselves. We don't play Chelsea any more, we don't play Leicester any more, and all these kind of things.

"We have enough games. We have a tough programme. We don't have to start dreaming, we have to keep working and that's what we do.

"But it's a nice sign. We are still there. Even in the games we lost some, we were not bad, but tonight the package was extremely good. That's what you need."

Jota has a Premier League-high four goals from the bench this season and four career strikes against Arsenal in the competition, a personal best.

The Portugal forward scores more often than any other player in the entire division, his eight goals arriving every 91.3 minutes on average.

Although Arsenal were level until Jota's intervention, the hosts were poor and Liverpool's two-goal star was surprised by their passive approach, the visitors having over 64 per cent of the ball.

"To be honest, I was expecting a bit more possession from the Arsenal team," he said. "They're used to that.

"But that showed that we pressed really well, that we didn't allow them to have that possession. In the end, we controlled the game with the ball and with the goals."

It's all in the timing, the control of the ball and the precision swing. Like a glorious golf shot, the perfect cross in football is beyond many players, but Trent Alexander-Arnold strikes the football with such pace, whip and dip that it's no wonder he celebrated Liverpool's opener against Arsenal as though he had headed the ball into the goal himself.

It's The Masters next week at Augusta.

This Emirates Stadium clash was a reminder of last season's Premier League masters in full flow, or at least that was the case for the final half an hour, because the first 60 minutes was so drab the tape should be wiped forthwith and we'll never discuss it again. Arsenal's players, thumped 3-0, would want the whole game deleted from memory, given they were abject from first whistle to last.

Alexander-Arnold had been lively enough before the breakthrough came, and James Milner owed him a better finish from the precise cutback that reached the veteran Liverpool midfielder in the 35th minute. Milner shot wide of the left post.

But in a game between two sides whose seasons have fallen well short of expectations, it was a flash of wonder that reminded the visitors how they became champions with 99 points last term. Gareth Southgate dropped Alexander-Arnold from his England squad a fortnight ago, so this will inevitably be interpreted as some sort of response.

But really it was just Alexander-Arnold doing Alexander-Arnold things. He makes chances and he makes goals, handy attributes for a right-back. And when there is very little actual defending to be done, as was the case against a dreadful Arsenal side, Alexander-Arnold is a world beater.

Diogo Jota, the player on the end of that game-changing cross on Saturday, later described the delivery as "unreal". Jurgen Klopp, who was stunned by the full-back's international omission, said that he "showed his class again".

When all is not going to plan for the 22-year-old, possessing strong defensive cover can paper over his weaknesses, and with Liverpool having hit upon an injury crisis at the back this season, Alexander-Arnold has been unable to count on Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip or Joe Gomez getting him out of trouble.

So the impact of his handful of errors has been magnified, and the scrutiny reached its apex when Southgate decided he should miss those opening World Cup qualifiers.

Since the beginning of last season, Alexander-Arnold has created 172 chances across all club competitions and had 21 assists. On each count, those are the highest number among defenders in Europe's top five leagues. In the same period, he has made four errors that have led to shots and two that have cost Liverpool goals. Some would accept that ratio.

Gary Lineker, who knows a thing or two about being on the end of crosses for England, believes Southgate got it wrong in dropping Alexander-Arnold.

"The perfect response from @TrentAA to his bizarre omission from the @England squad," Lineker wrote on Twitter on Saturday night. "He's been brilliant tonight. Can't be left at home in the summer. Just can't be."

The Euro 2020 finals surely do beckon for Alexander-Arnold, with England's group rivals Croatia, Czech Republic and Scotland certain to be delighted if he stays at home.

Jota gave Alexander-Arnold a target after coming off the bench just after the hour mark, and the sublime cross from the right that found the striker on the edge of the six-yard box was a striker's dream.

Liverpool are still chasing fourth place, with Chelsea's defeat to West Brom earlier in the day a major boon to the Reds.

Mohamed Salah and Jota, with his second, finished off a lousy Arsenal who had just three goal attempts across the 90 minutes, and Mikel Arteta's men can now be counted out of the race for Champions League places.

Gary Neville, commentating for Sky Sports, condemned a "real flaky performance" by Arsenal, adding: "It's the worst I've seen them for a bit."

Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe and Martin Odegaard all started for the hosts, and Pepe was the only one of the quartet to manage a shot.

Former Liverpool midfielder Jamie Redknapp said Arsenal's display was "putrid", and Arteta would probably agree. This was their heaviest defeat at home against Liverpool in the league.

On the day Liverpool's reign as Premier League champions effectively ended – they cannot possibly catch Manchester City now this season – this was a reminder of how Klopp's men can roll over feeble opposition.

On they go now, to face Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday. The Spanish champions will know all about Alexander-Arnold, who would have made a phenomenal complement to Roberto Carlos back in the day. Now they simply have to stop him.

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