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Naby Keita moves into new position after Real Madrid trap Fabinho

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Naby Keita at the crossroads

Jurgen Klopp believes he couldn’t avoid playing Naby Keita against Real Madrid.



But the half-time whistle hadn’t even been blown before the Liverpool manager was unable to put off the inevitable any longer.



The gamble to start with Keita backfired spectacularly during a dire first half in which the Reds revisited the horrors of earlier in the campaign.



The Guinean was a surprise starter given he had previously began only one game since before Christmas and featured for just 42 minutes in a month.

And that’s how long Keita managed at Real Madrid before being given the hook with Thiago Alcantara thrown on to help rescue a flailing engine room.

That Klopp couldn’t wait until the interval was telling. Liverpool were being completely overrun in midfield, the long passing of Toni Kroos pulling them all over the field as the visitors, seemingly overawed by the occasion, simply stood back and watched.

If intensity is Liverpool’s identity, no wonder they were so unrecognisable during the first half.

Keita, as Klopp later admitted, was by no means the only guilty party in the engine room, Fabinho perhaps trying too hard to impress against his former club while Gini Wijnaldum only came alive in the second half.

But quite how many more opportunities Keita is afforded during the remainder of the season remains to be seen.

The midfielder has been at the crossroads before during a rollercoaster Liverpool career. But never quite like this.

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Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak learn the hard way

This was supposed to be the evening when Liverpool exposed an inexperienced Real Madrid back line.

Instead, it was the Reds’ makeshift centre-back pairing on the receiving end of a harsh lesson.

The duo of loan signing Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips have already exceeded expectations, going into the game with a third successive clean sheet under their belts.

Real, though, were always going to be a much sterner test. And if not completely schooled by their glittering opponents, the Liverpool defenders will now be acutely aware of the difficulties in containing a world-class attack.

It didn’t help that ahead of them the midfield was spluttering so alarmingly, the lights temporarily going out on Fabinho’s lighthouse.

But Phillips and Kabak were too easily split by Kroos’ long ball for Vinicius’ opener, and were both slow to react in the build-up to the Brazilian’s second.

Neither, though, could do much about Trent Alexander-Arnold’s hapless header that set up Marco Asensio to score Real’s second.

At the other end, Nacho and Eder Militao – making only their second start as a centre-back pairing for Real – ensured the loss of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane wasn’t too keenly felt.

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Reds must remember power of Anfield

Liverpool would be forgiven for wishing they could go from Alfredo Di Stefano to Ferenc Puskas.

Instead, rather than heading to Budapest, the Reds will return to Anfield next Wednesday as they attempt to notch another famous European comeback.

Klopp admitted that playing in Real’s 6,000-capacity training facility was a touch strange, with the Spaniard's mammoth Bernabeu home undergoing a major refit.

However, the Reds have found it no easier playing in the familiar surrounds of Anfield this year, losing a club record six in a row at the stadium and without a win on their own patch since, incredibly, December 16.

That simply cannot continue with Liverpool now having to rediscover home comforts over the next week - Aston Villa visit in the Premier League on Saturday - to extend serious interest in the campaign.

Memories of the remarkable fightback against Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final two years ago remain fresh, and will surely be used as motivation in the coming days.

That, though, was with the raucous backing of a packed Anfield. If Liverpool are to produce another stirring revival, they’re going to have to do it all by themselves.

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