Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp leapt to the defence of Naby Keita despite substituting the midfielder after only 42 minutes in the 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid on Tuesday. The Reds struggled in the Spanish capital in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie.
Carlos Vinicius scored twice either side of a Marco Asensio strike while Mohamed Salah scored an away goal that Liverpool will hope proves crucial.
Klopp made three changes to the weekend’s Premier League win over Arsenal with Keita making just his ninth start in all competitions this season.
But the Guinean was taken off a few minutes before half-time and Klopp confirmed it was not because of injury, but because of his performance.
Yet the German coach refused to pile all the blame on the 26-year-old, who has largely disappointed at Anfield since a £53million switch from RB Leipzig in 2018.
And Klopp explained that Keita was not the only one he could have withdrawn after a torrid first-half display which left Liverpool trailing 2-0 at the break.
The Liverpool manager said: “It was tactical. That’s things I don’t like in the job. You do that and it’s like one player is responsible for the first half.
“Naby was not responsible for that. He didn’t play for a while, especially not from the start.
“He was not good in the game but we all saw it, to be honest I could have made a few more changes in that moment. It was not about Naby.
“I did it, and now I’m not happy about it because we talk as if it was Naby’s responsibility. It was not. It was tactical, that’s it.”
The Reds boss was frank about the Merseyside outfit’s performance at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium, which leaves them needing a 2-0 victory at Anfield, where they have desperately struggled in 2021 and have scored just one goal.
“First and foremost we didn’t deserve to win tonight,” Klopp added. We didn’t play good enough for that. That’s my first concern and what I think about.
“We didn’t play good enough football, especially in the first half. We pressed them OK, forced long balls, won the ball then gave these balls away with pretty much the second pass.
Klopp added of next Wednesday’s second leg at Anfield: “There is still a chance but we have to play much better football. We can be much more uncomfortable to play against and that’s what we have to make sure of next week.
“Of course it will be completely different. Watch the Barcelona game back and 80 per cent of this game was down to the atmosphere in the stadium. We have to do it without that. It’s not that I sit here and think, ‘Comebacks is our thing. We do that all the time.’
“We have from time to time but we always had supporters in the stadium. We don’t have supporters this time so I don’t know if we can do it but I can promise we will give it a proper try. That’s all.
“The boys really want it. Today in the first half we couldn’t for whatever reason and we didn’t. That’s what we have to find out, change and go again. We will see.
“It must be a really tricky task at Anfield with or without supporters. If you want to go to the semi-finals, you have to deserve it with the performance. Tonight we were not good enough, but the only good news is there is another game.”
Speaking on BT Sport, former Liverpool striker Michael Owen said: “It’s disappointing. I thought it was a disappointing performance overall.
“They can do it still, they’ve got the players to do it, this isn’t a vintage Madrid team, but it’s just Liverpool aren’t on top form at the minute.
“We did question before the game, was the Arsenal win a flicker of light, the resurgence of this team, but on that evidence, they’ve still got a long way to go, but they’ve got to find something and there have been miracles at Anfield before.”
While Rio Ferdinand said: “The Arsenal game definitely fooled me into believing this is the Liverpool of old. I think they’ve made mistakes all over the place, especially in defence and they’ve been punished.
“I thought in the first-half, Liverpool were very, very poor, they started the second-half with the intent we were looking for, obviously reacted to the manager’s words.
“They got themselves back in the game, got the away goal. I still think it keeps the tie fairly open but the third goal was a real nail, it killed them a bit, the third goal.
“If they could have stayed at 2-1 and back to Anfield, yes, no fans, but it would have been a much better result.”