Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli will be reprimanded by manager Brendan Rodgers after swapping shirts with Real Madrid’s Pepe with his side 3-0 down at half-time.
It took the defending European champions just 18 first-half minutes to dismantle what Liverpool thought was a good platform having enjoyed some early pressure at Anfield.
From the moment Cristiano Ronaldo’s touch of class saw him score his first goal at the ground – edging him to within one of equalling Raul’s Champions League record of 71 – there was an inevitability to the two goals which followed from striker Karim Benzema, who converted a far-post cross with ease and then converted a defensive calamity at a corner.
The sight of Balotelli exchanging shirts with defender Pepe as they walked down the tunnel was the last thing fans wanted to see after another lacklustre display and it was no surprise the Italy international did not reappear for the second half.
Rodgers insisted the move was tactical as, at that point, he did not know about the shirt-swapping.
“We had an incident with a player last year (Mamadou Sakho swapped shirts with Samuel Eto’o during the 2-1 defeat at Chelsea last December) and that was something we dealt with internally,” said Rodgers.
“It is not something I stand for. If you want to do that you do it at the end of the game. It is something I will deal with.”
On his decision to substitute Balotelli at half-time Rodgers added: “It was purely tactical. I felt we needed a bit more movement centrally to occupy the centre-halves and Raheem’s speed and movement would give us that.
“Adam Lallana came on and he was tireless. In the second half every single player was pressing and working wanting to get something from the game and for us the minimum here.
“Adam came on and did that very well. In fairness to Raheem playing in a position that was a bit alien to him he worked tirelessly all the way through and showed quality.”
Despite Real’s obvious brilliance after riding out a spell of Liverpool pressure for the first 20 minutes Rodgers felt the half-time scoreline was harsh on his side.
“We conceded a disappointing first goal and the other two were sloppy and loose and nowhere near to what we would want,” he said.
“At 3-0 against a team that score so many goals and can be so dangerous it is a dangerous game.
“Overall I thought it was a bit harsh to be 3-0 down at half-time but the quality and speed of their game is at another level.”
Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti was more laid back about the shirt-swapping - but his side had just coasted to a third successive victory in Group B which puts them on the verge of qualifying with plenty to spare.
“I think it is normal in football to change the shirt at the end,” he said. "I think it is nothing new. Sometimes the players change their shirt at half-time with the opponent. I don’t see a problem.”
Even less of a problem was their performance as having the match wrapped up by half-time was ideal preparation for El Clasico against Barcelona on Saturday as he was able to substitute Ronaldo with 15 minutes to go.
“It was not something we agreed before. I noticed the impact he had on the game, he worked very hard, put in a lot of sprinting up and down the wing, so I just thought it was time to give him a rest.
“I think it has been a very important win and am happy we played very well. We played some excellent football in a good atmosphere.”