Reality bites as Madrid put Reds in their place

Liverpool 0 Real Madrid 3
Expected it may have been but Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid still delivered a brutal and demoralising reminder of where Liverpool stand amongst Europe’s elite.

The opening quarter had all the hallmarks of a memorable Anfield night with a raucous atmosphere and pressing reminiscent of last season.

But the oles from visiting fans started before half-time after they had seen Ronaldo open the scoring and Karim Benzema add another two.

“It was special. It was my first goal here, so I feel very proud for that,” said Ronaldo.

“We knew before the game that Anfield is a difficult place, but I think we played fantastic, especially in the first 45 minutes, and we deserved to win.”

There was no disputing the quality of Ronaldo’s effort, a lovely half volley from a pass from James Rodriguez.

But the second and third, both resulting from Toni Kroos crosses, were just two more examples of the defensive weakness that Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool have not been able to mask all season, although they are still level on points with Basle with the Swiss side still needing to travel to Anfield.

The Spaniards were so superior that after the third goal, Kroos trotted to the dugout for a sip of water rather than feeling the need to celebrate.

It was the first time that Liverpool had found themselves three behind at the interval since they won the Champions League against AC Milan in Istanbul in 2005.

A comeback here would have felt like even more of a miracle.

With his 20 goals from 13 matches this season, Ronaldo is a phenomenon but the gulf in class between these two sides is demonstrated by the fact that, following the sale of Luis Suarez to Barcelona, Liverpool’s top-scorers are Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard with three each.

They coveted Benzema, and a host of others, as a potential replacement in the summer and ended up with Mario Balotelli, who had at least worked up a sweat before swapping shirts with Pepe on the way off and being replaced by Adam Lallana at the break.

“It was tactical, we needed more intensity and workrate,” said Rodgers afterwards, though he admitted he was unhappy with the shirt swap.

For his part, Real boss Carlo Ancelotti was delighted with the performance. “I’m very satisfied to show such personality and quality in a difficult place like this,” he said. “The team has lot of maturity and confidence.”

Less than six months after they almost won the title, there is already a worry about how Rodgers retains any sort of momentum. Suarez could make his Barcelona debut against Benzema at the Bernabeu and, for all Liverpool’s pedigree, Rodgers must accept that, despite the end of their European exile, this was more evidence that the Reds sell players of that status and are some way off attracting them.

Even when they created the swarming effect of the second half of last season, and undoubtedly rattled Real in the early stages, there was never any real end product.

Alvaro Arbeloa barged Sterling, who impressed in the opening minutes, as the England winger looked to burst on to a clever Jordan Henderson pass.

Sterling started in attack alongside Balotelli and it only took a couple of minutes before he was showing his frustration towards the Italian for refusing to pass.

Ronaldo ran at Glen Johnson and beat him with ease before having a cross blocked by Gerrard. His second opportunity saw him drift inside Johnson before hitting a powerful shot that was held by Simon Mignolet.

Gerrard’s dipping long-range effort was pushed away by Iker Casillas and the Liverpool captain caused problems with a couple of corners that exposed the Real goalkeeper’s frailties.

Ronaldo showed just how devastating he can be when he found James Rodriguez and got on the end of the Colombian’s lobbed pass before stabbing into the top corner to score for an 11th successive match.

The Portuguese went close again when he took a Benzema pass across his body to evade Gerrard and drilled just past the far post.

On the half hour, the hosts failed to clear a Kroos corner and the ball found its way back to the German, who clipped a ball to the far post for the unchallenged Benzema to loop in a header from six yards.

Four minutes before the break, another Kroos corner was flicked on by Raphael Varane and the ball hit Pepe on the chest before Benzema pounced from close range.

There was finally some threat from Rodgers’ side just before the interval, with Balotelli’s low cross flicked just wide by Joe Allen, before Phillipe Coutinho drove against the post.

Lallana undoubtedly added a little more thrust but midway through the second half, Benzema helped on Marcelo’s cross to Ronaldo and after moving the ball away from Alberto Moreno, the forward’s effort was turned wide by Mignolet.

Sterling finally tested Casillas again, the Spaniard tipping the youngster’s curling effort over the bar before James just missed out on a fourth for Real.

Ronaldo was withdrawn to a mix of boos and applause but his team-mates hardly wasted energy as they stroked the ball around for the remaining minutes. Unfortunately for Liverpool, Ancelotti and his players realised their big test comes at the weekend.

LIVERPOOL (4-1-3-2): Mignolet 6; Johnson 6, Skrtel 6, Lovren 5, Moreno 5; Gerrard 5; Henderson 5 (Can 67, 6), Coutinho 7 (Markovic 67, 6), Allen 6; Balotelli 5 (Lallana 46, 7), Sterling 7.

REAL MADRID (4-2-3-1): Casillas 6; Arbeloa 7, Pepe 7, Varane 7, Marcelo 8 (Nacho 85, 6); Kroos 8 (Illaremendi 81, 6), Modric 7; James 7, Isco 7, Ronaldo 8 (Khedira 75, 6); Benzema 8.

Referee:  Nicola Rizzoli.


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