SOMETIMES in football there is nothing for it but to accept the other team are vastly superior. Liverpool inflicted that feeling on many opponents in the years when they earned the right to hoist a banner on the Kop with the words â€œEuropean Royaltyâ€, but it is a while since they wore that crown and this was a night when Real Madrid reminded them just how far back it is.
Real did it devastatingly and clinically with three first-half goals and so much refinement that when Cristiano Ronaldo was substituted a crowd who once regarded him as a sworn enemy applauded him off the pitch. It was a wonderful show of appreciation and the same followed shortly afterwards when Toni Kroos and Marcelo were withdrawn. Liverpool had been beaten in a manner that had left the crowd marvelling at the oppositionâ€™s gifts with great sportsmanship.
This was the first time Liverpool have conceded three goals in the opening 45 minutes of a European game since the final against Milan in 2005. This time, however, there was not even a flicker of the old Istanbul spirit and they should probably just be grateful Ronaldo et al eased off in the second half. Even then, Ronaldo shimmered with enough menace to make it feel like he could easily have established himself as the Champions Leagueâ€™s all-time leading scorer. His brilliantly delivered goal to open the scoring put him one short of RaÃºlâ€™s total of 71 and no doubt he will expect to catch and possibly overhaul that total when the sides meet at the BernabÃ©u on 4 November. He has scored in 12 successive matches and, once again, he demonstrated why the Ballon dâ€™Or is in his possession.
The undercard was not too shabby either. Isco, playing instead of the injured Gareth Bale, decorated the occasion with his sureness of touch. James RodrÃguez started slowly, taking a nasty bang above an eye, but he, too, tormented the Liverpool defence and what a beautiful piece of artistry there was in his contribution to Ronaldoâ€™s goal. The little dink he scuffed over Liverpoolâ€™s defence was delivered like a pitching wedge, with almost implausible back-spin, and in that moment we were reminded how the perfect pass can be every bit as beautiful as thethunderous shot or the run that takes out three defenders.
Until that point, Liverpool had shown their own menace. They might also contest the night could have taken a different course if the Italian referee, Nicola Rizzoli, had not been so lenient on Ãlvaro Arbeloa when the defender ran into the back of Raheem Sterling inside the opening five minutes. Rizzoliâ€™s only real decision ought to have been whether it merited a red card, as Sterling accelerated into the penalty area, but he waved play on and once Real had withstood the early pressure it was a masterclass in quick, decisive, counterattacking football.
There was plenty to dismay Rodgers in that first half and Mario Balotelli, true to form, badly misjudged the mood when he decided to swap shirts with Pepe at the interval. Rodgers had already decided to substitute Balotelli after another ineffectual display but what must really have galled him was the way his team crumpled after Ronaldo had read the trajectory of RodrÃguezâ€™s pass and scored with a lovely, measured finish over Simon Mignolet into the far corner.
Liverpool needed to show competitive courage and limit the damage. Instead they looked vulnerable just about every time their opponents broke forward. They were overwhelmed, pinned into their own half, and Real were absolutely merciless.
Ronaldo was a blur of an opponent. Luka Modric and Kroos were in control of midfield, despite Jordan Hendersonâ€™s tireless running. Anfield had made a heck of a noise in the early passages but Carlo Ancelottiâ€™s team wore the seen-it-all-before look that is generally attached to all great champions. They were devastating on the break and seemed to be well briefed about Liverpoolâ€™s apparent inability to defend crosses.
Karim Benzemaâ€™s goals both came that way. The first was a weighted header that looped over Mignolet, almost in slow motion, after Kroos had picked him out at the back post. Yet it was Realâ€™s third goal, after Ronaldo had won a corner, that really epitomised how fragile Liverpool were. The scrutiny of Mignolet has become a recurring theme and, once again, Liverpoolâ€™s goalkeeper will wince when he sees the replays, having come off his goalline without reaching the ball. Pepe had shown the greater determination as the ball took a ricochet and fell in the six-yard area and Benzema was left with a simple finish.
Mignolet did partly redeem himself in the second half with a couple of fine saves to keep out Ronaldo and at least in that period Liverpool stopped looking quite so panicky. The improvement had to be set in context, though, with the fact Real had slowed down knowing their work was done. There was never any real sense Liverpool could save themselves once Coutinhoâ€™s 25-yard effort came back off a post just before the interval and, after that, it was just a question of how much more fun Real wanted to have. – The Guardian