On yet another European occasion which renders the club's domestic form unfathomable, Liverpool recorded one of their most spectacular Champions League victories last night, the 4-0 scoreline condemning Real Madrid to their heaviest defeat in the tournament and reinvigorating Rafael Benitez's side for Saturday's title showdown with Manchester United.
Liverpool's two goals inside the first half-hour, courtesy of Fernando Torres and a Steven Gerrard penalty, both had an element of good fortune about them but Benitez simply out-thought the club he served for 16 years in total, hitting them with an early attacking blizzard which Juande Ramos, whose job Benitez has admitted he covets one day, had not expected. It was with some self-satisfaction that Benitez, who will assess today whether Fernando Torres will be fit to face United, said the win demonstrated his side did not rely on defence alone in Europe, contrary to popular opinion in Spain. "What I would say [to those in Spain] is look at the facts and figures," Benitez said. "Liverpool have scored 119 goals in all competitions last season and I think that shows something."
True to form, Benitez refused to declare himself entirely satisfied. "[I am] close to it but we could have scored more goals," he said, grinning. But he does believe this win, capped by a superb Gerrard half-volley and Andrea Dossena's first Liverpool goal, two minutes from time, will boost his team for the trip to Old Trafford. "If we win we will be in the title race," he said. "As a manager this is the best way of approaching the game." Liverpool won 5-0 on aggregate.
Gerrard justifiably described the performance, which mirrored Liverpool's fine 2-1 win here against Juventus four years ago, as their best of this season in all competitions. "The first 30 minutes were awesome," Gerrard said. "We got the job done in the first half. It was a fantastic team performance."
Chelsea reinforced the sense of Premier League superiority by securing a 2-2 draw in Turin which condemned their former manager Claudio Ranieri's Juventus side to defeat. Guus Hiuddink's charges, carrying a 1-0 lead to Italy, came from behind twice with goals from Michael Essien and Didier Drogba. Hiddink criticised his side for losing "too many duels" but praised their fighting spirit.
It was Liverpool's result which sent a message across Europe, though, casting doubts about the chances of Juande Ramos continuing in his role beyond the temporary contract in place until the summer.
The result is likely to open a major inquisition into the future direction of Real, who have not progressed beyond the last 16 for five years, though Ramos resisted talk about his future.
"That's football," he said. "We tried to take the game to Liverpool where we could but they were good on the night and there's no point going around in circles on it." Ramos did not dwell on the errors of judgement by the Belgian referee Franck de Bleeckere, who overlooked a push on Pepe leading to Torres's goal and awarded a penalty against Gabriel Heinze when the ball had clearly struck his shoulder.
Benitez reiterated his claim, backed by Uefa statistics, that his side are consistently the best in Europe. The reason? "I can only say that we approach European games with confidence and in the right way."