Liverpool vs Real Madrid comment: Anfield tugs the forelock and almost thanks Real for defeat

Liverpool 0 Real Madrid 3

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The Independent Online

Above the tunnel is etched the legend “This is Anfield”. It is intended to convey a sense of dread in visiting teams about to make the acquaintance of the Kop. It is not the place to bow and scrape, begging the indulgence of a player from the other side.

Of all the misdemeanours perpetrated by Mario Balotelli, the half-time shirt swap must rank among the most heinous. The hapless Italian could not even get the right one, soliciting Pepe and not the remarkable Cristiano Ronaldo.

It might be that the Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers, was preparing to hook Balotelli anyway after another anonymous 45 minutes. Or maybe he was repulsed and surprised that a Liverpool player might defer to the opposition to that degree. It was in truth a night of widespread forelock tugging by the home side.

The Kop rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is one of the great sporting set-pieces, even better when they turn off the accompanying Gerry Marsden vocal. It is a globally recognisable anthem behind which marches one of football’s signature institutions.

Why then the overbearing deference to the visitors? The love-in began formally in the programme notes of Rodgers and continued via the Anfield public address. With Liverpool down on one knee before a ball was kicked, you wondered if the job for Madrid were not half done.

 

Rodgers devoted his first three paragraphs to the “best team in Europe” and the “best player in the world”. The MC cooed his gratitude for the opportunity to see Europe’s finest on the public address.

The entrance to the city’s Hilton Hotel had been turned by devotees into a shrine to Ronaldo and Los Blancos, deepening the reverence and awe. Short of vacating the Kop end for warm-up purposes, Liverpool could not have done more to reinforce Madrid’s sense of their own importance.

Perhaps they knew what was coming. Thirty goals in eight games is probably a sad commentary on the standard of the opposition in the absurd handicap that is La Liga, though after this that might be an argument increasingly difficult to sustain. Ronaldo has scored half of the team’s total – 15 being the same number as Barcelona bombers Lionel Messi and Neymar combined – which is a domestic record since they came in only seven appearances.

After 22 minutes and 30 seconds last night, precisely the halfway point of the first half, career goal No 395 in 582 appearances was nestling in the back of the Anfield Road net after a strike of breathtaking audacity, clipped first time beyond the reach of Simon Mignolet.

The world’s most popular player, 100 million likes on Facebook, 30 million followers on Twitter, looks a cheap date for sponsors at £26m a year in endorsements. He had never scored in five previous visits to Anfield. Another milestone chalked off, then.

In this, the week of the big statement in Europe, it was the turn of the champions to stamp their authority on the competition. Bayern Munich said it with a magnificent seven goals in Rome, Chelsea smashed six in less exalted company. Madrid mulched Liverpool without needing the extra gear, though there was the standard piece de resistance from Ronaldo to start things off. 

We are as a species obsessed by lists. There appears to be an inherent need for hierarchy, for top-down order so that we know what’s what. In the footballing milieu this involves deciding who is top dog, Ronaldo or Messi.

They are not allowed to sit side by side, their diverse range of abilities deserving of equal respect. One has to be better than the other. If explosive pace and athleticism is your preferred route to goal then Ronaldo is your man. If a dipped shoulder and exquisite touch is your poison, then you probably prefer the magician from Barcelona.

Saturday will provide us with a direct comparison when the two line up against each other in the first Clasico of the season. So easy was it for Madrid last night that Ronaldo was excused the final quarter of an hour to conserve energy for the Bernabeu.

He offered Sami Khedira a broad smile, not in the least hurt to departing the scene early. Anfield had morphed from cauldron to library by then, all hope of a meaningful response to the first-half cakewalk gone.

This is a team of many talents, of course. Toni Kroos was the next in the showers for the same reason as Ronaldo. He is the archetypal schemer, mopping up in the middle with an eerie sense of calm. Isco and Luka Modric were equally impressive either side of him.

The look on the faces of the Anfield greats migrating to the VIP lounge said it all. Alan Hansen seemed in need of oxygen or whisky or both and it was only half time.

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