Liverpool think of themselves as European royalty but this was like turning a corner and bumping into Louis XIV. Real Madrid treated the club that had won five European Cups like a collection of serfs.
When the champions of Europe gathered to fly to Merseyside, they asked Alvaro Arbeloa what playing at Anfield would be like. The full-back, who was part of the Liverpool side that humbled Madrid in 2009, told them that he could not quite put it into words. They could tell him themselves after the final whistle.
When referee Nicola Rizzoli put an end to it all, the talk in the away dressing room would have been that once the sound of the crowd had faded out, how very straightforward it had all been.
On Sunday afternoon, Steven Gerrard had warned his players that if they performed as badly as they had done at Queen’s Park Rangers, they would have “no chance” against Real Madrid. Liverpool were every bit as slovenly as they had been at Loftus Road and the consequences were as humbling as their captain, deep down, would have feared.
The interval had echoes of Gerrard’s finest hour. Liverpool were three down, playing a side in white managed by Carlo Ancelotti. But Gerrard is a different player to the man who inspired the “Miracle of Istanbul”. He is still touched by flecks of greatness but he is no longer the box-to-box footballer who hurled himself at Milan in the 2005 final.
These days, Liverpool’s captain orchestrates his players from much deeper and, when he looked ahead of him, Gerrard would have seen precious little to inspire him other than the sight of Raheem Sterling driving himself manfully forward.
Liverpool 0 Real Madrid 3 player ratings
Liverpool 0 Real Madrid 3 player ratings
1/22 Liverpool: Simon Mignolet
Could do nothing about the first two goals but the third was a defensive mess. Made one very fine save from Cristiano Ronaldo - 6/10
2/22 Glen Johnson
If it was not Ronaldo sprinting down Real's left, it was full-back Marcelo, adding up to a difficult night for Johnson, who also allowed Karim Benzema a free header for the second goal - 5
3/22 Martin Skrtel
Beaten by the brilliance of Ronaldo for the first goal then outmuscled by Pepe for the third - 5
4/22 Dejan Lovren
This was a thoroughly uncomfortable night for the Liverpool defence as a whole, but Lovren fared a little better than his team-mates - 6
5/22 Alberto Moreno
An early threat going forward but given a tough time by Real's attacking triumvirate - 5
6/22 Jordan Henderson
Worked hard but gave the ball away too often as Real overpowered Liverpool in midfield - 5
7/22 Steven Gerrard
Began brightly and tested Iker Casillas with a fine shot in the 11th minute. Thereafter occupied trying to stifle Real's attacking threat - 6
8/22 Joe Allen
Had one of Liverpool's better efforts on goal in the first half but outclassed in midfield - 5
9/22 Raheem Sterling
Looked Liverpool's most dangerous attacker, with his pace troubling Real, but too often had to try to do the whole lot himself - 6
10/22 Mario Balotelli
Retained despite heavy criticism but very ineffective and hauled off at half-time - 4
11/22 Philippe Coutinho
Looked bright to start with before fading as Real took over. Hit the post with a fine effort at the end of the first half before being substituted in the second - 5
12/22 Iker Casillas
The veteran Spain goalkeeper was making his 143th Champions League appearance, equalling all-time record holder Xavi. His form has been shaky but dealt with the few threats that came his way very capably - 6
13/22 Alvaro Arbeloa
The former Liverpool full-back enjoyed a good tussle with Sterling and then Lallana - 6
14/22 Raphael Varane
Not too much to worry about for the young French defender - 6
Set up the third goal with his persistence and had a comfortable night in defence - 6
A real presence in Real's attack and Liverpool did not manage to exploit the gaps he left - 7
A fine, energetic performance from the midfielder - 7
18/22 Luka Modric
Instrumental in Real's control of the midfield - 8
19/22 Toni Kroos
Immaculate in front of the back four and set up Benzema's goal with a fine cross. Booked for fouling Sterling - 8
20/22 James Rodriguez
Had to be patched up after an early blow to the head and had done little until his lovely chip set up Ronaldo - 7
21/22 James Rodriguez
Two goals for the Frenchman and it might have been more - 8
22/22 Cristiano Ronaldo
The former Manchester United man, not surprisingly, was greeted by plenty of boos. He had scored more goals this season than Liverpool's entire team and it took him only 23 minutes to add another sublime strike. A constant threat and substituted with Saturday's Clasico in mind - 8
After the interval, there would be no Mario Balotelli and there might be very little of him in the future. When Brendan Rodgers described his signing as a “calculated risk”, the Liverpool manager did so in the knowledge that there are enough break clauses in his contract for it to be terminated sooner than anyone might think.
Rodgers was right to sign Balotelli – £16m was cheap for someone of his pedigree – and he brought some Hollywood glamour to the Mersey. However, Balotelli has reached the Sunset Boulevard stage of his career at the age of 24 and his final close-up at Anfield cannot be long delayed. To be slow, selfish and out of form is a disastrous combination for any forward. Five years ago, Liverpool crushed Madrid with Fernando Torres at the peak of his powers.
When, carrying an injury, Balotelli was replaced by Adam Lallana, Liverpool may no longer have had a recognised striker but they displayed considerably greater balance.
They were, however, facing a Real Madrid side who were 3-0 up and quite prepared to ride the odd punch in protecting their lead. With a quarter of an hour remaining, Ancelotti removed his best player to protect him for the looming encounter with Barcelona.
When Cristiano Ronaldo turned to go, Anfield started to boo him and then, thinking better of it, began to applaud generously. It was not quite the standing ovation Old Trafford had given the Brazilian Ronaldo after his hat-trick for Madrid against Manchester United in 2003 but it was a sign that, however passionate, they are rarely a one-eyed crowd.
The flick of his ankle that produced Real’s opening goal is one of the finest Anfield will see this season and his contest with Martin Skrtel, one of the two survivors of the rout of 2009, was like a Ferrari accelerating past an articulated truck. Frankly, Real had expended more sweat overcoming Ludogorets Razgrad in the previous game.
They did not have to be frighteningly good in Bulgaria but sometimes they were last night. This was the Real Madrid that went to Munich, humbled Bayern 4-0, and inflicted on Pep Guardiola what he described as the worst night of his managerial career.
This is a young and sometimes naïve Liverpool side and Madrid are the best team they will face this season. Whether they will survive in the Champions League long enough to learn the lessons or qualify for next season’s competition to implement them looks increasingly doubtful. Nevertheless, this was one of Anfield’s great European nights, it was just that it belonged to someone else.
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