The last time Real Madrid visited Anfield for a competitive fixture there was an air of over-confidence about the Spanish giants. Maybe not from the team, despite the inclusion of world-class stars such as Arjen Robben, Raul, Fabio Cannavaro and Gonzalo Higuain, but certainly from a press that had long craved a tenth European Cup, La Décima. That over-confidence eventually came back and slapped them in the face and they are not making the same mistake five years on.
‘This Is Anfield…And What?’ declared Marca, Spain’s biggest selling daily sports newspaper, on its front page on the day Liverpool hosted their fellow European giants in the second leg of a last-16 clash in March 2009. A play on the famous sign that adorns the Anfield tunnel as the players squeeze their way out of the cramped dressing rooms and into the famous arena. A powerful symbol for the home players and a sign to ensure any visitor knows they are not facing any ordinary opponent.
Twenty-four hours later that same paper was printing a match report that saw the Spanish capital club thrashed 4-0 and saw their hopes of a tenth European crown ended for another year and in emphatic fashion. ‘This Is Anfield…And…That’.
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That confidence, and some might say a lack of respect, was misplaced in the first place. Madrid were already trailing 1-0 from the first leg thanks to a Yossi Benayoun strike eight minutes from time at the Santiago Bernabéu. They were already up against it. If Rafael Benitez could have got his hands on a copy of the Madrid-based paper, he would have surely stuck it up on the wall of the home dressing room as inspiration.
Whether the Madrid-born Benitez, who started his managerial career with Real’s B team, did or did not was irrelevant - Liverpool were rampant and it could have been more. Fernando Torres, in his glory days, opened the scoring 13 minutes in and celebrated as any former Atletico Madrid player would against his former foes. Steven Gerrard scored either side of half-time and substitute Andrea Dossena put the icing on the cake with two minutes left. A famous European night at Anfield.
Now, five years’ on, the Spanish press are paying tribute to Liverpool’s famous home even if Madrid do travel there as favourites this time. Seven straight wins, 32 goals and the current Ballon d’Or holder in the form of his life.
Cristiano Ronaldo's record at Anfield
Cristiano Ronaldo's record at Anfield
1/5 Liverpool 0 Manchester United 1, January 2005
Ronaldo was withdrawn after 67 minutes to make way for defender John O'Shea after Wes Brown was sent off. Wayne Rooney scored.
2/5 Liverpool 0 Manchester United 0, September 2005
Ronaldo last 90 minutes this time but could not help his side break the deadlock.
3/5 Liverpool 1 Manchester United 0, February 2006
Ronaldo returned to Anfield the same season in the FA Cup and despite another 90-minute performance his side lost to a Peter Crouch goal.
4/5 Liverpool 0 Manchester United 1, March 2007
Played a full match again as O'Shea snatched a last-minute winner after Paul Scholes had been sent off late on.
5/5 Liverpool 0 Manchester United 1, December 2007
Carlos Tevez scored the only goal as Ronaldo played his last match at Anfield as injury would prevent him making an appearance in his final season in England the following year.
Marca have referenced that famous sign again this week but this time in a more respectful tone. ‘The eternal temple’, reads one piece. ‘A shield and three words’, it continues in calling the Anfield tunnel a ‘mystical place’. Liverpool have Gerrard, Mario Balotelli and Raheem Sterling, a player who has been heavily linked with Madrid in recent months, but it is Anfield and Liverpool’s famous Kop and atmosphere that is getting most of the attention. Liverpool’s 12th man.
Maybe now there is experience and knowledge. Back in 2009, Madrid had Gabriel Heinze, Robben and Lass who knew about Liverpool and the Anfield atmosphere from their Premier League days but now Madrid have Alvaro Arbeloa, a player who was in that Liverpool side that upset his current club, and Cristiano Ronaldo, a man who has been on the receiving end of plenty of jeers from the ‘Kopites’ thanks to his time with Manchester United.
Madrid also have a manager with a vast experience of the European game and a vast experience of Liverpool. He managed AC Milan when the Italians saw a 3-0 half-time lead slip in Istanbul to Liverpool in the Champions League final of 2005 and he took his Chelsea side to Anfield in the two years he spent at Stamford Bridge. “I am very excited,” he said. “Sometimes I go and find the anthem [You’ll Never Walk Alone] on the internet to listen and to let me friends listen. It is something really unique.”
“These things are difficult to explain and easier to absorb,” said former Liverpool defender Arbeloa. “On big nights in the Champions League you can experience that special atmosphere and hear the people. They sound different and any football lover should experience that at least once in their life.” Of the team that played that March midweek, only Gerrard, Lucas and Skertel remain and even the former Liverpool man may not make it on the famous pitch with Dani Carvajal normally preferred by Ancelotti ahead of him at right-back.
That Madrid have never beaten Liverpool in an official match may also be playing on the minds of the players and the press. The sides have met three times before in Europe, the first being the famous 1981 European Cup final in Paris and the other two were the last-16 clashes in 2009 in England and in Spain. For a country obsessed by statistics and records, that one has definitely not gone amiss with the Spanish press.
Anfield is also one of those rare stadiums that has not seen Ronaldo score a goal. Madrid’s talisman has scored twice against Liverpool but of those game at Old Trafford. He will be out to break that duck and edge closer to breaking Raul’s record haul of goals in the Champions League. The new New York Cosmos player bagged 71 goals and Ronaldo is just two behind equalling the Madrid and Spain legend alongside Lionel Messi, who scored his 71st in the competition in Barcelona’s 3-1 victory over Ajax on Tuesday night.
Ronaldo adorned the front page of both AS and Marca on Wednesday morning with the rain pouring down on him from Tuesday night’s training session in the stadium. AS continued to reference the famous sign with a headline saying ‘This Is Anfield…and This Is Cristiano’. ‘Another hurricane threatens Liverpool: Madrid and Cristiano’ it continued. The Portuguese forward has scored a staggering 19 goals in just 12 games for club and country so far this season.
Another record set to be equalled tonight is the one for the amount of matches played in the famous competition. With Xavi not featuring for Barcelona in their victory over Ajax on Tuesday night, Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas can move level with his former Spain team-mate should he start as expected at Anfield. The Madrid captain has 142 appearances and will join the Barca midfielder on 143 tonight. He is one of three players who featured at Anfield last time out, with Pepe and Marcelo the other two. Sergio Ramos, who played at right-back that night, is absent through injury.
When Madrid walk out of the famous Anfield tunnel tonight, they will certainly know what to expect this time around. Whether or not they can secure an eighth straight victory against a Liverpool side desperate for three points to aid their progression from the group stage and with an extra man in the form of their famous Kop remains to be seen.
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