LIVERPOOL: Real Madrid earned their first-ever win over Liverpool with a wondrous Cristiano Ronaldo goal spearheading a 3-0 Champions League victory at Anfield on Wednesday which appeared as classy as it was dominant.
Ronaldo’s glorious 23rd minute strike and a double from Karim Benzema sealed the champions’ triumph before halftime, leaving Real’s Portuguese icon insisting his side were in the mood to become the first team in the Champions League era to successfully defend the title.
“We know it’ll be very tough but we know it’s possible if we play like that,” said Ronaldo, after scoring his 70th Champions League goal, which puts him within one of equalling Raul’s all-time record.
He had a chance to share the mark but was thwarted by a point blank second half save from Simon Mignolet.
“I’m not worried about that (Raul’s record) I know I’m going to beat his record today or another game. Me and Messi (69 goals) are very close,” said Ronaldo.
The roar of one of Europe’s most vociferous crowds, which contributed to a bright start for the hosts as they hoped to see Liverpool improve on their three-game, 100 per cent record over Real in European competition, was muted once Ronaldo scored the most brilliant of openers.
There looked to be little cause for alarm as Ronaldo flitted around in midfield and passed to James Rodriguez, who was surrounded by red shirts. Yet a delightful, dinked pass somehow picked out Ronaldo again and his first-time finish, taken early almost on the half-volley, was exquisite.
It proved the signal for Real to take over and Liverpool’s suspect defence to lose concentration under pressure.
Liverpool should have cleared their lines long before Benzema’s precise, looping header from Toni Kroos’s cross effectively put the game beyond their reach.
The third was a scrappy, messy affair, with Liverpool again guilty of missing a couple of opportunities to clear a corner before the ball fell obligingly for Benzema to nudge home his second.
After Philippe Coutinho almost pulled one back with a searing shot which hit the post, Liverpool were resigned to having to claw back a three-goal deficit in a Champions League match for the first time since they did just that against AC Milan in the 2005 Istanbul final.
Real manager Carlo Ancelotti, in charge of the Milan side which threw away that lead, was not about to let history repeat itself.
“No I forgot this,” he said, when asked about that Istanbul night. “I told the players that in football anything can happen. I know really well these (Liverpool) supporters. I told my players to stay focussed for the second half.”
Madrid never looked threatened despite Liverpool seeming a little livelier, thanks in part to the tactical substitution of Mario Balotelli, who was replaced at halftime by Adam Lallana.
Ancelotti, who felt it was the best Madrid had played all season, even had the luxury of being able to take off Ronaldo 15 minutes from the end with a view to the weekend’s Clasico against Barcelona and his champion player was thrilled to be given a resounding reception from the Kop.
“It was special,” said Ronaldo, who felt that with Madrid now having a maximum nine points from their three games, qualification was “75 percent” assured.
Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager who now faces a difficult qualification route with his side having three points alongside Ludogorets and Basel, had no complaints about being beaten by a team of such quality.
“You can see Real’s quality. Speed, technique; you can see why they are champions. The second and third goals are from set-pieces again. It’s an issue for us and we have to be better than that.”