From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.12 :: Mar. 21, 2009

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FOOTBALL / CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Making rubble of Real

It may well be Liverpool cannot encounter future opponents who will be as bad as Real was but it is also true that few clubs exploit frailty in the Champions League as Liverpool can, writes Kevin McCarra.

AP

Fernando Torres (second from left), scores past Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Awe at an overwhelming victory is matched only by disbelief that Real Madrid could be so humiliated. The visitors’ sole hope of explaining themselves will lie in babbling about the authority that wells up in Liverpool whenever they skip happily into this tournament. It can seem as if they don a new identity after escaping the tribulations on the domestic front.

In the Champions League the blend of continental outlook and British gusto seems perfect. Juande Ramos’ team were made to look a horrible concoction. Had it not been for the fact that he inherited a crisis when appointed in mid-season, the former Tottenham manager would fear dismissal now. The weakness of Real verged on the unfathomable.

Fabio Cannavaro, who captained Italy to the World Cup and was World Player of the Year in 2006, had to be taken off for his own good. Ramos switched to a 3-4-3 system thereafter but he would have needed to sneak batch of additional footballers on to the field if Liverpool were to be made uncomfortable.

Real came with dread in their hearts and were numb long before the substitute Andrea Dossena converted Javier Mascherano’s low cross in the 88th minute. Mascherano had been cautioned earlier for kicking the ball away and is now to be suspended for the first-leg of the quarterfinal but little else went wrong.

The single subject for debate was whether Real can be treated as a true measure of Liverpool’s quality. Rafael Benitez will expect a more daunting examination in the days to come but nobody could deny the impact in this match. The home side had never been in doubt about the stance they would take following a 1-0 win in the away leg.

Liverpool were free of any dilemma, although outsiders would have debated whether it was folly to take risks by committing themselves to attack when they could afford to be prudent. The result at the Bernabeu had made themselves certain of finishing off a team they knew to be vulnerable.

This was an assertiveness not normally associated with Benitez but the manager had made no mistake in diagnosing incompetence in the Real ranks.

Early as the opener from the inspired Fernando Torres was, it still felt overdue. There was no sign that he was hampered by the twisted ankle that had made him a doubt. All the aches were felt by the centre-backs Pepe and Cannavaro. Both were despondent by the time Jamie Carragher hoisted the ball downfield in the 16th minute for Torres to assume control as he found Dirk Kuyt on the right and hit the return pass beyond Iker Casillas.

It was telling that Benitez had insisted that he should be given more credit for the team’s achievements in this competition. He must have known Real could never embarrass him. The ineptness of the visitors explains why they have been knocked out at this stage of the competition for five consecutive seasons.

Liverpool’s 2-0 lead at half-time was fully deserved, regardless of the injustice at the second goal. The referee’s assistant indicated a penalty when Xabi Alonso’s pass bounced off the chest of Alvaro Arbeloa and on to the shoulder of Gabriel Heinze, even if the left-back had stretched out an arm.

The indignation of the Argentinian brought a caution and merely delayed the penalty that Gerrard converted by sending Casillas the wrong way in the 28th minute.

There had been several openings for Liverpool before that. As early as the fourth minute Torres had dragged the ball away from Pepe exquisitely as he turned to glide through and test Casillas. Soon there was even a drive from the defensive midfielder Mascherano that had to be tipped over the bar. There was an eventual reaction from Real and Pepe Reina was compelled to deal with Wesley Sneijder’s effort from a Heinze cut-back.

Everything was designed to please the crowd, including Real’s replacement of the former Chelsea winger Arjen Robben. There had been as much adventure as organisation from the home team. Gerrard grew uncontainable and, in the 47th minute, half-volleyed a third goal after Ryan Babel had turned the Real defence on the left. The consistent impact Benitez’s side has enjoyed in this competition has lasting benefits in the assurance that settles upon them on evenings such as this.

The manager could afford to rest Gerrard by bringing on the 20-year-old Jay Spearing. Real ought to wince at being deemed suitable opponents against whom a youngster can further his education. Then again, so many indignities were inflicted on a proud club that they would have been too dazed even to register the introduction of the winger.

There is both masterfulness and verve in Liverpool’s Champions League showings. It may well be they cannot encounter future opponents who will be as bad as Real were but it is also true that few clubs exploit frailty in this tournament as Liverpool can.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009



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