22nd October, 2014
Cristiano Ronaldo inspired a Real Madrid masterclass and closed in on the Champions League goalscoring record as the holders thrashed Liverpool 3-0 at Anfield on Wednesday.
Ronaldo maintained his majestic start to the season with a dazzling display capped by the predatory opening goal that took him to within one of Champions League record goalscorer Raul’s total of 71.
The Portugal forward has now scored 20 times in all competitions this season and, with Liverpool reeling from his brilliant blast, France striker Karim Benzema then struck twice to kill off the Group B clash before half-time.
Real’s victory leaves the 10-time European champions top of Group B with maximum points from their three fixtures, while Liverpool head to the Bernabeu for the rematch on November 4 knowing their hopes of progressing to the last 16 are hanging by a slender thread after successive defeats.
“It was special, my first goal at Anfield and I am very happy,” said Ronaldo.
“We knew that Anfield is a difficult place but we were fantastic in the first 45 minutes and we deserved to win.”
He added: “I’m not worried about the Champions League goalscoring record. I know I will beat it. Me and Lionel Messi are very close. The best thing is that the team has nine points.”
Carlo Ancelotti’s Real had won their last seven matches in all competitions, scoring 32 goals in the process, while Liverpool have spluttered for much of the season as they adapt to life without Luis Suarez.
Yet initially it seemed Rodgers’ side might be capable of putting Real on the back foot as the hosts made a turbo-charged start.
Raheem Sterling’s pace troubled Real early on and Steven Gerrard forced Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas into a fine save with a powerful low drive from 30 yards.
Liverpool were trying to knock their star-studded opponents out of their smooth-passing rhythm with a robust, high-tempo game-plan and Real midfielder James Rodriguez needed treatment after being cut above his eye — yet that would prove the only damage inflicted on the Spaniards.
Ronaldo had never scored at Anfield in his five appearances for Manchester United, but he needed only 23 minutes to break that barren run.
Seizing possession in a central area 25 yards from goal, Ronaldo moved the ball onto Rodriguez before sprinting into the penalty area to meet the Colombian’s chipped pass, which dropped perfectly over three Liverpool defenders, with a sublime finish as he held off Martin Skrtel to flick his shot past Simon Mignolet.
All the life seemed to drain out of Liverpool once Ronaldo’s strike nestled in the far corner and, fatally hamstrung by a nervous and error-prone defence, the Reds were exposed again in the 30th minute when a half-cleared corner landed at Ronaldo’s feet.
He immediately fed Toni Kroos and the Germany midfielder’s lofted cross to the far post was met by the unmarked Benzema, who skillfully guided a looping header over Mignolet into the net.
Shell-shocked Liverpool crumbled again in even more feeble fashion four minutes before half-time when a corner bypassed Mignolet and a host of defenders, allowing Pepe to stab the ball towards Benzema, who gleefully tapped into the empty net from close-range.
It was all too easy for Real and they briefly took their foot off the gas before the break when Philippe Coutinho hit a post with a fierce long-range effort.
Liverpool had conceded three goals in the first half of a Champions League game for the first time since the 2005 final against Ancelotti’s AC Milan.
But there would be no repeat of that epic comeback in Istanbul.
To make matters worse, another ineffectual performance from Mario Balotelli came to a suitably shambolic end when he was hauled off at half-time after swapping shirts with Pepe in the tunnel in a move that will hardly quell the feeling the Liverpool striker is developing into a major flop.
With the match effectively over and Real content to go through the motions in the second half, the only remaining intrigue focused on Ronaldo’s chase to equal Raul’s record.
He will have to wait for that landmark after seeing a close-range effort well saved by Mignolet, but the damage had already been done long before he departed with 15 minutes left.