Real Madrid 0
Only Liverpool eh? The side that has struggled of late bowls up at the biggest, richest club in Europe to play a side unbeaten in nine games and promptly snuffs them out with an ease that defied recent form and the now rather stupid pre match predictions of some of Real Madrid’s staff and players.
If we were suffering any hang overs from Sunday Madrid seemed more than willing to assist in our recovery. The home side, far from taking the game to us seemed lethargic almost pedestrian, basically not opting “to go for it”. Such was the paucity of their offering that one wondered if it was they who were nervous inspite of van der Vaart’s pre match boasts! The Spanish inquisition this was not, it was more like a friendly, informally chat over a cup of tea!
Rafa’s line up was surprisingly positive with Kuyt, Riera and Benayoun behind Torres. Alonso and Mascherano backed up. Gerrard made the bench. I guess there was an argument for including him from the start and then taking him off once he got tired? However, Rafa has proved time and time again that he doesn’t play this game with his players opting to keep them in reserve and only use them if needed.
After only four minutes Real had a chance with Raul completely evading Srktel but shooting weekly into Reina’s hands. That was the last we saw of him. We made our mark after twenty minutes when Torres slipped the Real defence latching on the long Reina clearance and forced a decent save out of Casillas. However, it was a comfortable, sedate start. Both sides passed the ball around leisurely as if they were waiting for, rather than wanting to create, an opening.
This was a situation that was right up our street almost to the point where one wondered what all the pre match fuss about Madrid’s form was about. They seemed uninterested or unable to take the game to us restricting themselves to a couple of long range punts from Robben, who was the only player who posed us any problems. Alonso even had the cheek and confidence to try his party trick of shooting from sixty yards and nearly caught Casillas off guard. A slow burner of a half which, if was taken down a further notch, would be described as a “kick around”.
It was a sign of the way the match was going that Madrid made all the changes at half time however, we continued to create. The best of the opening exchanges was Alonso’s shot into the turf after a good build up. I don’t know what Ramos hoped to achieve with his changes but they seemed to give us more room in midfield. Sadly the momentum was temporarily stalled as Torres, who had aggravated an ankle in the first half, was withdrawn on the hour. This seemed to stall us for a while. Robben had more joy cutting inside again and causing problems. One effort forced Reina to tip over, however we regained our composure and got our just deserts.
Heinze hauled down Kuyt on the right to concede a silly unnecessary free kick, Aurelio’s cross had pace enabling Benayoun, unchallenged on the edge of the six yard area, to power a header past a helpless Casillas.
So there it is only half time but what a bonus and a deserved one too. There is still a lot to do and even though it’s at Anfield, I can’t believe Madrid will be as anaemic in the second leg as they were last night. However, we must take encouragement from their defence which was no where near as secure as ours. After the game Rafa denied fresh rumours concerning his future and even suggested he wasn’t aware of them! As usual he avoided questions about his contract when perhaps this was a good opportunity to clear things up?
Yet it is to Rafael Benítez Maudes on a night were he has masterminded a victory, in his home City against the club he has so many connections with, that the heartfelt congratulations and respect must go. He was cool, almost dispassionate in the interview after the game but surely, personally and professionally, last night must have meant a hell of a lot to him? Bien hecho mi amigo!
Real Madrid: Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Cannavaro, Heinze, Robben, Gago, Lassana Diarra, Marcelo (Guti 46), Higuain, Raul.
Subs Not Used: Dudek, Saviola, Sneijder, Metzelder, Miguel Torres, Van der Vaart.
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Skrtel, Carragher, Aurelio, Benayoun, Alonso, Mascherano, Riera (Gerrard 88), Torres (Babel 61), Kuyt (Lucas 90).
Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Dossena, Hyypia, Ngog.