Liverpool produce a spirited display at the famous Santiago Bernabéu but slip to a third successive European defeat…
With one eye on Saturday’s encounter with Chelsea, Reds manager Brendan Rodgers made seven changes from the weekend defeat to Newcastle United for this daunting Champions League Group B fixture.
If supporters hadn’t already been filled with trepidation at the prospect of visiting the home of the European champions, the absence of the likes of Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling from the starting eleven will no doubt have heightened their feeling of concern.
The hosts, on an 11 match winning streak, conjured their first opportunity inside 4 minutes as James Rodriguez forced a good diving stop from Simon Mignolet.
Surprisingly however, for the majority of the opening 15 minutes, it was actually the visitors who controlled proceedings.
Captain for the night, Martin Skrtel, almost undid the early encouragement though by gifting the ball to Karim Benzema with a sloppy touch but, thankfully for the Slovak, Mignolet was on hand to tip away Cristiano Ronaldo’s drive.
More nervy moments inevitably followed as the game progressed but the Reds continued to show ambition of their own and were giving as good as they got.
A better final ball or a less pacy opposing centre-back than Raphael Varane and Liverpool could conceivably have taken the lead.
Even defenders Alberto Moreno and Kolo Toure were getting in on the act with ambitious, lung-busting bursts forward.
Perhaps predictably the positivity was not to last as Benzema pounced on an excellent cross from Marcelo to open the scoring from close-range in the 27th minute.
Shortly afterwards, Ronaldo tested Mignolet with a swerving free-kick from distance and Toure’s timely interception, to deny Benzema a sight of goal, almost dipped into his own net.
Liverpool began, understandably, to drop deeper and defend on mass with half-time approaching and they almost gifted further goals to Real with Ronaldo and then Marcelo the men almost profiting from mistakes.
Rodgers’ players continued to supply the odd attack of their own but for all their endeavour, and moments of brightness, home keeper Iker Casillas had remained untroubled as the half-time whistle blew.
Normal service resumed almost right from the restart as Ronaldo quickly brought another smart save out of Mignolet.
At the other end, Liverpool did retain hope of finding an equaliser through an impressive solo run from Lazar Markovic and ambitious angled efforts from Moreno and Adam Lallana.
A deflected Fabio Borini free-kick, harshly given for a foul by Sergio Ramos, also went close to registering an unlikely goal with the aid of a deflection off Luka Modric.
Ramos was even carded for the incident, despite executing a perfectly-timed challenge, and on another night a second yellow could have followed a few minutes later when a stray arm contacted with Borini’s face.
Defensively, Toure continued to perform heroics for the Merseysiders; blocking a Ronaldo shot, before Benzema almost scored his second in a similar fashion to the first, but this time fired over.
Pressure again began to mount on the Merseysiders around the 70th minute as substitute Gareth Bale hit the crossbar and Ronaldo worked Mignolet with another free-kick.
Rodgers reacted by chucking on Gerrard, Sterling and Philippe Coutinho and the trio briefly helped to push Real back, although the creation of guilt-edge chances remained absent.
A scything challenge by Moreno on Bale almost settled the outcome inside the final 10 minutes as the Welshman picked himself up and went close to converting the resulting free-kick.
Ultimately it wasn’t to matter as the Spanish giants saw out the remaining time with the minimum of fuss to record their fourth straight victory in the competition.
Well that wasn’t as bad as expected was it? On another night we might even have snatched something from the game, although that would have been incredibly unjust on Real who understandably dominated for long periods. Say what you like about the team Rodgers selected but there is no denying each and every player gave their all. I firmly believe that sometimes in football you have to look at the bigger picture and prioritise certain games and competitions, on this occasion that was Chelsea on Saturday, especially as we can still qualify for the Champions League knockout stages by winning our last two games. Also, what’s the point in investing over £100m to strengthen the squad if you aren’t going to use the players purchased? Many will have given Rodgers food for thought as he struggles to find his best eleven, formation and tactics. Very encouraging.
Alberto Moreno – Made a couple of rash challenges but provided a great outlet going forward and worked well in tandem with Lallana.
Mignolet, Manquillo, Toure, Skrtel, Moreno, Lucas (Gerrard 69′), Can (Coutinho 75′), Allen, Lallana, Markovic (Sterling 69′), Borini.
Unused subs: Jones, Johnson, Henderson, Balotelli.
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