Unfamiliar Liverpool undone by Real again

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Gareth Bale takes aim for Real Madrid against Liverpool at the Bernabeu Stadium. Pic © David Rawcliffe Propaganda Photo

Gareth Bale takes aim for Real Madrid against Liverpool at the Bernabeu Stadium. Pic © David Rawcliffe Propaganda Photo

A much-changed Liverpool side defied pre-match predictions by putting up a brave fight as they succumbed to a narrow 1-0 defeat against reigning European champions Real Madrid at the Bernabeu Stadium.

The Reds’ hopes of repeating their 1-0 triumph in Madrid back in 2009 were banished by a first-half Karim Benzema strike, but Brendan Rodgers’ men were courageous throughout and can take plenty of positives going into their two remaining Champions League Group B fixtures.

Thousands of Liverpool fans flocked to Spain for the mouth-watering tie, yet the announcement of a heavily rotated starting eleven soon saw mood levels amongst the visitors swing sharply from optimism to pessimism.

Captain Steven Gerrard headed a star-studded list of players including Raheem Sterling and Mario Balotelli dropping to the bench as Rodgers shuffled his pack from the side that lost to Newcastle United on Saturday, with a Real mauling expected amongst many.

However, much like the start of Real’s 3-0 win in the reverse fixture at Anfield almost a fortnight ago, Liverpool set their stall out well in the opening stages, but the powerful Spaniards showed that their killer instincts can spark into life at any given time.

James Rodriguez stung the palms of Simon Mignolet with a curled effort after just three minutes of action, before some nervy defending from stand-in skipper Martin Skrtel six minutes later saw Cristiano Ronaldo again bring out the best in Liverpool’s Belgian shot-stopper.

The unfancied eleven in red had the odds stacked against them and were tipped to crumble against Real’s sparkle, but Liverpool instead oozed defiance but openings came few and far between before Carlo Ancelotti’s men smelt blood.

Liverpool fans at the Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid. Pic © David Rawcliffe Propaganda Photo

Liverpool fans at the Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid. Pic © David Rawcliffe Propaganda Photo

It didn’t take long for 10-time winners Real to break the deadlock as Benzema, who tormented Liverpool in their own backyard last month with a magnificent brace, latched onto a teasing cross from Marcelo and scarred the Merseysiders once again with a neat finish after 27 minutes.

Proud of their endeavour but with nothing to show for it in terms of goals, Liverpool started the better of the two sides in the second-half. Adam Lallana drove a shot narrowly wide of the post after 57 minutes, before Rodgers released the cavalry and brought on both Gerrard and Sterling as Liverpool searched for a precious equaliser.

Yet Real were able to see the game out, with substitute Gareth Bale hitting the crossbar late on. Having now scored no goals in their last three outings in Europe, intertwined with Basel’s 4-0 win over Ludogorets, Liverpool are now left with it all to do if they’re to advance into the next phase of the competition but two victories could see them through.

And while the Real nightmare is over for the meantime, Jose Mourinho – the man who plunged a dagger into the heart of Liverpool supporters when leading his Chelsea side to a 2-0 win which brought about their Premier League title challenge collapse last season – is in town this weekend.

About Matthew Judge, JMU Journalism