Liverpool reshuffle for Real Madrid clash fails to pay off
Real Madrid 1-0 Liverpool
It takes a certain kind of nerve to send your Capital One Cup team out to face one of the most glittering collection of footballers ever assembled, but then Brendan Rodgers will have reasoned that if he was going to take a risk then it might as well be a big one.
It was no exaggeration to say that humiliation beckoned. In fact it was one of those team-sheets, without six of Liverpool's starters, that could easily have been mistaken for the proverbial managerial suicide note had Madrid taken a sledgehammer to Liverpool.
The likes of Athletic Bilbao, Elche, even the mighty Barcelona, have been dispatched in this stadium this season, all, it should be said, by greater margins than Liverpool lost by last night.
In the event it was not the drubbing that so many of their supporters lodged in the upper reaches of the Bernabeu would have feared when they saw a team without Steven Gerrard, Dejan Lovren, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, Glen Johnson, Philippe Coutinho and even poor old Mario Balotelli. In fact, it was a very creditable performance indeed.
A strange night, because it was ultimately a defeat for Liverpool - just not the kind of defeat that could have been so damaging for Ulsterman Rodgers. There is a case for saying that a side of Liverpool's tradition should never play a weakened team against a side of Real Madrid's magnitude yet at Anfield last month, they played their best available XI and lost 3-0. Football can be funny like that. Either way, Rodgers needed to catch a break and this time he did.
His team gave a good account of themselves and his big hitters got the benefit of a rest before the visit of Chelsea on Saturday. It begged the question, could a stronger Liverpool team have taken something from the game? That would be to imply that Madrid were there for the taking which they most certainly were not.
There were some unlikely heroes on the night, not least Kolo Touré who prevented Cristiano Ronaldo from scoring the goal that will take him level with Raul at the top of the all-time Champions league goalscorers' list. No mean task when you consider that Madrid had 28 attempts on goal to Liverpool's four. The likes of Adam Lallana and Joe Allen shone as well.
Yet, for all the grumblings of discontent at the strength of Rodgers' team the first half was really not that bad at all. True, they departed the pitch at half-time a goal behind to Karim Benzema's strike in the 27th minute but at Anfield two weeks earlier they had left for the break three behind, beaten and outclassed.
In many respects they were outclassed again before the break. But then lots of good teams are outclassed by Madrid. Liverpool defended a lot, but there is nothing wrong with defending when you play at Madrid. What mattered more is that they defended well.
The first-half Madrid goal was one of those moments that was a cause for regret. Isco and Cristiano Ronaldo worked the ball left and Marcelo crossed deep where Benzema had drifted off Touré and lunged to poke the ball into the roof of Simon Mignolet's net.
That aside, Rodgers' irregulars did rather well in the first half. Touré had a few of those heart-in-mouth moments, like when he stuck out a boot to take the ball away from Benzema and ended up depositing the ball on the roof of his own net. But there was also one marvellous moment when, running towards his own goal, he turned Benzema and dribbled past James Rodriguez. Marvellous to watch, probably less comfortable for Rodgers.
Although Mignolet had to save a Rodriguez shot in the third minute, Liverpool settled quickly. Ronaldo had another shot from a Benzema cutback.
Fabio Borini, another Liverpool striker preferred ahead of Rickie Lambert, worked himself into the ground to chase lost causes and offer his team options. The thought did occur that Balotelli would have been entirely unsuited to the task.
There was some serious ground covered in the Liverpool side, with Joe Allen, Emre Can and Adam Lallana working their proverbial socks off to keep the waves of white shirts at bay.
The disappointment for Rodgers will have been that his side did not really create a chance of note in the few incursions into Madrid territory they were permitted.
It was much the same story in the opening stages of the second half, when Liverpool's midfield grew in confidence and Touré looked ever more assured in the centre of defence.
Just before the hour, Alberto Moreno played a good ball into Lallana who turned well but struck his shot wide.
Touré was having arguably the game of his Liverpool career, stepping out to block a Ronaldo shot.
Carlo Ancelotti had seen enough and brought on Gareth Bale for Rodriguez, who had been quiet. He was to hit the bar later.
Rodgers responded by finally rolling out some of the A-team: Sterling and then Gerrard, the latter of whom came on to a warm round of applause from the home fans.
It turned out to be a better night than Liverpool could have dared expect.
REAL MADRID: Casillas, Arbeloa, Varane, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Rodriguez, Modric, Kroos, Isco, Benzema, Ronaldo. Subs: Navas, Pepe, Bale, Hernandez, Nacho, Medran, Torro
Goals: Benzema 27
Liverpool: Mignolet, Moreno, Toure, Skrtel, Manquillo, Can, Lucas, Lallana, Allen, Markovic, Borini. Subs: Jones, Johnson, Gerrard, Coutinho, Henderson, Sterling, Balotelli
Man of the match: Marcelo
Match rating: 7/10
Referee: Viktor Kassai (Hungary)