Real Madrid showed exactly why they are European champions and how far Liverpool have fallen down the pecking order with a 3-0 victory in a display which oozed class at Anfield. Karim Benzema scored twice after Cristiano Ronaldo broke his six-match duck at the ground with a superb opener to edge within one of club icon Raul's all-time Champions League goalscoring record. In the final analysis it was not even close. Real's first win – in fact first goals – in four meetings against the Reds came all too easily as they highlighted the gulf in class. The Spanish side last visited Merseyside in 2009, at a time when Liverpool could conceivably argue they were still contenders for Europe's top honours. Now they are feeling their way back into the competition and it is tough going. On that March evening five years ago Madrid were torn apart 4-0 by – in Steven Gerrard's words – a "world-class" Fernando Torres. There was no-one approaching the stature of him – or the recently departed Luis Suarez – among the home side's ranks and the game-plan appeared to involve just giving the ball to Raheem Sterling. That was asking a lot of the 19-year-old, even for someone with his precocious talent. It had all looked so good for 23 minutes as Liverpool evoked memories of famous Anfield nights of the past, boosted by the fervour rolling down off the Kop. Sterling's pace caused Real's defence some problems and former Reds defender Alvaro Arbeloa got away with a trip on the youngster as he raced on to Jordan Henderson's ball over the top. Gerrard troubled Iker Casillas with a low, dipping shot which was parried by the goalkeeper, who then got in a flap trying to deal with the Reds captain's corner. Joe Allen clipping a shot wide and Philippe Coutinho firing against the post late in the half was as close as Liverpool came, as Real, having absorbed the early pressure, switched up gear in an instant. Ronaldo, whose previous involvement amounted to being fouled by Henderson after just nine seconds and seeing a low shot comfortably claimed by Simon Mignolet, was unsurprisingly the instigator. Laying the ball off to James Rodriguez, he darted forward to get on the end of a deliciously weighted return ball and hit a sublime half-volley over the goalkeeper with centre-backs Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel seemingly mesmerised. It was Ronaldo's 70th goal in this competition, his 19th club goal in 13 appearances this season and 272nd in 259 games for Real. If Liverpool were stunned by that, they should have seen the second and third goals coming as they resulted from familiar flaws. On the half-hour, Toni Kroos lifted a cross to the far post where Glen Johnson left Benzema unchallenged to loop a header across goal and in at the far post. A Kroos corner 11 minutes later floated over the head of Mario Balotelli and hit Pepe on the chest, with the Portugal defender reacting quickest to nick the ball past Mignolet for Benzema to tap home. And what of Balotelli? Brendan Rodgers resisted the chance to drop the misfiring striker. But the Italy striker got a first shake of the head from his manager within two minutes – and was replaced at half-time by Adam Lallana, appearing to swap shirts with Pepe as he headed down the tunnel. In the time he was on the pitch he produced one surging run past left-back Marcelo, only to cross high over the head of Sterling. Carlo Ancelotti's team were 3-0 up at the break, but this was no Istanbul – where the Italian manager's AC Milan side conceded the second half and lost on penalties as Liverpool won a fifth European Cup crown in 2005. With Gerrard's magical years behind him and an over-reliance on Sterling, there was no catalyst to spark a comeback and seemingly no belief they could mount one. Even Ronaldo appeared to take pity on them as, faced with a one-on-one with Mignolet from six yards, he lacked his characteristic clinical cutting edge and the goalkeeper stuck out a foot for a good reaction save. Real, 10-time winners of the trophy, played containment and counter-attack with very little concern with Saturday's Clasico on their minds. And, even when Liverpool did manufacture an opening, substitutes Lazar Markovic and Emre Can and Allen contrived to mess it up between them. The only positive on the night was Basle losing 1-0 to Ludogorets in Group B's other match, leaving the second-placed Swiss and the Bulgarians on three points alongside Liverpool.
Football CHAMPIONS LEAGUE