LIVERPOOL – After suffering their fifth defeat of the young 2014-15 season, many are questioning Liverpool’s credentials this campaign. Domestically and in Europe. And rightly so.
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The Reds were ripped apart by reigning European champions Real Madrid on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League, and they’ve now lost back-to-back UCL matches without scoring. This defeat issued the Reds with a much needed reality check.
In their latest match at Anfield, Real were 3-0 up at half time and toyed with Liverpool in the second half as defensive issues continue to hamper the Premier League sides’ progress. With Mario Balotelli hooked off at half time following a poor display up front, plus plenty of headlines being written about his decision to swap shirts with Real defender Pepe at the interval, Liverpool’s have plenty of issues going forward too as Daniel Sturridge’s absence through injury has hit them hard.
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After the game Liverpool’s right back Glen Johnson revealed that their mindset after going 3-0 down at half time was about damage limitation, rather than a dramatic comeback which was on the minds of some romantics. The last time the Reds trailed 3-0 at half time of a UCL match was the epic final in 2005, in which they fought back to win against AC Milan. That never looked like happening on Wednesday.
“We didn’t want to open too much trying to think we can win the game 4-3 and end up conceding more,” Johnson revealed. “We had to play for our pride in the second half and I think we did that.”
After four years away from the Champions League, this game truly signified Liverpool’s arrival back in the big time. However it also dealt them a harsh lesson as to where they are currently at as a team after a stumbling start to this campaign. In the long run, this defeat may do the players and fans good. It may help to curb incredibly lofty ambitions which need to be reassessed after the euphoria of last seasons incredible run which, at times, defied logic. Realism is starting to set in at Anfield and the gulf in class between the two sides was summed up by home fans applauding Real Madrid’s players off the pitch.
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Playing for pride and a poor performance aside, it wasn’t all bad news for Liverpool after the defeat. Bulgarian side Ludogorets scored a late winner to beat Group B rivals Basel 1-0 which means the Reds still have a very good chance of qualifying. They face Basel and Ludogorets in their final two group games and if they win those, plus Real give them a hand by winning-out, the Reds should qualify in second place.
But first, a trip to the Santiago Bernabeu awaits on Nov. 4, and midfielder Joe Allen says the squad remains focused on qualifying for the last 16.
“We will still give everything to do that,” Allen said. “We look forward to the return fixture at the Bernabeu. We’ll get ready for that and see what happens.”
Stopping Real’s fluid front three of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and James Rodriguez was the main issue for Liverpool and with Gareth Bale back from injury for the return game, it will be even tougher for Liverpool in Madrid.
Most Liverpool fans will find it hard to take positives from a game where they were outclassed, as Real showed exactly why they are the reigning European champs. On this showing, Liverpool has a long way to go to get anywhere near Real’s level but vice-captain Jordan Henderson believes there are some positives to take away from the footballing lesson they were handed by the La Liga outfit.
“The first 20 minutes I thought we were probably the better team to be honest,” Henderson explained. “Obviously they are dangerous on the counter, but I felt we were doing well going forward and defensively. Then obviously they came up with a bit of class for the first goal and after that we struggled to get going again.”
“There are still positives to come out of the game,” Henderson added. “The tempo in the first 20 minutes and the second half we were good in spells,” Henderson said. “Adz [Lallana] did very well when he came on linking up with Raheem, so hopefully they can carry on and do that at the weekend [against Hull].”
Despite a deflating defeat which shows exactly where Liverpool are at as a team, without key men such as Sturridge and slack defensively, Henderson believes they can get to the level Real exhibited.
“We always believe we can get a result, no matter who we play,” Henderson added. “We had a couple of good half chances to get a goal and then you never know. We just need to be a bit more ruthless in the final third. We want to be a top team like Madrid and playing at the highest level, I think we can do that.”
That will take some doing, as we shouldn’t forget that this same group of players defied the odds last season to finish second in the Premier League when many felt they were a top four team at best. They have lost their talisman Luis Suarez to Barcelona and have eight new players to bed into the current squad after a summer of chance at Anfield.
We can’t judge Liverpool’s new-look team until January at the earliest but Real Madrid gave their fans a reality check as to what to expect this season.