Liverpool Echo match report

FIRST it was the Nou Camp, then the San Siro and now even the mighty Bernabeu has fallen to Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool.

Three cathedrals of European football, three of the toughest places for any team to win and yet all of them have found to their cost that when it comes to continental conquest the Spanish manager has few peers.

That’s the very same Benitez who spent most of yesterday trying to avoid having to answer ridiculous questions about his future following what can only be described as a disgusting and poisonous whispering campaign.

The build-up to Liverpool’s match with Real should have been dominated by talk of two of Europe’s genuine super powers finally going head to head in a two-legged affair.

It should have featured no little conversation about whether Steven Gerrard would be fit to take on the La Liga giants and how Fernando Torres would figure in a stadium where he has never scored.

Instead, the plazas of Madrid jangled to the sound of unsubstantiated rumour as mobile phones buzzed with text messages from home carrying “news” that the Liverpool manager’s days were numbered because a bookmaker had decided to suspend betting on his future.

Even by Liverpool’s recent standards, such mutterings marked a new low and provided proof if it were needed that cavernous divisions within the club are now being exploited by any scaremonger with an overactive imagination and mischief on their mind.

Make no mistake about it, the Anfield club’s name has been dragged through the gutter in the last 24 hours with wild and often scurrilous speculation suggesting that youth team players, first teamers and even club legends had all revealed that Benitez was on his way out.

This is what Liverpool have come to, but the most worrying aspect of all is that there could still be worse to come because there are no signs of divisions being healed, no indication that anyone in the club’s hierarchy has the inclination to lead the club out of one of the most troubled periods in its history.

Surely now enough is enough and the time has come for messrs Hicks, Gillett, Parry and Benitez to sort out their problems once and for all before the club is derailed altogether.

Somehow, the Liverpool team – that’s the players who the supporters pay to watch and who should be the only topic of conversation – managed to rise above the rancour and produce a performance which will rank alongside any in the Reds’ magnificent European history.

As was the case when Benitez’s side outmanoeuvred and out thought Inter Milan last season, they will today be damned with faint praise.

The prevailing school of thought in some quarters will be that Real failed to deliver when it mattered most after their imperious domestic form had made them favourites to reach the last eight in the eyes of many.

It is an argument which should not be dismissed because the nine times European champions did not perform like a side which had set pulses racing by notching up a 6-1 lead by half time in its most recent fixture.

But the overriding factor in this monumental win is that Liverpool triumphed because they possess the ability, belief, character and perhaps most importantly the know how to craft victory in any European venue.

Their superiority over Real was so complete that apart from a tricky opening 20 minute spell they dominated proceedings to such an extent that Pepe Reina was only ever forced to make one meaningful save all night.

Much of the credit for that must go to the outstanding Jamie Carragher whose reading of the game rendered Raul – the Champions League’s leading goalscorer no less – an increasingly marginal figure as the game wore on.

Liverpool were better individually and they were better as a team and with the tactical battle being won so convincingly by Benitez the only surprise was that it took until the 81st minute before their superiority was reflected in the scoreline.

Torres and Xabi Alonso had come closest to breaking the deadlock before Yossi Benayoun rose in the box to power home a majestic header from Fabio Aurelio’s pinpoint free kick.

The wonderfully noisy fans in the away end erupted into scenes of uncontained joy as the doubts and disturbances of the previous 24 hours were shaken off in one glorious moment.

How the players had again managed to again shake off the distractions that always seem to plague the club on a match day is a question only they can answer.

But the fact that they are having to do it at all is a disgrace and it is to their eternal credit that the talking they did on the pitch at the Bernabeu ended up drowning out the chattering and mischief making off it.

The professionalism of every player in a red shirt shone like a beacon and it is worth pondering what Liverpool could achieve if such standards were reached and maintained in other parts of the club. Vultures like nothing more than easy meat and Liverpool fit that bill to a tee at present.

Having taken a giant step towards reaching the quarter finals of the European Cup for the fourth time in five seasons today should be a day for celebration for anyone with Liverpool’s best interests at heart.

So the fact that the joy has been tainted with more than a little pain should shame those who are failing the club so badly. Beating Real Madrid away from home is a wonderful result and if the Reds can complete the job at Anfield in two weeks time it will be a magnificent achievement.

But whether they get through to the quarter finals or not the sad fact is that their biggest battle may not be with their rival super powers – it could be with themselves.

REAL MADRID: Casillas, Ramos, Pepe, Cannavaro, Heinze, Gago, Diarra, Marcelo (Guti, 46), Robben, Higuain, Raul.

LIVERPOOL Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio, Mascherano, Alonso, Kuyt (Lucas,(90), Benayoun, Riera (Gerrard, 87), Torres (Babel, 61).REFEREE: Roberto Rosetti.REFEREE: Roberto Rosetti.

Copyright - Liverpool Echo

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