Liverpool hope to make 90 minutes a long time for Real Madrid – again
Richard Buxton previews Liverpool's clash against the Champions League holders at Anfield
Revenge, more than maximum points, will be in Real Madrid’s minds tomorrow evening. If Juanito believed that “90 minutes at the Bernabeu is a very long time”, his former club discovered that 93 minutes at Anfield is an eternity by comparison.
Five years ago, the current European champions trudged away from Merseyside a broken team. Already trailing by a Yossi Benayoun header from the first leg of their Champions League last-16 encounter with Liverpool, a call to arms from the Spanish capital backfired.
Daily sports newspaper Marca demanded Real channel ‘The spirit of Juanito’ – the late forward that inspired a raft of comebacks during a decade at the Bernabeu. Never ones to shy away from controversy, the paper notorious for their pro-Madrid bias also splashed the now infamous headline on its front page: ‘This Is Anfield – so what?’.
Had Rafael Benitez required a motivational tactic for his players, that declaration was the perfect message to pin on the home dressing room wall. Given how Liverpool schooled European football’s ultimate super power, already nine-time winners of the continent’s elite club competition, as they ran out comprehensive 4-0 winners on the night – 5-0 on aggregate – perhaps it was.
The next day, Marca’s denouement was far more contrite.’Total blast to Madrid’, their front page screamed; condemning the erstwhile La Liga champions as ‘farcical’ and ‘humiliated’ by Liverpool “from the first minute to the 93rd”.
Liverpool was not the nadir of los Blancos’ season – that came several weeks later in a 6-2 hammering at home to champions-elect Barcelona – but the ultimate indignation of their Champions League history; a competition they consider their belonging above all others.
Five-and-a-half years on, the roles are set to be reversed.
Two months after they were shell-shocked at Anfield, Madrid’s resurgence began. Bankrolled by a returning Florentino Perez, the second ‘Galacticos’ dynasty was formed. Over 45 years since he last graced the Santiago Bernabeu pitch as a player, Alfredo Di Stefano found himself a semi-permanent fixture as a new wave of stars, at a combined cost of £215m, were given his blessing.
That husk of a side that left Merseyside so whimperishly five years ago is but a distant memory. Securing ‘La Decima’, their long-awaited tenth European Cup, has served to heighten their staying power as well as Carlo Ancelotti’s place in the esteemed company of Bob Paisley as only the second manager to win the trophy three times.
Liverpool, meanwhile, are where Real once were; a fallen giant desperately clamouring for their glory days. While Perez reawakened Real, with Cristiano Ronaldo at its bedrock, the Reds have been guilty of floundering under various managers. Only the appointment of Brendan Rodgers steadied the trend of mediocrity but that has still brought no guarantees of consistency or longevity.
The loss of Luis Suarez, to Madrid’s arch-rivals Barcelona, has drawn parallels with Xabi Alonso’s move to the Santiago Berbabeu just five months after Real’s trouncing. Mario Balotelli’s arrival as his direct replacement paralleled Liverpool’s decision to splurge £35m on Andy Carroll in 2011 – one based on availability and affordability. Value for money has been far from forthcoming.
Second season syndrome continues to get the better of Anfield. In the Premier League era, sluggish and underwhelming campaigns have been preceded by storming second-place finishes in the previous season. ‘Plus ça change’ currently seems more appropriate than ‘make us dream’.
Hopes of a fourth consecutive clean sheet against Real tomorrow are unlikely when confronted with an unstoppable Ronaldo. The Portuguese’s assertion that this encounter will be a “different story” to 2009 already rings true; rarely have Liverpool found themselves the underdog on a European night on home soil.
Ninety plus minutes at Anfield could prove a very long time again on Wednesday night.
Where are they now – Liverpool’s class of 2009
Pepe Reina Led Spain’s World Cup celebrations a year later before bringing his nine-year spell at Liverpool to an end by joining Bayern Munich this summer, following a season-long loan at Napoli.
Alvaro Arbeloa Joined the Galactico revolution in a £3.5mi deal that summer. Another member of Spain’s triumphant squad in South Africa as well as their Euro 2012 success. Remains a regular feature under Carlo Ancelotti.
Jamie Carragher Retired in 2013 following an illustrious 16-year career at Anfield. Now a highly respected pundit for Sky Sports.
Martin Skrtel One of four surviving Liverpool players from that night. Still an ever-present in the heart of defence under Rodgers.
Fabio Aurelio The injury-prone Brazilian was released by Benitez, only to be re-signed by his successor Roy Hodgson. Left Anfield in 2012 but suffered knee ligament problems after joining Gremio and retired 11 months later, aged 33.
Steven Gerrard Scored twice against Real and assisted Fernando Torres. Now 34, Gerrard continues to influence Anfield’s fortunes despite approaches from both Los Blancos and Bayern Munich in recent years.
Xabi Alonso Often Liverpool’s pace-setter during the Benitez era, the playmaker joined Arbeloa in moving to the Bernabeu in a £30m deal in summer 2009. Won the Champions League and La Liga during a five-year spell in his homeland before joining Bayern Munich this season.
Javier Mascherano The Argentine moved to Barcelona in a £20m deal in 2010. Lifted an array of honours at the Nou Camp and appeared in his country’s World Cup final defeat to Germany. Recently signed a contract extension to stay with Barca until 2016.
Ryan Babel A frustrating figure throughout his Anfield career, the Dutch winger was offloaded to Hoffenheim in early 2011 for £8M before returning to former club Ajax, where he won the Eredivisie, in 2012. Currently plying his trade with Turkish outfit Kasımpasa SK.
Dirk Kuyt The energetic attacker remains a much-loved figure on Merseyside and scored the winning penalty in Liverpool’s 2012 League Cup triumph over Cardiff City. Now 34, Kuyt is enjoying a third season at Fenerbahce and announced his international retirement earlier this month.
Fernando Torres Scored against Real but suffered a downturn in fortunes after the 2010 World Cup. Lifted the Champions League, Europa League and FA Cup following a £50m move to Chelsea but yielded a pitiful 20 goals in 110 Premier League appearances. Currently on loan with AC Milan.
Lucas Leiva Replaced Alonso. The Brazilian’s career has since been beset by injury problems since a cruciate ligament injury during Liverpool’s League Cup quarter final tie against Chelsea in 2011. Currently struggling to stake a claim in Anfield’s new-look midfield under Brendan Rodgers.
Jay Spearing Replaced Gerrard. A product of the club’s youth academy that was tipped for greatness, Spearing’s diminutive frame saw him struggle to command a regular role in midfield despite repeated opportunities under Kenny Dalglish. Joined Bolton Wanderers in 2013.
Andrea Dossena Scorer of Liverpool’s fourth goal on the night after replacing Torres. Also netted against Manchester United four days later was the sum of his accomplishments. Left Anfield in 2010 for Napoli before joining Sunderland last season. Now 33, the Italian is currently a free agent.