Real Madrid sauntered into the knock out round of the Champions League thanks to a 1-0 win over a much-changed Liverpool side at the Bernabeu. While Madrid lacked the killer instinct in attack that has now seen them get 12 straight wins in all competitions, Karim Benzema’s first-half strike proved decisive against a Liverpool team that rarely threatened Iker Casillas’s net.
It was a strange night for the visitors, who remain on just three points in Group B, now trailing second-placed Basel on six points. With a Premier League clash with Chelsea upcoming on Saturday, Brendan Rodgers made a surprising seven changes to his lineup to take on the European champions. Captain Steven Gerrard and the one bright spark in an otherwise disappointing season to date, Raheem Sterling, began on the bench to fuel the feeling that Rodgers was waving the white flag against a team that had torn the Merseysiders apart at Anfield two weeks ago.
As it was, Liverpool enjoyed spells of encouraging possession and arguably acquitted themselves at least as well as the first-choice lineup of late. Still, they managed just one shot on target throughout the 90 minutes and there was always the feeling that, if they needed to, Real Madrid could go and get more goals. A rare off-night in front of goal from Cristiano Ronaldo certainly played its part in Liverpool not leaving the Spanish capital with a more resounding loss.
A midfield featuring Lucas Leiva, Emre can and Joe Allen kept the ball neatly early on, but there was precious little threat from an attack led by the previously outcast Fabio Borini. The greater goal threat consistently came from those in white. One of Simon Mignolet’s most impressive performances in a Liverpool shirt began with him diving at full-stretch to turn an effort from James Rodriguez wide of the post before in the 10th minute he turned over a shot from Cristiano Ronaldo following an error from Martin Skrtel.
Liverpool’s defending was again a long way short of secure, with Kolo Toure in particular causing nerves aplenty. The veteran Ivorian was caught out badly for the only goal of the game in the 27th minute. After some incisive Madrid passing, Marcelo crossed in from the left and Toure switched off to allow Benzema to sneak ahead of him and turn the ball past Mignolet from close range.
Toure recovered from another error to deny Benzema a second before halftime, while Ronaldo missed his kick in front of goal. Ronaldo’s frustration continued when shooting too close to Mignolet after the interval, before Liverpool had their first sights of goal of the contest. Alberto Moreno shot straight at Casillas, but a better opportunity was to arrive for Adam Lallana, who turned slickly in the box but dragged his left-footed effort wide of the post.
That was to be as close as Liverpool came as Madrid sleep-walked over the line to give them maximum points from four matches and almost certainly top spot in Group B.