Ronaldo, Benzema lead Real to 3-0 win at Liverpool
LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo moved to the brink of the Champions League scoring record by setting Real Madrid on its way to a 3-0 win over Liverpool on Wednesday in the latest show of strength by the free-scoring defending champions.
Madrid handled an early onslaught by the hosts before ripping them apart in a devastating 18-minute spell at the end of the first half, sparked by Ronaldo’s sublime flicked finish for his 70th goal in the competition. He is just one goal behind Raul Gonzalez’s all-time record and one ahead of great rival Lionel Messi.
Karim Benzema grabbed Madrid’s other two goals — in the 30th and 41st minutes — to secure a third straight win for the Spanish side, which tops Group B by six points.
“We are fighting very hard to repeat our success of last season,” said Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, whose team has won its last eight matches in all competitions by scoring 35 goals. “We are playing well and have a huge desire to make that happen again.”
For Liverpool, it was a chastening night that highlighted the gulf in class between two of Europe’s grandest clubs who have been European champions 15 times between them.
It was also another miserable match for Mario Balotelli, Liverpool’s out-of-form striker who was substituted at halftime after an ineffective display. Swapping shirts with his marker, Pepe, as they walked to the dressing rooms will hardly endear the Italy international to Liverpool fans who have seen him score just one goal in 10 games since joining from AC Milan.
“It’s not something I stand for,” Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said. “If you want to do that, for me you do that at the end of the game. It’s something I’ll deal with.”
While Liverpool, on three points from three games, is locked in a fight with FC Basel and Ludogorets Razgrad for second place in the group, there is no stopping Real.
With Ronaldo spearheading the charge with 20 goals from 13 games this season, the Spanish giants again look the team to beat in the Champions League.
The Portugal star could easily have drawn level or surpassed Raul’s record, but was twice denied by Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet in the second half before being substituted to applause from home fans in the 75th minute. Almost every touch in the first half had been greeted by jeers from Liverpool supporters courtesy of his previous connections with Manchester United.
It was Real’s first win in four meetings with Liverpool — and Ronaldo ended a scoring drought at Anfield.
After riding an intense opening 20 minutes when Liverpool — backed by vociferous support — threw everything at the visitors, Real settled into a bewitching rhythm. Toni Kroos was the team’s orchestrator in central midfield and Ronaldo and Benzema provided the cutting edge.
Ronaldo’s 23rd-minute goal came out of nothing, the Portugal star passing short to James Rodriguez and then sprinting through the defense and onto a chipped through-ball to caress a finish into the corner ahead of covering defender Martin Skrtel.
Anfield, so atmospheric up until then, was silenced. And Liverpool’s intensity dropped, giving Real free rein.
Kroos curled in a cross from the left that went over Glen Johnson’s head and found Benzema at the back post. The France striker’s header looped into the far corner.
And Benzema made it 3-0 when a corner evaded everyone and landed at the chest of Pepe, who controlled the ball and prodded it across the face of goal for Benzema to turn home from inside the six-yard box.
It was the first time that Liverpool had conceded three goals in a Champions League game since the 2005 final.
On that occasion, the Reds fought back to beat AC Milan, coached at the time by Ancelotti, on a memorable night in Istanbul. There was to be no miracle comeback this time.
With Balotelli substituted for Lallana, Liverpool had the diminutive Raheem Sterling as a lone striker and had better shape in the second half.
Joe Allen went closest to a consolation, but Madrid was even more dangerous on the counterattack at the other end, with Ronaldo firing a fierce shot at Mignolet then squandering a one-on-one chance as the Belgium goalkeeper saved with his feet.
“I thought they were outstanding,” Rodgers said. “They have many players with big-game experience and quality right through the group.”