After such a dominating win, and with too many pedestrian performances seemingly damning a title challenge, it begs the question.
I wish I had a definitive answer for you, but I do have a list of theories.
• It’s partly because Real’s defense was sub-par (Cannavaro will have nightmares), and partly because there was space to operate as Real needed to score, but Liverpool rarely gets that freedom against smaller clubs content with a 0-0 draw. This isn’t the first time Liverpool’s coming storming out of the box – they’re often at their strongest early on, despite the number of late goals. But Real had to take chances, more chances than 90% of the Premier League is willing to take against Liverpool, and they paid for it.
• Liverpool doesn’t play Real Madrid every week. It’s human nature for the players to be more pumped up for a European night against the most decorated team in the competition with 45,000 in Anfield baying for blood. As a fan, it’s disappointing, but it’s a fact of sports. Plus, Liverpool’s had a habit of playing to the level of the opposition this season, more often than not to the team’s detriment.
• Relatedly, Liverpool under Benitez has always been better in European competition and cup ties. Tactics are that much more important at the highest level of competition, and Benitez’s are perfectly suited for the CL. I still can’t explain how a team that lost to relegation-bound Crystal Palace won the Champions League in 2005, but they did.
• Torres and Gerrard were both at top gear. Liverpool’s been less reliant on Torres and Gerrard (or before the arrival of the Spaniard, just Gerrard) than in seasons past – evidenced by the victory over United, among other matches – but, and obviously given their respective talent, the two are still crucial, and make a huge difference to this team’s fortunes. Both were utterly chomping at the bit – Torres especially, who missed out on playing his old club earlier in the competition and had a tough time out in the last leg. He wasn’t going to let a sore ankle hinder anything, and he set the tone early on with that superlative turn that left the 2006 World Player of the Year for dead. When those two play like that, the sky’s the limit.
• As Alonso said in the post-game ITV interview, that’s football. Sometimes, there are nights where things just go your way. Liverpool was dominant, but it still could have been different if Torres is whistled for a foul in the build to the first goal (which, despite my biases, I still think was a good no-call) and Heinze isn't whistled for handball (the wrong call) in the 28th. Although it did seem a matter of time, even with Casillas awesome.
And at the same time, Real rarely looked like scoring, but there were a couple of moments where they could have pulled something from nothing – Reina’s save on Sneidjer’s outstanding free kick in the 30th, Raul skying the ball over instead of stooping for a header the 50th, and Skrtel’s excellent block of Ramos’ cross, which thankfully went straight into Reina’s arms, in the 57th. It wouldn't have been the first time that the opposition's scored an undeserved goal at Anfield.
That is football. But that’s not saying that the performance can’t be replicated on Saturday.