Benzema 30' 41'
Remember the 1-3 loss to Manchester City? That, but worse, because the defending on the second and third goals was vastly worse, and Real Madrid are even better than Manchester City, and Liverpool were at home, and there was no own goal late consolation.
Liverpool were up for the game, Liverpool started well. Balotelli started, but it was much more a diamond than the expected 4-3-3, with Sterling his partner up front and Coutinho at the apex of midfield. But Liverpool's attack remained impotent, and couldn't take advantage of the side starting well. And Liverpool were eventually punished. All that good work in the first 20 minutes led to Gerrard's shot from 30 yards parried wide and a couple of corners that didn't really threaten and that's about it.
Then Cristiano Ronaldo happened.
Usually, when Liverpool concede, you can point to at least one player doing something wrong. Surprisingly, that wasn't the case there. There's wasn't much that any side could do about Real Madrid's first goal.
Maybe if Liverpool have a true midfield destroyer, the build-up doesn't happen. But Liverpool don't, and Brendan Rodgers doesn't seem to want one. And once Ronaldo and James had space to play a one-two, there was nothing that could be done. James' absolutely perfect chip over the defense just eluding Lovren's despairing dive, Ronaldo's unbelievably controlled volley with Skrtel marking as closely as possible somehow getting around both the center-back and Mignolet. It really was pure class.
Unfortunately, at that point, given Liverpool's attacking impotence and Madrid's strength, it's game over. Today's Liverpool weren't scoring unless Real's entire side suddenly succumbed to sleeping sickness. That said, the subsequent two goals were infinitely regrettable. As per usual.
Week in, week out, it's the same problem. The back four's positioning, Mignolet's weaknesses behind them, and set plays set plays set plays. In the 30th minute, Liverpool only half-cleared a corner, and were completely out of position when the ball came back in, overloaded at the back post with only Johnson, Allen, and Coutinho even somewhat close to three Real attackers, with Benzema's header perfectly placed, but seemingly an attempted pass across goal rather than a shot. In the 41st minute, even worse set play defending, Mignolet completely missing when trying to come for the cross and an easy tap-in for Benzema.
Liverpool's best two chances of the first half came after Liverpool were three goals down: Allen shooting wide from Balotelli's cut-back, Coutinho hitting the post from 30 yards out, both in the final five minutes of the half. Neither was an exceptionally good chance, but it was as close as Liverpool came. No matter how good Real Madrid are, that's as much of a problem as the paper-thin, super-soft defense.
The second half was a formality. Balotelli, again unimpressive but by far nowhere near Liverpool's most disappointing, gets thrown under the bus, more because he once again doesn't fit the system rather than playing badly, replaced by Lallana at halftime, Rodgers shifting to the striker-less formation mooted in the run-up. And Liverpool's little giants buzzed around well, pressed well, but remained about as threatening as they were in the first half, if more susceptible to Arsenal-esque overplay in the final third rather than shooting.
The final substitutions were Henderson and Coutinho replaced by Can and Markovic. Resting key players with the match gone is obviously a good idea. Liverpool have an awful lot of games in the next three weeks. Both Can and Markovic need the match practice. But Coutinho had been Liverpool's best player – "best" very much a relative term – and Henderson can run for approximately 84 hours before needing a break. Not Sterling, who's already overused? Not Gerrard, who's played every minute in the Premier League and Champions League?
That Real Madrid didn't add one, two, three more on the counter-attack, picking Liverpool off when they threw players forward is a small consolation, especially since Liverpool didn't add their own small consolation. It's not as if the defense had tons to do, especially after Ronaldo and Kroos went off, but Mignolet did make one excellent save, and no one did anything stupid. Gotta focus on the positives, yeah?
This will be news to no one, but yes, Real Madrid are better than Liverpool. A lot better. For all the praise that Ronaldo and Benzema will get, spare a thought for Isco, who was absolutely phenomenal – albeit up against the hollow shell of a human being who used to be Glen Johnson – for Modric and Kroos, who controlled the midfield when Madrid where in control, and for Real's entire back four. Yes, Liverpool aren't good in attack, but the strength of Pepe and Varane and the organization of the entire back four also had a lot to do with limiting Liverpool's attempts, especially limiting potential attempts inside the penalty box.
The result was sadly predictable, even if the process was infuriating, and featuring many of the same problems that Liverpool's had all season. Liverpool raised their game for Madrid, at least at the start of each half, and this still happens.
This is the first time that Liverpool have ever lost by three goals at Anfield in European competition and it didn't feel unfair in the slightest bit. That's where Liverpool are at the moment.
But you're not going to fix this season against Real Madrid. One swallow, not a summer, etc. You fix it by being better in attack and smarter in defense against the likes of West Ham and Aston Villa, against the likes of Hull. Who Liverpool will host on Saturday.