Life without Luis Suarez has been difficult for Brendan Rodgers, and his Liverpool side has struggled to rediscover the form that left Anfield buzzing last season. Energetic starts against both Manchester clubs, Spurs and Arsenal saw the Reds punish their opponents with pace, power, technical ability and ruthless finishing, but an in-form Real Madrid side, presented a stern challenge.
Shockingly, Rodgers stuck to his preferred attack-minded style, which ultimately played into the hands of Carlo Ancelotti's side; arguably the best counter-attacking team in world football. The logical, and pragmatic set up for Liverpool would be to replicate last year's approach in the Merseyside derby at Anfield - press high in the opening half, and remain compact in the second before blitzing the opposition on the counter attack. Surely, Real is a class above Everton - also Balotelli doesn't offer Suarez's work-rate, and it was one of the few pieces of evidence proving that Philippe Coutinho appears much better in a deeper midfield trio - but Liverpool's attempt to play open, attacking football backfired.
Liverpool's pressing was noticeable in the opening 20 minutes as Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, and Cristiano Ronaldo were constantly swarmed, while Raheem Sterling applied pressure to Pepe and Raphael Varane. However, a sole Steven Gerrard effort from distance was the only legitimate chance created by the home side. Sterling's pace posed several threats to the Madrid backline, but Mario Balotelli's poor service, lack of support, and poor decision-making halted Liverpool's quick surges into the final third. Daniel Sturridge's pace and willingness to run the channels was missed throughout, as Coutinho was ineffective, and apart from a few decent deliveries into the box, Balotelli was underwhelming.
Madrid, however, were competent without the ball. The open nature of the match meant they were susceptible to counter-attacks, but Liverpool's inability to play a final ball meant Ancelotti's backline faced minimal issues. Isco and James Rodriguez negated Alberto Moreno and Glen Johnson's attacking threat in wide areas, Kroos harried Jordan Henderson when he dropped deeper to help push his side forward, and Karim Benzema tirelessly closed down Gerrard's passing lanes.
With Liverpool's energy levels decreasing by the passing minute, Madrid's midfield dynamos began to stamp their authority on the match. Liverpool's front three became disinterested in pressing, and the likes of Joe Allen and Henderson were unable to get close to Kroos and Modric - the former maintained a 98 per-cent pass completion rate while the latter achieved 94 per-cent - who controlled the tempo of the match from deep areas with ease. Equally, Liverpool's pressing was decreasing, and the front three were disconnected when Real retained the ball, thus forcing Rodgers to instruct Coutinho and Sterling to drop deeper on the flanks as the half progressed, as Isco, Ronaldo and Marcelo continuously overloaded the left flank.
Madrid's opener struck Liverpool by surprise, but it came at a period where their dominance was becoming evident. Ronaldo simply played a pass to James, and ran directly into space behind Gerrard and across Martin Skrtel, as a full-stretched Simon Mignolet couldn't stop the 29-year-old's delightful half-volley finish. Subsequently, Coutinho's inability to clear his lines saw Benzema drift behind Glen Johnson and expertly nodded Kroos' inch perfect ball to double the away side's lead. Liverpool's set-piece deficiencies were exploited for Madrid's third goal, and Real had killed the game at half-time.
More about Real's 3-0 win
More about Real's 3-0 win
Rodgers' decision to remove Balotelli for Adam Lallana led to an improved performance from the away side, as Lallana weaved into pockets of space to link play with his teammates, but the same issues persisted. Liverpool broke well but lacked the quality and a final ball in dangerous areas, while poor finishing and a few Mignolet saves prevented the European champions from increasing their lead.
Real's performance displayed the gulf in class between the two sides, but Rodgers' tactical naivety saw Ancelotti's men to cruise to a straightforward victory. Liverpool conceded too much space in midfield, and Rodgers' reluctance to stray away from an open game against the Spanish giants was bizarre. Once praised for his tactical flexibility and acumen, as of late, Rodgers' narrow-minded approaches against top-sides has contributed to Liverpool's downfall.