Liverpool vice-captain Jordan Henderson admits the lesson they were taught by Real Madrid shows just how much they have to improve to compete with Europe’s elite.
A 3-0 defeat – with all the goals coming in an 18-minute first-half spell after the visitors had weathered the early storm – hardly told the full story. The defending champions, with one eye on Saturday’s El Clasico at home to Barcelona, took their foot off the gas after the break which did Liverpool a favour but still could have added to their tally.
“This Real Madrid team is top class with the best players in the world but that’s who you want to be playing against and testing yourself, always trying to improve ourselves as a team,” said the England midfielder.
“That’s where we want to get to – to be a top team like Madrid playing at the highest level and I think we can do that.
“The first 20 minutes I felt as though we had a right good go and got in behind them a couple of times. We had a couple of half-chances to get a goal and then you never know but we just need to be a bit more ruthless in the final third.
“When you are on top you need to put your chances away. Hopefully we can keep improving and work on the things we didn’t do quite so well.”
Cristiano Ronaldo’s sublime finish – his first goal at Anfield and Real’s first against Liverpool in their fourth meeting – kicked things off with Karim Benzema benefiting from the Reds’ aerial vulnerability to score a header and then convert from close range at a corner.
“For me, Ronaldo is the best player in the world. Big players in big games do big things,” added Henderson. “For the first goal it was an outstanding finish. From then on we struggled to really get going again until the second half, when we increased it and were a little bit better.
“We were playing for a bit of pride. We knew if we got a goal we could try to get back in the game.”
Despite the defeat Liverpool remain third in Group B as Ludogorets’ win over Basel means all the three teams who have lost to Real so far are level on three points. Brendan Rodgers’ side now have to go to the Bernabeu in a fortnight where they will face an even tougher task although Henderson insists they should not be written off in the return fixture.
“We always believe we can get a result, no matter who we play,” he said. “We just need to concentrate on winning our games. We’ve got Madrid away next and we need to go there and hopefully get something.
“After that we then just have to win our games.”
Much of the post-match comment centred on misfiring striker Mario Balotelli – who was replaced at the break – swapping shirts with Real defender Pepe as they walked down the tunnel at half-time. It was not a topic for conversation among the squad though.
“It hasn’t been discussed in the dressing room,” said Henderson. “I don’t think anyone knew he had even done it. It’s certainly the first I’ve heard of it.”
Fellow midfielder Joe Allen felt they could take some positives from their second half display, despite Real playing at probably 70 per cent.
“It was very difficult. We are playing the reigning champions and they certainly proved why they are that,” said the Wales international.
“The first goal from Ronaldo was clinical and it almost came out of nowhere. Then they punish you on the counter-attack when we were trying to get back in the game and then they scored again and it made it almost impossible to.
“There are plenty of aspects we need to work on but I think to have been three down at half-time the way we came out in the second half we still threw everything at them and everyone gave 100 per cent and in that respect I think everyone can be proud of themselves.
“We will still give everything to progress. We will look forward to the return fixture at the Bernabeu and let’s see what happens.”