A commanding performance took Liverpool through to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the third season in a row as two goals by Steven Gerrard and one each from Fernando Torres and Andrea Dossena overwhelmed Real Madrid at Anfield.
The result, Los Merengues’ biggest margin of defeat in this competition, was nothing more than Liverpool deserved as they took hold of the game from the outset. Torres opened the scoring just past the quarter-hour and Gerrard doubled the lead from the penalty spot before half-time. Gerrard scored his second and Liverpool’s third early in the second period and substitute Dossena added a late fourth, leaving Madrid to reflect on yet another campaign ending in the first knockout round. They have exited at this stage in their last five seasons now, though few have been more painful.
A lightning quick move almost unlocked the visiting defence as early as the fourth minute, Gerrard’s stunning burst of pace setting up Torres for a clever back-heel that created space for a side-footed shot which Iker Casillas’ right foot deflected to safety. From the resulting corner Javier Mascherano tried his luck with a dipping volley and once again the Madrid goalkeeper produced a tremendous stop to tip it on to the crossbar and over.
The home side’s mobility was proving too much for their visitors to handle and it came as little surprise when Liverpool opened the scoring in the 16th minute. Torres, chasing Jamie Carragher’s long ball forward, dispossessed Pepe on the edge of the penalty area before releasing Dirk Kuyt on the right and the Dutchman squared for the former Club Atlético de Madrid striker to double Liverpool’s aggregate lead.
There was no let-up, Casillas blocking Gerrard’s volley after a chipped cross by the on-song Torres, who was showing no sign of the ankle injury that had kept him out since the first leg. Liverpool’s persistence paid off again in the 28th minute when Gabriel Heinze was adjudged to have handled Álvaro Arbeloa’s header and Gerrard sent Casillas the wrong way with the penalty. Wesley Sneijder almost replied instantly with a fizzing free-kick, but Pepe Reina reacted sharply as he palmed it around his right-hand post, and denied the Dutch international again from closer range before half-time.
Liverpool’s third, less than two minutes into the second half, epitomised their fluidity and further exposed Madrid’s defensive vulnerabilities. Fábio Aurélio released Ryan Babel down the left and the Dutchman sidestepped Sergio Ramos to deliver a clipped cross that was met by an exquisite half-volley from Gerrard, leaving Casillas with no chance. Madrid, stung into action by the ever-widening margin between the sides, composed themselves yet still could not make any inroads through a home defence as disciplined as their attack was inspired.
Though the result had long since been assured, full-back Dossena rubbed salt into Madrid’s deepening wounds when he converted Mascherano’s cross for his first Liverpool goal in the 88th minute. On this form, few opponents will relish being paired with the five-time European champions in the draw for the quarter-finals on 20 March.