at Oct 22, 2014 9:13:44 AM
5 YEARS THEN AND NOW: Liverpool VS Real Madrid
The visit of Real Madrid to Anfield today comes with memories, of course, but this is a rematch in name only. The Real Madrid that will play on Merseyside tonight is a very different club than the one Liverpool met in 2009.
Real's reaction to the humiliation of a 5-0 aggregate defeat a few months later was to sign Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Karim Benzema as Florentino Perez returned to the president's office and heralded a second age of the Galacticos.
Jose Mourinho would follow a year later as manager, the Spanish title the season after that and then, after 12 agonising years, la decima, the 10th European Cup that Real had yearned for and Perez had spent so much hoping to acquire.
They will return to Anfield as the European champions, as the most glamorous club in the world, as a bona fide superpower, and seemingly destined to occupy that title for eternity.
Liverpool's journey has been very different. They lost their Champions League status before Christmas 2009 and did not regain it until this summer.
Europe is as integral to Liverpool's identity as it is to Real Madrid's; with a combined 15 wins, these two sides, along with AC Milan, are defined by the European Cup more than anything else.
Football being as it is, the temptation is to marvel at how much work Liverpool have to do before they are capable, once more, of considering themselves Real's peers. It is tempting to assert that perhaps Brendan Rodgers, the man who has restored them to the elite, is under pressure because he has not yet been able to build on the rich promise of the past season and to suggest the club's failure to get beyond the group stage -- a very real possibility -- would be simply unacceptable.
The problem is, to do so would ignore the realities of where Liverpool have been in the past five years -- some very dark places, indeed.
Now Liverpool are back in the Champions League. They are, in that sense, a Champions League club. But they are not yet a Champions League Club, one of those teams -- such as Real or Chelsea or Barcelona or Bayern Munich -- that is there every year, that is set up to cope with its unique demands, that can be expected to thrive and that can sign the very best players in the world because it is guaranteed to be in the competition all players desire. The recovery process is not yet complete.
Real return to Anfield to find a club still recovering from the era of Hicks and Gillett. The wounds have healed, but Liverpool are not yet what they were -- competing to win the Champions League with Europe's best. It will take some time yet. That is worth remembering when noting how far they have fallen.
May God help us tonight and forever more...