MADRID (AFP) - Real Madrid have made a habit of saving their best for the biggest moments of the season and their 3-1 win over Liverpool in the Champions League suggested they could be ready to do it again.
Madrid rolled back the years with a performance reminiscent of their most ruthless days under Zinedine Zidane, when they powered through the knock-out stages to win three European titles in a row, or motored to 10 consecutive victories at the end of last season to win La Liga.
A pivotal eight days that pitched two quarterfinal legs against Liverpool either side of Saturday’s Clasico against Barcelona got off to the perfect start, Vinicius Junior’s double and a Toni Kroos masterclass at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium putting Madrid in sight of another Champions League semi-final.
Mohamed Salah’s away goal early in the second half, and Liverpool’s comeback from a more desperate situation against Barcelona in 2019, should serve as warnings against complacency.
But an imperious and authoritative display enhances the growing sense of a Madrid team now plugged in, its eyes narrowing again just as the trophies come into view.
"It is the character that this team has, that all the players go through difficult times but I know they have this character to turn things around,” said Zidane on Tuesday night.
"Madrid erased Liverpool in the first half, the Reds were baffled,” wrote Madrid newspaper AS on Wednesday. "It was a complete performance,” said Jorge Valdano on Spanish television.
In Spain, many wondered if Barcelona and Atletico would enjoy an advantage in the final stretch, their own early exits in the Champions League allowing them to focus fully on what has now become a neck-and-neck battle for the title.
Barca might still feel the benefits of an extra day’s rest in the Clasico this weekend, their tight victory over Real Valladolid on Monday night possibly less demanding as well than Madrid’s demolition at Valdebebas.