Real Madrid surprised many (including me) with a stunning 3-1 win over Liverpool in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals, taking a big step forward into securing progression into the semi-finals. However, the job is not done yet.
Liverpool at Anfield is a different proposition altogether. Jurgen Klopp’s side were able to end their horrible record at home with a win at the weekend & regained much-needed confidence. Zinedine Zidane must rally his troops to repeat the first leg’s heroics at Anfield – which includes being defensively robust and decisive in finishing chances – for Madrid to comfortably move into the last-4 of the UCL.
Liverpool Likely XI
Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Kabak, Philips, Robertson, Fabinho, Thiago, Wijnaldum, Mane, Salah, Firmino
Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez & Joel Matip remain Liverpool’s long-term injury absentees – while Jordan Henderson is also out.
Real Madrid Likely XI
Courtois, Odriozola, Militao, Nacho, Mendy, Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Asensio, Vinicius, Benzema
Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal & Raphael Varane are still out of action. Lucas Vazquez is also set to miss it after being ruled out for the rest of the season.
Liverpool vs Real Madrid Preview
In the past few years, Spanish teams have had polarizing records at Anfield. Barcelona were completely embarrassed in 2019, while Atletico Madrid outclassed Liverpool last year. Real will be aiming to replicate their fellow neighbour’s effort.
While Liverpool’s recent record at Anfield isn’t the best, the win against Aston Villa should act as a big confidence booster. In the hunt of pulling off another special European comeback, Klopp’s men are guaranteed to be brimming with hunger & determination. It’s safe to say that Zidane requires another tactical masterclass to survive an onslaught. His side needs to be as resilient as they were in the last game & put in another sturdy performance.
The biggest obstacle for Los Blancos will be maintaining rhythm & control in midfield. If they lose the midfield battle, that’ll be costly. Casemiro should be tasked to protect his defence again and needs to be inch-perfect with his crunching challenges to stop Liverpool’s flow in the key areas. Luka Modric must close down spaces for LFC’s players & move the ball forward smartly to help with the transitions.
Toni Kroos should operate as Madrid’s Rolls-Royce again, spraying forward perfect passes to aid his fowrards on counter-attacks and get his set-pieces perfect to destabilize Liverpool’s shape. Marco Asensio & Vinicius Jr will both be expected to help out with defensive duties to tighten things up.
The two wingers have to be agile & ruthless when going forward. Vinicius aims to torment Trent Alexander-Arnold with his tricky forward runs again, but he must be similarly decisive with his finishing as last time to make the difference again. Asensio also remains the unpredictable clog in the attack, sneaking into all the right areas to trouble Liverpool’s defence.
Karim Benzema’s the leader in the attack for Los Blancos and he’ll look to torment the inexperienced centre-backs with his clever movement & link-up play. He’ll also want to get into more promising scoring areas to get that key away goal & doesn’t really need many chances to score.
They might be not firing on all cylinders right now, yet Madrid has to be wary of the threat Liverpool’s attack line possesses. Mo Salah is going to play this with extra motivation with revenge on his mind & giving him free space is calling for trouble. Roberto Firmino is another who can cause a lot of damage in the tight spaces around the final third, while Sadio Mane has enough quality to run riot in the attack.
3/4th of Madrid’s defence are second-choice options right now, but that can’t be used as an excuse. Nacho Fernandez must be at his aggressive, physical best to bully the LFC attackers – while Eder Militao will be asked to come up with last-ditch clutch challenges to shove away danger.
Alvaro Odriozola is often mocked by own fans because of his defensive frailties. He has the perfect chance to shut his doubters with a mature performance at Anfield and he’ll have to work extra hard to keep both Andrew Robertson & Sadio Mane quiet. Similarly, Ferland Mendy needs to work his socks off to keep up with the menacing Salah.
Even if Madrid are defensively flawless, Liverpool are guaranteed to have many shots on goal as they’ll go with an all-out attack style to overturn the deficit. This means Thibaut Courtois must turn into Superman to save his side from disaster. He’s played at Anfield before with Chelsea, but the reliable keeper will be required to bring his sharpest reflexes to make clutch saves.
Don’t be surprised if this game ends with Liverpool dominating over 70% of possession. Madrid have a two-goal lead, they’re confident of their defensive ability & will almost definitely sit back. However, Los Blancos have to be at their ruthless best in counter-attacks to get an early goal or two to finish the tie quickly – because the more they drag – the more it could encourage the hosts into producing another Anfield special & ending their UCL dreams.
Liverpool should put in a much better performance, but I still don’t think they can get the job done. I’m going for a 2-1 win for the Reds, allowing Madrid to progress with a slender win across the two legs.