Two of the most successful teams in the competition lock horns on Tuesday at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium in the Champions League’s Quarter Finals. It would be an enormous game for both clubs as the Champions League is the only front left that offers realistic hope of silverware. Both teams would be on the top of their games as they look to salvage something from the season.
The Season So Far
Both the teams won their respective leagues last season but have not been able to replicate their performances this season. The primary reason for this may be that both their seasons have been laden with injuries to important first-team players. None of the two managers has had their full first team fit for a fixture for the majority of the season.
Liverpool have not maintained their clinical level of performances as from the past couple of seasons and have at times struggled. The Reds have struggled at home in recent months and now are looking to manage a string of good results to enter the Top 4. They took a big step towards their goal this weekend by demolishing Arsenal at the Emirates. It becomes ever so important for them to win the Champions League because their chances of reaching the Top 4 become bleak with every passing game. Failure to qualify for the elite competition could have huge implications.
Los Blancos, on the contrary, have failed to capitalize in the league this season and have dropped points against small teams who they are expected to put away comfortably. But owing to Atleti’s recent slipups, they have to keep an eye on the Liga table as they are now third and only 3 points behind the leaders. It is a crucial week for Madrid as they have the two legs of the Champions League either side of the El Clasico, which might as well decide the La Liga title race.
Both Sergio Ramos and Virgil Van Dijk are still out injured and are set to miss the all-important clash. Liverpool still does not have their other first-choice centre-backs, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip fit. Liverpool will also be missing club captain Jordan Henderson who has been a lynchpin in their midfield. This means Jurgen Klopp would have to take critical calls as to starts in the heart of the defence coming Tuesday. It will also be interesting to see who starts up front for Reds. Will Firmino continue to keep his place in the eleven, or will he be replaced by the in-form Portuguese Diogo Jota.
As for Madrid, a certain Eden Hazard was spotted training but has and will not be included in the matchday squad until fully fit as was made clear by Zidane in his recent interview. Madrid will also be missing Dani Carvajal at right-back which means that either the versatile Lucas Vasquez or Alvaro Odriozola have to fill up for him. Which two players does Zidane chooses to partner alongside their talisman Benzema remains to be seen, or he may just surprise us all and play a 4 man diamond with either Valverde or Isco featuring alongside the trio of Modric-Kroos-Casemiro.
What to Expect?
This will be the first meeting between the teams since the 2018 final so emotions are expected to run high and both teams would be etching to come out on top. Though Los Merengues have had an upper hand in the past three meetings, but Liverpool can boast of winning the only previous knockout tie between the two sides. So it is expected to be an equally poised game as both teams have their problems and neither of them are as invincible in the competition as they were a few seasons ago.
Zidane’s men would be determined for a win at home before their trip to Merseyside next week. Though Liverpool have not been firing at home this season yet, Madrid would be vary about their capabilities at Anfield. For Madrid to succeed, they will have to cope with the threat down the wings and hope that their midfield can regulate the play to provide efficient service to Benzema- their prime source of goals. Only then can they expect to go to the second leg with an advantage.
Liverpool are expected to play their attacking brand on football and expect to come away with at least a draw. Klopp is no stranger to Madrid’s struggles without Ramos and would be looking to exploit it as far as possible. To further boost their confidence, the Reds have been in good form on the road and would love to take a lead back to England for the return leg. Klopp would be hoping that his front three are on song and that there are no defensive errors which could cost them immensely.
It will be a very interesting encounter and I see it being a very closely contested tie which Real Madrid will edge 3-2 in added extra time. However, in such a game of extremely fine margins, the pendulum could swing either way and we could even possibly see a penalty shootout for the first time since the 2016 UCL final
. In the end, it will come down to the fact that which of the two managers can get their tactics spot on and which side wants it more. So can Madrid manage to go through without Ramos or will Liverpool get their revenge remains to be seen….