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Three talking points ahead of Liverpool vs Real Madrid | UEFA Champions League RO16



Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images

The UEFA Champions League nights are celebrated and perceived differently in Madrid. For any normal club, the prestigious competition brings with it an aura of nerves. Even the best players in the world feel the pressure while stepping onto the field with the iconic anthem in the stands.

And then, there is Real Madrid. The record UCL winners enter the competition year after year breaking no sweat, confident as ever. As Jurgen Klopp said in his pre-match press conference, ahead of the contest at Anfield, the Merengues do not even have to play their best football to win.

The Merengues have a good record against Liverpool in recent years and have not lost to them in their last six meetings. They have scored four goals in their last three appearances at Anfield and did not concede a goal on all occasions.

A win on Tuesday would go a long way in securing a berth in the quarterfinals, given that the home leg is still to come. Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of the re-run of the last season’s UCL final.

1. The first ring of fire

Real Madrid fight on multiple fronts every year, but it is rightly said that their season only truly begins when their first UEFA Champions League game kicks off.

The men in white have owned the European competitions in recent years. The quality of the team is one factor leading to their consistent success, but the other undeniable reason is the sheer importance given to the trophy by the management.

The Champions League is Real Madrid’s priority, and there is never a lack of belief in the squad. Last season’s run in the event is a testament to the same, as Los Blancos pulled off sensational comebacks over PSG, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Liverpool on their way to glory.

This season is no different, and Tuesday’s clash will be the defending champions’ first of four ties on their way to anticipated glory.

Facing last year’s co-finalists in the Round of 16 would usually be a daunting proposition. However, Liverpool’s poor form this term only improves the confidence of Carlo Ancelotti’s men and sets up a favourable fixture.

The Merengues may not be in their best moment, but the Champions League never fails to awaken the beast inside. As Real Madrid return to European football for the first time after the World Cup, one can expect to see the well-oiled machine return to its imperial best at Anfield.

2. A wounded midfield

No Kroos and Tchouameni for Real Madrid (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)

While the mentality is not a problem for Ancelotti’s side, they do have some big absentees for their trip to England that seed dilemma in the manager’s mind.

Both Toni Kroos and Aurelien Tchouameni have not recovered in time to board the flight to Liverpool and will miss the clash on Tuesday. Both players are very close to their return but have been excluded presumably to avoid any risks.

With two of his key starting players absent in the middle of the park, Ancelotti has serious issues to ponder. After all, it is often said that the midfield can make or break games, especially in Europe.

The pivot position is one that the Italian tactician need not stress over, for Eduardo Camavinga has proven to be more than capable of handling responsibilities. The Frenchman will replace Tchouameni as the defensive midfielder with Luka Modric almost certainly taking the second spot.

The dilemma on the night will be related to the third midfielder. A possible option could be to deploy Federico Valverde in his natural position in the middle of the park, replacing Toni Kroos. In such as setup, Marco Asensio and Rodrygo become serious targets to join Vinicius and Karim Benzema in the attack.

The second, and most probable option, appears to be the inclusion of Dani Ceballos. The Spanish ace could man the advanced midfield, with Valverde pushed to the right wing where he has flourished recently.

3. Big game, big player

The biggest news ahead of Real Madrid’s trip to Anfield is the return of Karim Benzema. The French striker was missing for the team’s clash against Osasuna at the weekend, having been rested with this very fixture in mind.

When one hears the name of the Champions League, it is almost impossible to not think of Benzema. The veteran has enjoyed hunting in Europe for years now, but his run last season made a mockery of the elite event.

When Real Madrid found themselves drowning, Benzema came to their rescue in unimaginable ways with consistency. He scored a hat-trick against PSG in the Round of 16 to pioneer a comeback before repeating the feat at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea.

In the semifinal that ensued against Manchester City, Benzema scored four times in two legs including the goal that kick-started their unreal comeback.

The 2022-23 season has not been as kind to the Ballon d’Or winner. In four UCL appearances so far, the 35-year-old is yet to open his tally. Yet, with the big games arriving, it is imminent that the striker will put on his goalscoring shoes and it could well begin at Anfield.

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Three questions and three answers from Mallorca 0-1 Real Madrid



Photo by JAIME REINA/AFP via Getty Images

Real Madrid scraped past Mallorca to secure three points on Saturday at Son Moix in what was a hard-fought game from start to finish.

Despite fielding a rotated squad, Los Blancos boasted of the momentum for large parts of the game and should have extended their lead to two or three goals with ease.

In the end, however, only a spectacular strike from Aurelien Tchouameni separated the two teams and Real Madrid maintained their lead in La Liga for the business end of the season.

More importantly, the Merengues retain the momentum on their side ahead of a do-or-die clash against Pep Guardiola’s men.

Madrid Universal brings you three questions and three answers from Mallorca 0-1 Real Madrid.

Three Answers

Ancelotti was not afraid of rotations

If Carlo Ancelotti’s pre-game press conference was anything to go by, it did not appear likely that the manager would look to make big changes for the clash against Mallorca. After all, he described it as a final and spoke at length about the importance of a win at Son Moix.

As it turns out, Ancelotti did not hesitate to shuffle his deck for the league game ahead of the second leg against Manchester City. In fact, almost his entire lineup on the night featured rotations.

Nacho Fernandez came into the lineup to partner with Antonio Rudiger at centre-back. While Mendy continued as a starter, Dani Carvajal was given a day off with Lucas Vazquez taking his place.

Aurelien Tchouameni unsurprisingly started on the night given his impending suspension for the Manchester City clash, but Toni Kroos was replaced by Luka Modric in midfield. Jude Bellingham and Federico Valverde, meanwhile, kept their places in the lineup.

Both Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo were rested in attack, and the coach deployed Joselu and Brahim Diaz in their place.

Fringe players can impress too

While none of the players who played from the opening whistle last night can be aptly called ‘fringe’, it was always an interesting opportunity to see how the backup players utilised their chance to shine.

Defensively, Nacho and Vazquez were solid as they not only held the fort with resilience but also contributed efficiently in terms of distribution and pushing forward.

Some changes worked, some did not. (Photo by JAIME REINA/AFP via Getty Images)

Luka Modric was also sensational on the evening, and rightly earned a standing ovation from Son Moix in what could be his final appearance at the venue. The Croatian star recorded three key passes created one big chance and clocked over 110 passes on the night.

Brahim and Joselu, however, were not close to as influential as one would have hoped. The duo grew into the game late in the second half, but Diaz was underwhelming in the buildup and missed a golden chance to score while the striker was abysmal in the box.

Real Madrid will head into El Clasico with their lead intact

Real Madrid’s next clash in La Liga is against arch-rivals and second-placed team Barcelona in what will be a massive game from the title race perspective.

Los Blancos had an eight-point cushion ahead of kickoff, but with the Clasico ahead, all focus was on extending the same to eleven provisionally.

After all, a slip-up against Mallorca would potentially reduce the team’s lead to five points and give Barcelona a chance to cut it to two points next weekend.

As it stands, however, Real Madrid got the job done against Javier Aguirre’s men and head into Clasico with their dominant eight-point lead intact. Needless to say, it comes as a relief ahead of a daunting clash.

Three Questions

How much will Los Blancos miss Aurelien Tchouameni midweek?

Having failed to secure an advantage in the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid have everything to fight for at the Etihad Stadium midweek.

To come out on top at the opposition’s fortress will be far from easy, more so when one considers that Los Blancos will be without Aurelien Tchouameni on the night.

The Frenchman’s early booking against Pep Guardiola’s side saw him guarantee his absence for the decisive reverse fixture. Considering that he was the manager’s top choice to partner Antonio Rudiger in defence, his absence brings Ancelotti a dilemma.

Tchouameni’s masterclass against Mallorca which not only included a stunning winner but also showcased his mastery in possession, calm defensive presence and expert distribution does not help the manager’s cause.

Real Madrid have not lost a single game this season when the Frenchman has started, and their only two losses of the season came when he was unavailable as a starter. Needless to say, Ancelotti has a big void to fill in the team come Wednesday.

Should Real Madrid be worried over Jude Bellingham?

Jude Bellingham’s performance against Manchester City was not half as bad as propagated by the media. Yet, the player has only himself to blame for the same for he set the bar very high with his phenomenal start to the season.

Not firing on all cylinders. (Photo by JAIME REINA/AFP via Getty Images)

Last night, the English phenom started once more for Los Blancos and dished out another decent performance. However, there is a feeling that he is missing the presence in the box that he had in the first half of the season.

Ahead of what is their biggest game of the season, Ancelotti would have hoped for his star man to deliver a statement performance.

His inability to hit the same peaks, however, could become a headache for the coach, especially with quality options like Brahim Diaz also vying for a spot in the lineup.

Is Eder Militao really ready?

There is a significant discussion going around in Madrid over Ancelotti’s backing of Eder Militao to start against Manchester City midweek. In fact, the manager did not deny the possibility of speaking in a recent press conference.

The equation, in that sense, does not add up, for Militao does not appear to be fit enough to start in a game of such proportions. Last night against Mallorca as well, Ancelotti brought the Brazilian on in stoppage time, and there is no possible way he will start the team’s next game.

Heading into the clash against Manchester City, Ancelotti’s best hope, thus, would be to rely on Nacho in defence. Any claim of using Militao in the position would appear to be nothing but mere games of the mind.

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