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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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Goals, energy, leadership: Three things Bellingham can offer to Real Madrid



Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

Real Madrid have been notoriously heavy spenders in the summer transfer market in the past but have not spent an awful lot over the last few seasons due to financial restrictions and their team finding its peak at the right time.

Real Madrid did shell out close to €100 million for Aurelien Tchouameni last year, and got Eduardo Camavinga in the summer of 2021 for around €400 million, too.

It does seem like they have a huge summer planned ahead of them, though. The club plans to splash some cash on multiple positions, including centre-forward, right-wing, central midfield, and across the defence.

Some targets are laid out for these positions, with Kylian Mbappe naturally being on the list.

However, one definite target for Madrid that’s been well-established already is Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham. His price tag is set at around €100-140 million, and Los Blancos are among the teams leading the race for his signature, alongside Manchester City and Liverpool.

The Englishman has an obviously high ceiling and is already among the best players in his position in Europe. Moreover, he adds depth across various skillsets and attributes that Real Madrid currently lack or will lack as the clock marches on.

Madrid Universal explores three different things Bellingham can bring to the table for an already talented Galacticos side.

Goals from midfield

Despite not playing an advanced role, Bellingham is a rather experienced poacher in the box. This comes with his thorough understanding of offensive routines, and timing his runs to perfection in the box.

Being 6’1″ and physically gifted, the teenager can attack crosses and passes into the box with ease. He boasts of a rather impressive leap as well, which was more than visible during the World Cup, when he opened the scoring against Iran.

The English midfielder has scored four goals in the league for Dortmund, and has accumulated an xG of 5.25 across the season. That is nearly two more than Madrid’s highest scoring midfielder – Luka Modric.

Currently, Madrid’s goals are rather lopsidedly dependent on the forward line, with Toni Kroos and Modric just chipping in with a combined six goals in the league out of a possible 51.

While both players, and Camavinga, are adept at shooting from range, neither quite provide the box threat or the third-man runs Madrid are currently craving for.

Goal machine. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Once Karim Benzema or Vinicius Jr are boxed out of the game, Carlo Ancelotti’s side struggle with ideas, and are often stuck in a pattern of crossing and hoping for the best.

And even with that, Bellingham could prove to be an excellent solution to their problems, coming up with late runs into the box and attacking crosses and loose balls.

Youthful energy

Far too many times this season, Ancelotti has been criticised for using Modric and Kroos in the same midfield. Especially when their bench holds the likes of Camavinga, Dani Ceballos, and sometimes even Federico Valverde.

However, it is clear that these players have been delegated to certain roles in midfield. Camavinga and Tchouameni shuffle as pivot options, while Ceballos is called upon add more creativity in the centre of the park.

Bellingham, while far from the best ball retainer, certainly has energy and lungs for days. He can run from box to box, receive and turn in a crowded midfield, and chase the ball till the 90.

While they have Valverde in a similar mould, the Uruguayan has been tasked with running the right-wing more often than not, at least under Ancelotti. It will be interesting to see how another coach would utilise both players to their respective strengths should the transfer go through.

Long-term captaincy candidate

At 19, Bellingham has already shown signs of becoming a captain for any side he plays for, for years to come. He has donned the armband for Dortmund several times this season already, and was first awarded with it in October, becoming the youngest captain in Bundesliga history.

Captain material. (Photo by INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images)

Currently, he holds the position of third captain for Dortmund, behind Marco Reus and Mats Hummels, but has already held the armband multiple times, including twice in the UEFA Champions League.

While Madrid have a fair few leaders in their ranks, including and not limited to the likes of Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, and David Alaba, Bellingham has clearly proved that he is not only capable of taking on a leadership role, but also spearheading any side for years to come.

If all works out, the price tag of €120+ million will soon start to pale in comparison to the attributes he brings to the table alongside his unbelievably high ceiling and longevity.

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