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Three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Liverpool

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Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images

Twenty days ago, Real Madrid experienced the ecstasy of the highest level at Anfield. Playing in the repeat of last season’s UEFA Champions League final, albeit in the Round of 16, Carlo Ancelotti’s men downed Liverpool by a scoreline of 5-2 to record one of the most dominant knockout stage performances.

On Wednesday, Los Blancos have the chance to complete their unfinished business. They host the English side in the second leg of the tie and will hope to rub salt onto Jurgen Klopp’s wounds by adding to the aggregate scoreline.

Ancelotti has a nearly completely fit squad at his disposal on the night with both Karim Benzema and Ferland Mendy returning to the squad from injury. David Alaba, who went off injured at Anfield, remains the only player unavailable.

Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Liverpool.

1. Start from scratch

It is natural for a team to get complacent with a 5-2 lead heading into the home leg of the UEFA Champions League tie. A three-goal lead implies that Liverpool must win by at least four goals to get through, a scenario that seems improbable if not impossible.

Yet, the situation plays right into Jurgen Klopp’s hands. The Reds have nothing to lose heading into Wednesday night’s encounter at Santiago Bernabeu. A comeback would be hailed as one of the team’s greatest nights in history, while a loss would go under the radar as a game lost before it began.

Strangely enough, the story is not unfamiliar to the Anfield-based side. The same team trailed by three goals against Barcelona in the 2018 edition of the UEFA Champions League. The world had written them off, and seemingly even their own fans did not have their back.

What Liverpool achieved at Anfield on that special night was stunning. A 4-0 rout of Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona demolished the La Liga giants in one of their most embarrassing defeats in recent history.

The game is close to won for the Merengues, but it will be critical for them to keep their feet on the ground. The objective against Liverpool must be to begin the game as if it was 0-0, for any complacency on their part could pressurize the side and orchestrate their downfall.

The Champions League is and has been the Merengues‘ favourite hunting ground. If history has taught the world anything, it is that Real Madrid know their way around knockout matches. After all, there is no dearth of hunger in the squad.

2. The right left-back?

Nacho was top-notch in the first leg (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

When Jurgen Klopp spoke to the press after his team’s hammering to Real Madrid at Anfield, he had special praise for one particular player in white. The defender, who did not start on the night but turned around the proceedings with his introduction, was Nacho Fernandez.

The Spaniard came on in the 26th minute after David Alaba was forced off with a hamstring injury. Carlo Ancelotti deployed Nacho to cover at left-back and he excelled in the position.

All of a sudden, Liverpool’s right-wing began dying down in importance. Mohamed Salah no longer got behind the defence with ease as the substitute dished out a masterclass.

In 63 minutes on the field, Nacho won two tackles, made four clearances, two headed clearances, four interceptions and six recoveries. He won four duels on the night including 100% of his aerial duels attempted.

Ancelotti has been gifted with the return of Ferland Mendy ahead of the midweek game. However, given the Frenchman’s lack of match fitness and Eduardo Camavinga’s disappointing showing at left-back against Espanyol, the case to start Nacho against Liverpool is stronger than ever.

3. The Ballon d’Or winner returns

Karim Benzema’s Ballon d’Or defence season has not gone as well as he would have wanted. A combination of injuries and inconsistent form have hit the Frenchman hard, for he no longer appears to be the same threat in front of goal.

Yet, the game at Anfield last month was one of the few occasions the Real Madrid talisman truly showed up. Benzema was fantastic on the night, scoring two goals and providing one assist en route to the Merengues‘ statement win.

The French striker was again subpar in Real Madrid’s next three games including the Clasico before missing the clash against Espanyol through injury.

Once again faced with the same opposition he last found his form against, Benzema will be desperate to find his goalscoring boots. After all, his contributions will be essential if Real Madrid are to coast through the vital weeks ahead that include two Clasicos.

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Features

Three takeaways from Real Madrid 3-2 Barcelona | La Liga

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Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images

Jude Bellingham stunned the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys when Real Madrid met Barcelona last year in La Liga with a stunning brace including a stoppage-time winner.

Last night, once again, he came up clutch to give his side all three points against the same opposition in stoppage time.

The 90 minutes at the Santiago Bernabeu were far from easy for Real Madrid, especially with Barcelona dominating parts of the game and creating good chances in the final third.

However, the dressing room was clear about their objective from the get-go, and nothing, it appeared, could make them take their eyes off the target. After a valiant 90-minute battle, the scoreboard read 3-2 in Real Madrid’s favour.

Madrid Universal brings you three talking points from Real Madrid’s emphatic El Clasico win.

Two gems shine bright

Coming off a difficult 120-minute shift against Manchester City midweek, it was always going to take a herculean effort from the Real Madrid dressing room to find a way past Barcelona.

After all, the team were far from their best from a physical standpoint, and Carlo Ancelotti’s rotations on the night reiterated the same.

While the eventual 3-2 win was possible only courtesy of a comprehensive team effort with contributions from all over the field, two players impressed in particular – Jude Bellingham and Lucas Vazquez.

The right-back was Real Madrid’s best player on the night, constantly creating pressure and threats in the Barcelona area. Playing down the right flank, he dominated Barcelona star Joao Cancelo and made the wing his own.

Vazquez won Real Madrid the penalty that helped them get back into the game after an early setback and did so with fine trickery on the edge of the area. Eventually, Barcelona’s young Pau Cubarsi was forced to make contact and bring the dynamic full-back down.

When Real Madrid went down a goal once more, Vazquez timed his run into the box with perfection to get onto the end of Vinicius Jr’s cross and slam it in the first time.

If his goal and assist were not enough to cap off a special display, it was Vazquez’s pass in the dying minutes of the game that created the opening for the team’s winning goal.

Bellingham, meanwhile, significantly stepped up from his recent lean patch and effectively dictated Real Madrid’s play in the final third. In addition to scoring the game-changing winner, he completed two key passes, 100% of his dribbles and four accurate long balls on the night.

A team with elite mentality

Elite mentality. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images)

Only Real Madrid can pull off the comebacks they have in the last week, especially given the special circumstances surrounding each game.

The clash against Pep Guardiola’s side midweek was the most gruelling 120 minutes of football Los Blancos have played all year. Despite being dominated for the most part, they came out clutch and defended valiantly to pull through on penalties.

Last night, still sore from their overtime duty on Wednesday, Real Madrid faced a stiff challenge against a relatively fresh Barcelona. The game, once again, showed why they boast of a mentality as elite as it gets.

Los Blancos went behind twice on the night, yet pulled back the deficit on both occasions to level the scores. A draw was a good enough result for Ancelotti’s men as it would give them a good lead ahead of the final six games in La Liga.

Having played the 90 minutes against Barcelona, the men in white could well have defended deep and settled for a draw. That, after all, would be the natural reaction of any weary party.

Yet, they pushed high and hard for a winner. With a draw in hand and the title in their grasp, they still gunned on for a win and were rewarded with Jude Bellingham’s clutch goal.

Is there a more mentally resilient team in the world? Probably not.

League in the bag

Having secured the critical win over Barcelona, the full-time whistle last night saw celebrations like none other.

Emotions poured out on the Real Madrid bench with players clenching their fists and pumping them into the air. The stadium chanted the chorus in unison, for they too knew what the result meant.

Three points secured against the second-placed team now take Real Madrid a staggering 11 points clear of Barcelona on the standings. Only six games remain to be played in La Liga, and the Merengues would have to lose four of them to let go of the title now.

Thus, for all practical purposes, Real Madrid are the champions of Spain. It may take a few more weeks for the accolade to be mathematically and officially theirs, but one can rely on the group to ensure that there are no slip-ups between now and the day the title is theirs.

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