Three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Liverpool
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?
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.
Three talking points from Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid | La Liga
Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid fell to a 2-1 defeat against Barcelona on their first trip to Spotify Camp Nou after more than a year.
The Catalans had not won against the Merengues at home since 2018 ahead of the game but a clutch goal from Franck Kessie helped them turn around the record.
Vinicius Jr opened the scoring early in the game by forcing an error and own goal from Ronald Araujo. The hosts levelled the score in the 45th minute through Sergi Roberto, before the winner arrived in stoppage time.
The game was not without its share of controversy as Real Madrid had a goal disallowed for offside that Ancelotti felt was unfair. Madrid Universal brings you three talking points from the fourth Clasico of the season.
1. Quality of full-backs
Real Madrid have etched their names into history as one of the most deadly counter-attacking teams in world football. Their pacey transitions and shifts of play have traditionally progressed through the wing with unreal speed to catch the opponent off-guard even in a momentary lapse in concentration.
Needless to say, the full-backs have always worked in tandem with the team’s wingers to make such speedy counters possible. The glaring problem at Real Madrid currently is that their full-backs do not provide half as much as they need to.
Los Blancos’ counterattack now seemingly consists of only Vinicius Jr on the left wing making a quick transition to find Karim Benzema. With just one outlet, it is difficult for the men in white to be effective.
The story at Spotify Camp Nou was very similar. Dani Carvajal started as the right-back and had a good showing defensively. Yet, he was virtually absent in the final third and left Real Madrid’s right-wing lifeless. In ninety minutes, he managed no crosses or long balls and had just one key pass.
The story at left-back was equally, if not more abysmal. Nacho Fernandez was the candidate deployed in the position and could also not manage a single cross, long ball or key pass on the night. He was eventually substituted for Ferland Mendy but the Frenchman could not do much either.
The difference in the quality of full-backs between Barcelona and Ancelotti’s side is gaping. The Catalans blazed through the wings on the night with Ronald Araujo and Alejandro Balde who constantly got forward in attack to stretch the men in white. In response, Real Madrid had nothing.
2. A dead right-wing and lack of intensity
It is imperative for any top football team to have the resources to attack both wings, for it is the constant switching of play that triggers errors from the opposition. For a club like Real Madrid to not have such resources is criminal.
The game against Barcelona was completely predictable given that the Merengues’ right wing was nonexistent. Any attack, almost surely, had to come down Vinicius’ wing and this made Barcelona’s defensive work easier.
Dani Carvajal was barely involved in the final third against the Catalans. That, coupled with Federico Valverde’s atrocious showing as the right-winger removed one side of the field from Real Madrid’s game.
Valverde made just 27 passes in 76 minutes and failed to make a single cross on the night. Further, he recorded just one key pass and one accurate long ball in El Clasico.
When Marco Asensio came on for Los Blancos, the equation completely turned around. The winger came on as a direct replacement for Valverde and happened to score the disallowed goal that was millimetres from giving Real Madrid three points.
More importantly, the move for the aforementioned goal was completely down the right flank, a testament to the alarming situation.
3. Goodbye La Liga?
When the clock at Spotify Camp Nou struck 81 minutes, the race for La Liga seemed to be on. Real Madrid had just scored a possible winner and had cut short their deficit with Barcelona to just six points.
Ten minutes later, the scoreline read 2-1 in favour of the hosts. Their lead atop the league standings was suddenly twelve points with just 12 games to go.
History is witness that counting out Real Madrid does not fare well. However, it is difficult to surpass the supposition that the 12-point gap is too wide to bridge.
Los Blancos will continue to fight in the league, but Ancelotti will likely preserve his weapons for the UEFA Champions League where they face a bigger chance at glory.