After a convincing 5-2 comeback victory in the first leg put them on the verge of destroying their visitors’ UEFA Champions League (UCL) aspirations for a third consecutive season, Real Madrid welcomes Liverpool to the Santiago Bernabéu. In their last seven matches (D1), which have included the UCL final last season, which gave the Spanish giants their record-extending 14th European Cup/UCL triumph, Madrid has won six times.
But, after that massive victory at Anfield, Carlo Ancelotti’s team has played unusually, with their weekend 3-1 victory over Espanyol serving as their lone victory in the four games that followed (D2, L1). Despite their current form, Real Madrid has only failed to advance to the next stage twice out of the 37 UEFA competition matches in which they won the first leg away from home.
The mission at hand isn’t entirely alien to the Merseysiders, but it would take a mammoth Liverpool effort to sabotage Madrid’s 300th UCL game (the first club to reach the milestone). Liverpool defeated Madrid’s bitter rival Barcelona to win their sixth European Cup/UCL in 2018–19, making them one of just four teams to accomplish so. That illustrious night, however, took place at Anfield.
The Reds must perform similarly to their second-leg performance in the 2008–09 UCL round of 16, when they handed Madrid its still-heaviest UCL defeat with a 4-0 victory. The worst possible pregame for manager Jürgen Klopp is a 1-0 loss to Premier League underachievers Bournemouth, and Klopp’s history with Carlo Ancelotti doesn’t help either (W3, D3, L6).
Vincius Jnior has a phenomenal six goal contributions in five head-to-head matches against Liverpool, so Madrid will be hoping he can continue his love affair with them (G5, A1). He’ll be aiming to exceed Mohamed Salah of Liverpool, who has scored in six straight UCL games (G8), with half of those goals coming after the 75th minute.
Ballon d’Or winner Benzema, who sat out against Espanyol as a precaution owing to an ankle issue, has subsequently returned to his teammates for full training and is anticipated to start at Anfield. Ancelotti can also anticipate the return of left-back Ferland Mendy.
Ancelotti might be reluctant to risk the Frenchman right away because he hasn’t played since the end of January due to a thigh problem, and David Alaba was forced to leave the first game due to a thigh problem of his own. Both players are set to miss this leg.
Eduardo Camavinga was used at left-back against Espanyol, so Ancelotti should bring either Antonio Rudiger or Mendy in for the second leg, depending on their fitness levels, with the former’s presence allowing Nacho Fernandez to switch to a wide role.
Although Joe Gomez has recovered from the muscle injury he sustained in the first leg, Klopp still needs to account for the absences of Luis Diaz, Thiago Alcantara, and Calvin Ramsay for Liverpool. The former could return to team practice this week but won’t be selected until after the international break.
A midfield problem is also posing a threat to derailed Klopp’s preparations as Arthur was not chosen in their Champions League knockout squad and Naby Keita is a minor doubt owing to an injury. Jordan Henderson (sickness) and Stefan Bajcetic (adductor) are other late absentees.
With a gung-ho attitude required to save their European bacon, Klopp may very well consider bringing the Portuguese into an ambitious 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 setup, especially with his limited options in the engine room. Diogo Jota was a bright spark against Bournemouth when he replaced Harvey Elliott at halftime.
Courtois, Carvajal, Militao, Rudiger, Nacho; Modric, Tchouameni, Kroos; Valverde, Benzema, and Vinicius Jr. might be Real Madrid’s starting lineup.
Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Konate, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Keita; Salah, Jota, Nunez; Gakpo might be Liverpool’s starting lineup.