October 22nd, 2014; 19 45 BST
Its a game of European royalty as five times Champions League winners and England’s most successful side in Europe, Liverpool face ten time European champions Real Madrid on Wednesday in the third match of the Champions League group stages.
The return of Champions League nights at Anfield haven’t exactly brought back the magic the faithful were hoping for when Liverpool won 3-2 against Norwich City back in April and sealed their return to the illustrious competition. An extremely unconvincing victory over Ludogorets and a loss in Switzerland to FC Basel puts Liverpool in a very awkward third position in the group.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, are comfortably perched at the top of the group and are expected to remain that way. Their progress to the knockout stages is all but guaranteed and may be confirmed very soon. Ancelotti will be looking to try and come back with a win which should give them a lot of confidence going into the El Clasico that awaits them on the weekend.
Team News &Tactical Brief
The biggest possible blow for Liverpool is that they will be without Daniel Sturridge, the only man who could get them some goals up-front. Mario Balotelli is badly out of touch and under immense pressure. He is feeling the weight of expectations on his shoulders and understands that perhaps this is his final chance at a prestigious club and unless he does something here, his future might look foggy. It is unfair to criticize him too much though, since he is a striker who works best when played in the two man partnership, and he has in fact gone on record recently saying that he would prefer being in that set up since he has always played like that. Unfortunately, Sturridge is out injured and for now Rodgers doesn’t seem very keen to use Ricky Lambert (rightly so) or outcast Fabio Borini up front with Balotelli. Jamie Carragher has gone on to say that Liverpool should omit a striker altogether and use Raheem Sterling as a false nine but with this game being of the magnitude it is, Rodgers is going to start him up front.
The other problem is the formation. Liverpool do well in the 4-4-2 diamond, with a compact midfield of sorts and two men up front. However, as mentioned before, Sturridge’s fitness has left Rodgers handicapped and he is insistent on using Balotelli alone up-front.
Sterling will probably operate right behind Balotelli but with his agility and pace, the 19 year old would be seen coming up-front regularly like a striker, making darting runs in the box.
Philippe Coutinho had an immense impact in the game against QPR but it is not sure whether the Brazilian would start or if Adam Lallana would get a go in his spot. There is a possibility that Lallana would figure in the midfield alongside sure-starters Henderson and Gerrard. The other option would be to start Joe Allen in the midfield. This would be a wiser thing to do since the Welshman gives the Liverpool midfield a lot of urgency and eases some of the pressure on Steven Gerrard. Allen would be useful in containing the threat of Modric, Isco and James Rodriguez, the players who are likely to be more involved in the centre of the park rather than the wings.
The defence has been Liverpool’s worst nightmare and the shocking lack of cohesion shown in the QPR game is not something that can be changed in three days’ time. We can expect the shaky centre back partnership of Skrtel and Lovren once again, simply because there is no better alternative in sight. Kolo Toure tends to make mistakes and is also very slow and Sakho has looked shaky every time he has played. Alberto Moreno will make his return to the first team and would take the left back spot. He attacks well and needs to link up with Coutinho, Lallana, Sterling and Balotelli, but more importantly he needs to focus on the defensive side of his game, which is pretty weak. Javier Manquillo has done really well for Liverpool and should ideally get a start in the right back spot but Rodgers might use Glen Johnson to utilise his experience in this crunch tie. Simon Mignolet will start in goal after a good performance against QPR, probably his best of the season.
Liverpool need the likes of Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho to have a stellar game in order for the Reds to find an opening. So far this season has been all about Raheem Sterling. If the rest of the attackers can pitch in, Liverpool could find an opening and hopefully take something away from this game.
Probable Starting 11 (4-3-2-1): Mignolet; Johnson, Skrtel, Lovren, Moreno; Gerrard, Henderson, Lallana; Sterling, Coutinho; Balotelli
Real Madrid make their way to Anfield as Europe’s most prolific side this season having scored 37 goals in their 10 European and La Liga outings. They understand that despite Liverpool’s weak form, they are not a side to be taken lightly in the competition. Having said that, Carlo Ancelotti’s side would be confident of coming back from the game with three points.
Gareth Bale and Sergio Ramos would miss this game with injuries but the rest of the team should be as expected. Iker Casillas would start in goal with Carvajal, Pepe, Varane and Marcelo in front of him. In the midfield, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and James Rodriguez will start the game while the attack would be Cristiano Ronaldo and Isco on the wings with Karim Benzema up-front.
Liverpool can take consolation from the fact that, in five attempts, Ronaldo has never scored at Anfield but with his current hot-streak of at least one goal in each of his nine appearances across the La Liga and Champions League, his barren run at Anfield might end soon. 20 year old Javier Manquillo or veteran Glen Johnson can expect a tough night as they would be entrusted with the unenviable task of containing the Portuguese hitman.
Real would try and attack Liverpool from the start as a goal in the first 30 minutes can really cause damage to the hosts who have hardly ever looked like scoring this season. Set pieces are another area Los Blancos would look to target Liverpool given that the English club are absolutely terrible at defending these.
Luka Modric and Toni Kroos need to contain the threat of Raheem Sterling- the player Florentino Pérez apparently wants. The 19 year old Englishman looks like the only one who might create a spark of magic and get Liverpool the unlikely looking points. But the smarter thing to do would be to keep an eye on Jordan Henderson. The 24 year old likes to give momentum to the Reds’ attack by linking up play with the attackers. If he can be shut out, along with Sterling, Real Madrid would have an incredibly easy job at Anfield.
Probably Line-Up (4-3-3): Casillas; Carvajal, Pepe, Varane, Marcelo; Kroos, Modric, Rodriguez; Isco, Ronaldo, Benzema
Real Madrid have failed to find the back of the net against just two sides in the Champions League: Arsenal and Liverpool.
Real Madrid have won 9 of their last 11 matches in the Champions League (including qualifiers).
Cristiano Ronaldo has never scored at Anfield.
Real Madrid have never won against Liverpool (in three meetings).
Liverpool have met Spanish sides 32 times in Europe, winning 14 of those games (D10, L8).
Player to watch out for:
Raheem Sterling (Liverpool); Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
Liverpool 1- Real Madrid 4
It is impossible to see a different scoreline after the game against QPR. Liverpool are still without Daniel Sturridge, and that doesn’t suggest reliance on one man, but his absence has made the side shift to a formation none of the players are comfortable with. Their striker misfired a shot eight yards away from an empty goal. All this would be okay if Liverpool could defend but unfortunately that area is circumspect as well. The Liverpool back-line made Bobby Zamora look like a two time Ballon d’Or winner. This scoreline is a conservative guess.