Needing to conjure up a slice of Bernabeu magic to prolong their European journey, Liverpool make the journey to the Spanish capital to face Real Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday night.
Carlo Ancelotti’s continental veterans fought back from 2-0 down to record a phenomenal 5-2 win in the first leg at Anfield three weeks ago, and only the most calamitous of calamitous collapses would see the tickets to the quarter-finals change hands.
Preview: Real Madrid vs. Liverpool – prediction, team news, lineups
Even when Darwin Nunez and Mohamed Salah – the latter of whom received quite the helping hand, or knee, from Thibaut Courtois – sent the Anfield crowd into raptures, not a shred of apprehension could be seen on the stone-faced Carlo Ancelotti, whose side’s early mishaps just made their seven-goal victory all the more astonishing.
Rivalling Courtois for blunder of the night with a pass straight to the leg of Vinicius Junior, Alisson Becker conceded twice to the Brazilian starlet in the remaining minutes of the first half, before Eder Militao’s header and Karim Benzema’s brace put the cherry on a famous Merseyside mauling.
Seemingly exhausting all of their match-winning energy at Anfield, the reigning La Liga champions failed to prevail in their three subsequent domestic showdowns – including a 1-0 loss to Barcelona in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final – but they reverted to type with a comfortable 3-1 win over Espanyol at the weekend.
With Benzema kept in bubble wrap, Vinicius and Militao were on target once again alongside Marco Asensio as Los Blancos remain nine points worse off than runaway leaders Barcelona, but a 300th Champions League match now steals the spotlight amid their top-flight misfortunes.
From the last 27 times that Real have won the first leg of a Champions League tie away from home, they have progressed from 26 of them – only going down to Erik ten Hag’s 2018-19 Ajax luminaries in that time – but they will not be taking any leaves out of the Dutchman’s book here following Manchester United’s Anfield humiliation.
A timely repeat of their 7-0 demolition of Manchester United at the Bernabeu would no doubt go down as the greatest Champions League result on record, but a week is a long time in football, as evidenced by Liverpool’s flat performance in their shock defeat to Bournemouth on Saturday lunchtime.
Failing to heed the warning signs on the break and conceding the opening goal to Philip Billing as a result, Liverpool were handed a rare gilt-edged chance to level from 12 yards – their first penalty in the Premier League since April 2022 – but the normally reliable Salah sent a wild spot kick into the stands.
Defeat on the South Coast allowed Tottenham Hotspur to steer further clear in the race for fourth place in the Premier League table, so prioritising an astounding Champions League comeback would be the first step towards salvation on Wednesday, and Klopp refused to wave the white flag after laying witness to the first-leg drubbing.
Of course, Liverpool are not novices when it comes to spectacular European comebacks – coming from 3-0 down to defeat Barcelona 4-3 on aggregate in 2018-19 – but the absence of the Anfield faithful and a certain Divock Origi to meet quickly-taken corners is far from ideal.
Furthermore, Klopp’s men only have two away wins to shout about from their eight contests on the road in 2023, and they are winless in seven games with Real Madrid since storming to victory in the quarter-finals of the 2008-09 edition. The scoreline in the second leg of that battle of the behemoths? 4-0.
Real Madrid Champions League form:
Real Madrid form (all competitions):
Liverpool Champions League form:
Liverpool form (all competitions):
Missing out against Espanyol as a precaution due to an ankle concern, Ballon d’Or winner Benzema has since re-joined his teammates for full training and is expected to lead the line at Anfield, and Ancelotti should also count on the return of left-back Ferland Mendy.
The Frenchman has been out with a thigh issue since the end of January, though, so Ancelotti may be averse to risking him from the first whistle, while David Alaba came off with a thigh concern of his own in the first leg and is expected to sit this one out.
After utilising Eduardo Camavinga at left-back versus Espanyol, Ancelotti ought to bring Antonio Rudiger or Mendy – depending on his fitness levels – in for the second leg, with the former’s presence allowing Nacho Fernandez to shift to a wide role.
Regarding Liverpool, Klopp still has the absences of Luis Diaz, Thiago Alcantara and Calvin Ramsay to factor in – the former could return to team training this week but will not be considered for selection until after the international break – although Joe Gomez has recovered from the muscle problem he sustained in the first leg
A midfield crisis is also threatening to derail Klopp’s preparations, as Jordan Henderson (illness) and Stefan Bajcetic (adductor) are late absentees, while Arthur was not named in their Champions League knockout squad and Naby Keita is a slight doubt due to a knock.
Diogo Jota was a bright spark against Bournemouth when replacing Harvey Elliott at half time, and with a gung-ho approach needed 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.
Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Rudiger, Nacho; Modric, Tchouameni, Kroos; Valverde, Benzema, Vinicius Jr
Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Konate, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Keita; Salah, Jota, Nunez; Gakpo
We say: Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool (Real Madrid win 8-3 on aggregate)
Perhaps treading with caution given what happened to their Catalonian counterparts four years ago, Real Madrid can rest easy in the knowledge that Klopp’s current Liverpool crop do not strike the same fear into the hearts of opposing teams, especially with their measly away record in 2023.
Ancelotti’s side cannot expect to keep a vengeful Reds team at bay, especially given their own patchy spell, but Los Blancos in the Champions League is normally always a foregone conclusion, and the return of Benzema should only make their second-leg win all the more emphatic en route to a place in the last eight.
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