PETE JENSON: Liverpool should approach Real Madrid with caution
PETE JENSON: Carlo Ancelotti’s injury-stricken side are EIGHT points behind Barcelona in LaLiga and the problems are piling up for star man Vinicius Jr… world champions Real Madrid may not be in fifth gear but Liverpool should STILL approach with caution
- Real Madrid face Liverpool at Anfield in the Champions League on Tuesday night
- Toni Kroos and Aurelien Tchouameni are missing from Carlo Ancelotti’s squad
- Liverpool should be wary of Madrid despite their inconsistent form this season
The table doesn’t lie after 22 games and Real Madrid being eight points behind Barcelona, despite having beaten them earlier in the season, tells its own story – all has not been well.
That doesn’t mean Carlo Ancelotti’s side will be there for the taking at Anfield. Madrid have a history off pulling top Champions League performances out of underwhelming league campaigns. And they were good on Saturday in a hard fought win over Osasuna.
But there are weak spots to be targeted and inadequacies in the squad, intensified by injuries that should encourage Liverpool.
There have been problems at full back so far this season. First-choice right back Dani Carvajal will play on Tuesday. He has only started 13 league games this season and it’s a position they need to reinforce ahead of next season.
At left back, they have missed Ferland Mendy. David Alaba is back from injury to deputise but the Austrian, who was so steady in centre defence last season has not responded well to being moved around this campaign and has not hit the same heights as last year.
It’s not all been plain sailing for world champions Real Madrid and Carlo Ancelotti this season
Liverpool face Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 clash on Tuesday
In the middle, Eder Militao remains a rock but alongside him Antonio Rudiger is still yet to show the sort of form that convinced Madrid they had the better Chelsea defender when they signed the German – and Barcelona got Danish international Andreas Christensen.
The midfield options are affected by injury. Aurelien Tchouameni and Toni Kroos have both stayed in Spain because of illness and Luka Modric has shown signs of fading slightly this season in what is the last year of his contract.
The best news for Carlo Ancelotti of late has been the form of Dani Ceballos who plays in England for the first time since his loan at Arsenal, and Eduardo Camavinga who played in Tchouameni’s holding position effectively at the weekend.
There is nothing wrong with the starting trio, but Madrid reached the Champions League final last season in large part because they could refresh the middle of the pitch, and that will be harder to do with Kroos and Tchouameni out.
Sergio Arribas has emerged as an option but the 21-year-old has only played nine minutes in LaLiga this season and is more of a No 10 than a box-to-box runner.
Up front Fede Valverde is running back into some of the pre-World Cup form he showed last year and Vinicius is flying with 16 goals in all competitions and eight assists.
The off-the-field issues in Spain have not affected his form and he has a taste for playing against Liverpool. In the last three meetings between the two sides there have been six goals and he has scored three of them including the winner in last season’s Champions League final at the Stade France.
Between the Uruguayan and the Brazilian, Karim Benzema still floats like a butterfly and there are signs he is getting his bee-sting back.
Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema is set to return after missing Saturday’s clash with Osasuna
His overall numbers are down on last season but he has eight goals in 10 games since the World Cup and comes into the game rested after sitting out the win on Saturday.
On the bench, Madrid also boast some attacking depth. Rodrygo Goes, whose Champions League record is extraordinary – of his 28 goals for the club, 14 have come in European competition.
And there is Marco Asensio – a free agent at the end of the season who has been linked with a move to Liverpool in the past.
There are also a couple of wild cards in Ancelotti’s list of forwards. Eden Hazard has only started three games all season but will be among the substitutes, and so will 18-year-old Alvaro Garcia, who made a huge impact when he came off the bench at the weekend. He wasn’t introduced until minute 88 but created two goals – albeit one ruled out for offside.
Real Madrid lifted the Champions League trophy after beating Liverpool 1-0 in last year’s final
Jurgen Klopp said Liverpool want to ‘put things right’ in front of a packed-out Anfield this week
Eduardo Camavinga, Antonio Rudiger and Vinicius Jr (L-R) arrived on Merseyside on Monday
Raul promoted the rangy Uruguayan who will not be 18 until July. The Real Madrid B-team coach had watched him score a goal for the under-18s and so fast-tracked him [skipping under-19s] to play for the club’s second-string. Ancelotti will not hesitate to throw him on at Anfield if the need arises.
In the build-up to the game Real Madrid supporters have taken solace in Liverpool’s apparently worse situation. The reigning champions of Spain and Europe might find themselves adrift of the leaders Barcelona but they are still on for a treble having already won the UEFA Super League and the FIFA World Club Cup this season.
They will run out at Anfield still with last season’s miraculous second-leg comebacks against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City still fresh in the mind – but hoping very much not to need another one on March 15.
Probable line-up: Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Rudiger, Alaba; Modric, Camavinga, Ceballos; Valverde, Benzema, Vinicius
Aurelien Tchouameni (L) and Toni Kroos (R) are not in Real Madrid’s squad to face Liverpool
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