European champions Real Madrid welcome Liverpool to the historic Santiago Bernabeu stadium tomorrow evening in the knowledge that the Spanish giants will secure their place in the knockout-phase of the competition with a victory.
Liverpool will have the memory of the recent 3-0 defeat at Anfield at the hands of Madrid fresh in their minds and will be determined to avoid a repeat, hence we can expect a much more defensive minded Liverpool setup this time around.
Here are the two line-ups I expect to see tomorrow evening
Real Madrid: 4-3-3
I expect Carlo Ancelotti to field a team with few surprises. The injury sustained by Dani Carvajal in the weekend’s victory over Granada will be enough to keep the Spaniard out allowing former Liverpool defender Alvaro Arbeloa to start the match.
The Madrid midfield is likely to be unchanged with the trio of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and James Rodriguez eager to dominate proceedings once more. Liverpool will have to do a much better job of controlling Rodriguez’s movement in between the lines of midfield and defense if the visitors are to improve on the 3-0 scoreline recorded a fortnight ago.
In the forward line Ancelotti has a decision to make. Gareth Bale has returned to full training over the past days and the Welshman is ready to play, according to Ancelotti who didn’t confirm whether or not Bale would return to the starting XI. The experienced Italian coach said he “had yet to make a decision” on the matter before pointing out that a number of players could be rested to make room for the club’s record signing.
I expect Bale will not start, simply because of the nature of his injury and the lack of real importance to the game for Madrid, the Spanish side will progress and there is no distinct need to risk Bale tomorrow. Furthermore, it would be unfair to drop Isco given the fact the playmaker, positioned in an unfamiliar role, is having the best period of his short career with Los Blancos.
Liverpool will in all likelihood abandon their attacking philosophy in order to play a tight, defensive game at the Bernabeu with the intention of taking a point away from the European champions.
I expect Brendan Rodgers to utilise a five-man midfield with Lucas Leiva sitting in a holding role. Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson will play just in front of him, despite talk in the Spanish press suggesting Liverpool’s captain will be rested tomorrow evening.
One of the key problems for Liverpool in the tie at Anfield against Madrid was the porous nature of the host’s midfield. Rodriguez was given freedom to drift wherever he liked, whilst Kroos and Modric had little pressure on them when in possession. It was neither a pressing game, nor a defensive approach, it was somewhere in the middle unfortunately for Liverpool.
Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling will play just in front with the hope being that the pair can be influential on the counter-attack, and it is worth noting that Coutinho did cause Madrid some problems a fortnight ago – the Brazilian found pockets of space in behind Kroos due to the German’s lack of mobility.
Despite Daniel Sturridge having flown to Madrid with the Liverpool squad, there is very little chance of him making his return. Mario Balotelli will again be trusted as a lone striker and it may well be the case that tomorrow is the perfect scenario for him. He will not be expected to take part in Liverpool’s linkup play, his role will be to hold up possession and be in and around the penalty area when any chances arrive.
It will certainly be interesting to see if Liverpool can find a way of frustrating Madrid’s attack and succeeding in the final third by utilizing Balotelli’s individual strengths.
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