The UEFA Champions League is back with some absolutely mouth watering ties as we enter the quarter-final stage of the competition.
Two of the most successful sides in European history will collide as Real Madrid take on Liverpool in the last eight, with both sides thankfully able to play their home leg in their respective home cities after COVID-19 restrictions had threatened that neutral venues could be needed.
Zinedine Zidane’s side got through to this stage with a convincing win over Atalanta in the last round, winning both home and away despite injury problems for a 4-1 aggregate win. Jurgen Klopp’s Reds on the other hand were able to stifle an exciting RB Leipzig team in the last 16 to earn 2-0 wins both home and away for comfortable progression.
This game is a very interesting tie on paper and one that neutrals will be very keen to watch.
Both teams have got exceptionally strong squads but have had incredibly inconsistent seasons and have been riddled by injuries throughout the campaign. Liverpool currently sit in sixth place in the Premier League table and this past weekend officially saw their title defence come to an end, despite a convincing 3-0 win over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.
Real Madrid are still very much in their title race, with a 2-0 win at the weekend over Eibar sitting them just three points behind league leaders Atletico Madrid with nine games remaining.
Zidane’s side have shown a capability of being tactically flexible throughout the season, playing several formations, but their starting lineup tends to pick itself when players are available. They will however be without captain and talisman Sergio Ramos who picked up a knee injury while on international duty and has been ruled out for a month.
Eden Hazard is back in training but will miss the first leg, although Federico Valverde is back in the squad for the first game after missing a period of time through injury. The burden will once more fall upon French striker Karim Benzema, who leads the way for goals under Zidane since the boss returned for a second spell in charge of the club.
Liverpool on the other hand have seen their injury problems ease in recent weeks with Diogo Jota, Fabinho and Roberto Firmino all fit again, while Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane have found form once again.
Virgil Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip are all still out injured at centre-back while captain Jordan Henderson is still missing with fitness problems that could see him miss the rest of the season too, but Fabinho’s return to defensive midfield has been an excellent boost to the team.
Casemiro has been able to keep Fabinho out of the Brazilian national team but they are both quite comfortably the best in the world in their position, while Thiago is able to compete on a technical level with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric from deep positions.
Liverpool have previously used their full-backs with great effect to overload teams in the middle, but this season their approach has had to be altered which was resulted in less assists. Diogo Jota’s form on either side of his injury will be seen as a huge boost and could force Madrid to adapt their way of defending, especially without Ramos in the side.
With that said though, the inexperience in defence with a likely pairing of Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak against Benzema is something they will surely look to expose. Vinicius Jr is always capable of causing problems although inconsistency is a huge issue, while Marco Asensio has begun looking like the player he was prior to his knee injury.
It will be a tightly contested game without doubt, with both teams fancying their chances against the inconsistent form of their opposition.
Overall, the pace of the current Premier League champions should prove too much to handle for a Ramos-less Real Madrid defence.
We’ve seen in the past how much they struggle without their leader at the back and Liverpool’s attack is still one of the best around, even with recent form causing them to struggle in front of goal. The move back to midfield for Fabinho has boosted them tremendously and while I think it’s unlikely that either team keeps a clean sheet, Liverpool are less reliant on a single goalscoring threat and should therefore be able to progress in an entertaining tie.
Real Madrid 1-1 Liverpool
Liverpool 2-1 Real Madrid
(Liverpool to progress 3-2 on aggregate)