The Champions League last 16 fixtures are finally upon us after a two month break since the group stages.
In one of the biggest ties of the round we’ll see Italian champions Inter Milan in their first knockout round since the 2011/12 season, and they’ll take on Premier League heavyweights Liverpool.
Lets take a look at the tie in more detail and make our predictions to see who will progress into the last eight of Europe’s most prestigious cup competition.
Route to the last 16
It was two very different group stages for these two sides, with Simone Inzaghi’s men battling it out with Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk and Sheriff until the final day.
It wasn’t until defeat to Madrid in that final group game that they were unable to win the group, but with three wins from the other five games they managed to secure the runners-up spot.
They scored only eight goals during the groups, and conceded five, so there is plenty of room for improvement there. Domestically, they currently a point behind rivals AC Milan with a game in hand.
For Liverpool, it was quite literally the perfect campaign.
A group of death containing AC Milan, Atletico Madrid and FC Porto was expected to cause them problems but Jurgen Klopp’s side made it six wins from six to become the first English side to earn a 100% record in the competition’s history.
They scored a wonderful 17 goals in six games, conceding six to come into the knockout stages as one team that everyone wanted to avoid.
Inter will be missing their key midfielder Nicolo Barella for the first leg after he was sent off in the final group game against Real Madrid.
Arturo Vidal should replace him, while Ivan Perisic is likely to continue at left-wing-back with January signing Robert Gosens still injured.
Liverpool are essentially at full strength and Klopp has got the strongest squad of his entire tenure at Anfield to choose from currently.
Diogo Jota will likely return to the team after missing the weekend win over Burnley, while Luis Diaz will probably start on the bench since both Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are back from AFCON.
Breakdown and Prediction
Inzaghi will stick with his 3-5-2 system that he loves, with Lautaro Martinez likely partnered up front by Edin Dzeko.
The midfield strength with Brozovic and Calhanoglu gives lots of balance and with Vidal going box-to-box they can go toe-to-toe with the Liverpool midfield.
In attack though, Liverpool are likely to cause far problems to Inter than vice-versa. They have great depth and goals from all three attackers are possible, but Inter have adapted their system in Europe under Inzaghi and are difficult to beat.
Without any real pace in behind though, Liverpool should be able to deal with their best attacking threats and while a clean sheet won’t be easy I would be surprised if Inter grabbed a goal at Anfield.
Because of that and the added depth they have in their squad, I expect Liverpool to progress through this tie but don’t be surprised if they make hard work of it.
Inter Milan 1-1 Liverpool Liverpool 2-0 Inter Milan (Liverpool to qualify 3-1 on aggregate)
Liverpool were up to their usual tricks during the January transfer window, swooping in late and quickly to secure a top target.
After Tottenham made a bid for Porto’s Colombian star Luis Diaz, Jurgen Klopp made the decision to move early for a player he had identified as a key target for the summer window.
They swooped in, secured a deal worth a total of £50m and they now have a brand new weapon in their attack to unleash on the second half of the Premier League season.
But as soon as the deal was confirmed and announced, many fans began to wonder what that meant for the future of superstar Mo Salah, whose current contract expires at the end of next season.
The future of Salah has been a conversation for a while, with both parties publicly stating their wish to continue their relationship.
However with reports that the Egyptian is requesting a record wage for the club, it has been met with resistance from the board.
As Salah approaches his 30th birthday, it’s only natural that he wants a big payday in his final big contract. But on top of that, his performances since moving to Anfield mean that he feels he should be earning on par with the other best players in the world. He’s not wrong.
But further to Salah, the contracts of Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino also expire next summer and it’s more likely that their places in the team are under threat from Diaz’s arrival than Salah’s.
My personal expectation is that the two parties will find a compromise and thrash out a deal that sees Salah stay at the club as their highest-paid player ever, before eventually riding off into the sunset in a few years when he’s past his peak.
But for Mane, many have seen his influence diminish in recent years and he won’t have nearly as much leverage when it comes to demanding a big contract at his age.
Firmino is in the most danger, having already lost his place in the team to Diogo Jota and finding that he’s not as important as he once was in a red shirt.
Add to all that the fact that Diaz is a right-footed winger who likes to cut in from the left, he could quite easily play in the same team as Salah and provide a terrifying attacking threat for Klopp and Liverpool.
While Liverpool fans are focused on potentially losing one of the best attackers to ever don the shirt and represent the club, they should probably be worried about losing the other two attackers that made up part of their famous trio.
If Salah ends up agreeing terms as many expect him to eventually do, that leaves less in the budget to renew Mane and Firmino’s deals and with a ready-made replacement already in the squad it seems more likely one of those will leave in the summer.
It says something about the strength of the Premier League right now that three of the top four teams in the world right now are plying their trade in England’s top flight.
Alongside Bayern Munich of the Bundesliga, Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool are running riot as the best and most effective teams in the world right now.
In those teams are some of the best players in the world right now, but arguably the best of the bunch currently is Anfield hero Mohamed Salah.
The Egyptian has been in the form of his life so far this season, registering an amazing 17 goals and eight assists in 18 games in all competitions.
But as Liverpool played host to Southampton on Saturday afternoon, for once he wasn’t firing on all cylinders. Even despite that though, Liverpool were able to run out 4-0 winners thanks to goals from Diogo Jota, Thiago and Virgil Van Dijk.
Salah did register an assist, but the overall performance for Liverpool was very encouraging against a good side in Southampton.
The full-backs were flying once again, with both Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold registering assists, while the midfield were able to dominate the ball and also chip in with creativity too.
It was the performance of Portuguese forward Jota that would have been most encouraging for Jurgen Klopp though, as he continued his excellent form with two goals early in the first half.
For a player who was initially signed as cover for the famous front three, Jota’s form and performances have pushed him firmly into consideration for a regular starting role in the team ahead of Roberto Firmino.
One of the big things for Liverpool’s attack was that all three players didn’t need to be firing for them to be influential on the result of a game, but Firmino’s drop-off over the last 18 months had essentially taken one of their weapons away.
Jota’s work rate means Liverpool are able to restore the feeling without Firmino, but his added quality in attack means they are back to having a three-pronged attack that is capable of rotating and going toe-to-toe with any defence in the world.
For Liverpool that can only be a good thing. It means that when a team does manage to halt the momentum of Salah, or even Sadio Mane for that matter, they still have one more weapon in their arsenal to punish the opposition.
It’s amazing for Liverpool and just another reason why they’re among the best teams in the world currently.
Since the day Steven Gerrard left Liverpool for LA Galaxy back in 2015, the countdown has been on as to when he would eventually return.
After two seasons in Hollywood, Gerrard returned to Anfield to coach the academy and youth teams after impressing Jurgen Klopp with his work ethic and passion for the job.
Then followed the job at Rangers, where he really established himself as one of the better up and coming British managers in the game right now.
Gerrard spent three years at Rangers rebuilding the club to be able to compete with Celtic once again, eventually culminating in winning them their first Scottish Premiership title since the 2010/11 season.
But midway through this campaign Gerrard accepted the approach of Aston Villa to become the new manager and has made the move back to the Premier League.
At Villa he will have a strong squad, filled with young, talented players and capable of playing several different systems. On paper, Gerrard seems like the perfect fit for a club with aspirations such as theirs and a fan-base like theirs.
The issue for Villa fans is that they know that should he become a success for them, Liverpool will come calling eventually.
Jurgen Klopp has all but admitted that once he reaches the end of his current Anfield contract in 2024 that he will likely leave and take a break from management, so this seems like the perfect time for Gerrard to make the leap over to England’s top flight.
For Gerrard it’s a chance to implement his style and imprint of the beautiful game at the highest level and see if it can transition over in the same way it did in Scotland.
If he is able to bring through some of the many academy prospects on the brink of first-team football and bring success back to a club that has been struggling this season, then the calls for him to be Klopp’s successor will seem justified.
If he fails to make an impact and impression though, then talk is likely to be seen as too premature.
Gerrard made a name for himself playing attacking football but with a rock solid defence in Scotland, so if he can recreate that with Villa it’ll be a good start.
He didn’t need a superstar to carry the team, he did it with great teamwork and spirit and a tactical setup that worked for his side. He will need to do the same at Villa and the chances are that he will find some sort of success there.
This is the step for Gerrard to prove himself as the next top boss or out himself as just another hyped up ex-pro. Which way it goes decides on whether Liverpool have found their next manager or not.
With Newcastle United set to complete their task of appointing a new manager this week, the Premier League’s managerial hotseats have just become even more full.
It seems as though Eddie Howe will be the man to fill the void at St James’ Park, after Unai Emery sensationally rejected their offer after being interested in a move earlier in the week. But with 19 other managers in a job currently, where do they all rank?
I’ve ranked each manager and explained (briefly) my reasoning for their position based on preference of style, achievements and coaching of players.
19. Daniel Farke – Norwich
Twice Farke has come up to the Premier League with his Norwich side, and twice he’s been absolutely battered every time.
The German has a style but it seems to be more accustomed to the Championship, where his side is one of the big dogs and he can’t turn that into anything substantial at the top level, so he must go at the bottom.
18.Sean Dyche – Burnley
Maybe controversial for him to be so low, but the style of football grinds me and he’s got nothing other than scraping survival year on year to show for it.
The one season he tried to expand a little saw Burnley dumped out of the Europa League before the group stages even started. The football is too old school for me, but he gets results so it keeps him off the bottom.
17. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – Manchester United
Another potentially controversial selection, the Manchester United boss is in the relegation spots here.
No obvious style of play, no defensive awareness about his sides and results only tend to come because of the quality of player he has at his disposal. If he got another Premier League job it would be in this region of the table.
16.Ralph Hassenhuttl – Southampton
This is a weird one for the Austrian, because he’s clearly got something about him.
Hassenhuttl likes to play expansive, attacking football but while his ideas are the right ones he seems to struggle with the actual execution of them. 9-0 defeats in consecutive seasons tells me he’s too stubborn to adapt too, so he slots in towards the bottom.
15. Claudio Ranieri – Watford
It seems harsh to have a Premier League winner this far down the rankings, but times have moved and Ranieri isn’t what he once was.
The ‘tinkerman’ tends to play counter-attacking football but it all seems very freestyled when watching his sides and defensively they’ve never been the best. His achievements earn him this height though.
14.Mikel Arteta – Arsenal
Hear me out. Arteta’s Arsenal are showing improvements in recent months now that he doesn’t have many injuries, but I’m still not convinced.
They seem organised enough for now, but the discipline issues remain and whenever they concede a goal they look frail mentally. He’s young in his career and could certainly move up the list in years to come but for now, he’s low down in my ranking of bosses.
13. Bruno Lage – Wolves
Not a lot of experience for the Portuguese manager here, but what he did at Benfica really stands out to me.
Plenty of focus on attacking football, using different player profiles to get what he needs from his teams. They play exciting football and score goals and the fact he has switched Wolves around as quickly as he has is testament to his coaching skills. Like Arteta, he could move up the ranks over the years.
12. Dean Smith – Aston Villa
Smith may have hit his ceiling with Aston Villa now, but the job he has done to this point is nothing short of excellent.
He took over in the Championship, got them to play front-foot, attacking football while also setting up a good defensive base and was rewarded with a cup final and a top half finish. He’s probably at his peak as a coach now, which means mid-table is where he sits.
11. Patrick Vieira – Crystal Palace
There may be a bit of recency bias in this pick, but the job Vieira is doing at Selhurst Park is incredibly good right now.
He struggled at Nice after moving from the MLS but the way in which he has transformed the squad’s way of playing in such a short space of time is delightful. Possession football with young and flairy players, Vieira’s stock is only going to rise.
10.Thomas Frank – Brentford
Honestly, I can’t praise this man enough. The job he has done since taking over at Brentford has been tremendous, but the transition they have made into Premier League football is even better.
They play attacking football, with a mix of possession and going direct, while they’re brave with playing out from the back and strong defensively. I fully expect them to stay up and think Frank will be on a lot of club’s radars higher up the league should the managerial merry-go-round start later this season.
9. Graham Potter – Brighton & Hove Albion
Not a big name in the slightest but the job he has done since coming to English football has not gone unnoticed.
Potter’s sides play excellent possession football with a major focus on control and scoring goals, just like a Pep Guardiola side. He’s still young in his career to rank him much higher than this, but you have to assume that with better players he gets better results, so he’s one to keep an eye on.
8.Marcelo Bielsa – Leeds United
Possibly the most gung-ho manager in all of football, Bielsa’s methods and philosophy are legendary across Europe and now he does it for Leeds.
The one vs one battles he creates all over the pitch rely on intense discipline from each player and unbelievable fitness levels, something he drills into every player. He improves individuals on a regular basis and entertains, but really should’ve won more in his career considering the reputation he has.
7. Rafa Benitez – Everton
A Champions League winner, a La Liga winner, an FA Cup winner, Rafa Benitez is one of the best coaches of his generation.
The issue for him unfortunately, is that generation was about 15 years ago. Rafa was at his best in the mid 2000’s to mid 2010’s during his time with Valencia and Liverpool but since then his football has become very rigid and uninspiring. He can still get results, but I don’t expect him to pull up any trees between now and the end of his career.
6.David Moyes – West Ham
Moyes’ career seemed dead and buried after his Man United spell almost a decade ago, but the way he has built his reputation back up has been nothing short of excellent.
He’s build a West Ham side that now competes with the best teams in the country when they face off against each other and is one of the toughest to beat, while also scoring plenty of goals going forward. The only thing he’s missing now is a trophy or two.
5.Brendan Rodgers – Leicester City
Rodgers showed what a great coach he was during his time with Watford and Swansea, then the Liverpool job when he made them genuine title contenders with brilliant, attacking football.
That job came a little early for him in the end, but he went to Celtic and was dominant and has made Leicester a truly competitive side. He even added the FA Cup to his trophy cabinet, so he is comfortably the best of the rest for me.
4.Antonio Conte – Tottenham
The new Tottenham manager has a proven CV in the managerial world and is without a doubt one of the best in the world.
His 3-4-3 formation has seen him win Serie A titles, a Premier League title and an FA Cup and his management style makes all his sides incredibly difficult to beat. Sometimes though, that pragmatism takes over and not losing gets prioritised over winning, so he just misses out on the top three.
3. Thomas Tuchel – Chelsea
A brilliant thinker with positive attacking football his forté, Tuchel has come to Chelsea and flipped a switch to become a brilliant defensive coach now.
Chelsea barely ever concede goals and yet they still find a way to score goals and win trophies. He’s shown he can do all sides of the game to a high level and has the trophies to boot with a Champions League winners medal so he goes in at third.
2.Pep Guardiola – Manchester City
When it’s all said and done and Guardiola hangs up his coaching hat, he could go down as one of the absolute best ever.
He’s won everything there is to win twice over, playing brilliant attacking football and revolutionising the way teams all over the world approach the game. He improves players individually, improves teams endlessly and wins games with style. The only flaw for me is he’s always had to spend a lot of money to do it, but that’s why teams bring him in and he always delivers.
1. Jurgen Klopp – Liverpool
For me, the best coach in world football not just the Premier League.
Klopp came into a Liverpool side and implemented a brand new style immediately, and slowly but surely built his squad to become one of the best sides in modern history that won it all. They play fast-paced football with the first though always to score goals, have pace and are brave in their positions.
If I was starting a football club and could make anyone the manager, I’d pick Klopp.
It was almost two years ago when Liverpool were beaten home and away by Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid side as defending European champions.
After dominating domestically and running away with the Premier League title in the 2019/20 season, they were expected to make a run at winning the Champions League in consecutive seasons.
However when they were paired up with Atletico Madrid in a two-legged last 16 affair, they found out just how tough the Spaniards can be to beat.
Saul Niguez’s goal gave Atleti a 1-0 lead heading into the tie at Anfield, before a thrilling encounter in the final game in front of fans for over a year.
Gini Wijnaldum’s goal in the 43rd minute meant extra-time was upon us and then Roberto Firmino gave the Reds a lead. Three minutes later though Marcos Llorente got Atleti back into the game, before he scored a second to silence Anfield.
Alvaro Morata then wrapped the game up in stoppage time to make it home and away wins against the reigning European champions.
Liverpool’s season after that stalled, literally and form-wise, as the pandemic took over the main storyline of the year and Jurgen Klopp’s side were eventually crowned champions without really needing to restart at all.
Last season became a write-off for the defending champions as they suffered immensely with injuries and poor form, crashing out of Europe at the quarter-final stage to Atletico’s local rivals Real Madrid.
But now, Klopp’s team are back with a vengeance.
So far this season they’re essentially at full fitness and it’s showing. They have won eight out of 11 games so far in all competitions and have lost none, scoring 33 goals and conceding just nine.
Mo Salah is in the form of his life, scoring seven goals and registering four assists in his eight appearances so far while Sadio Mane, Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino are also chipping in with their fair share.
Defensively Virgil Van Dijk has returned from his ACL injury in great form, while Joel Matip has also returned from injury and continued his excellent partnership with the Dutchman.
Now paired up in a Champions League group together this season, Liverpool have the chance to avenge those defeats. They’ve won two out of two so far and with Atletico being held to a draw against FC Porto, a win means they would be five points clear at the top of the supposed group of death after just three games.
They’re on course for yet another brilliant campaign and what better way than to beat the reigning, defending La Liga champions to get their revenge and continue their brilliant European run.
In a Premier League season that seemed like everything was sewn up nice and early, the football Gods made sure there was still some kind of action to pay attention to on the final day.
Manchester City are champions, Manchester United are runners-up and Fulham, West Brom and Sheffield United are going down to the Championship. Everything else however, including the final two top four places, Europa League places and Europa Conference League places are still up for grabs.
With the middle of the table so tight and congested, lets simplify all the possibilities of the final day of the season for you.
Champions League places
Aston Villa vs Chelsea Leicester vs Tottenham Liverpool vs Crystal Palace
Three teams will battle it out for the final two spots to compete in Europe’s elite competition next season, with Chelsea, Leicester and Liverpool all still in the race.
As it stands, if all three teams were to win their games then Chelsea would finish in third place while Liverpool would pip the Foxes on goal difference, unless Leicester won by five goals more than what Jurgen Klopp’s Reds could muster up.
With the points difference so tight, if any of the teams were to slip up on the day and the other two were to win, then the team that messed up would miss out on Champions League football.
There is of course a wildcard option, that if Chelsea were to finish fifth in the league but then win the Champions League final against Manchester City on May 29th, they would then qualify for the competition as holders and England would have five representatives in next year’s tournament.
EUROPA LEAGUE & EUROPA CONFERENCE LEAGUE PLACES
West Ham vs Southampton Leicester vs Tottenham Manchester City vs Everton Arsenal vs Brighton
This is where it gets a bit complicated, so bear with us.
That means one of West Ham, Everton or Tottenham will join one of Chelsea, Liverpool or Leicester in UEFA’s secondary competition. David Moyes’ Hammers are the favourites to finish in sixth place, with a three point head-start over their rivals before the games kick off. They’ve also got the most favourable fixture, with a home tie in front of their fans against a Southampton side with nothing to play for.
Should they fall to a defeat though, Everton and Spurs can match their points tally with a win. That means it would come down to goal difference, which would earn the north London side the position in the table. However if Spurs were unable to beat Leicester and Everton could get a win over the champions Man City, they would take the spot.
There is also a new competition for UEFA though, the Europa Conference League which the team who finishes in seventh place will qualify for. That allows Arsenal to sneak into the conversation for a European place on the final day with a win over Brighton at The Emirates Stadium.
Should the Gunners win and both Spurs and Everton fail to, Mikel Arteta’s side would leapfrog both teams in the table and claim European football for next year – extending their run to 26 consecutive years in UEFA competition.
It’s sure to be an exciting final day of the season after originally looking like it would be a bit of a dead rubber weekend in England. But now it matches up with the rest of Europe with plenty of happenings on to settle at the top end of the division.
It’s not often that we say it, but Bayern Munich might be having a bit of an internal crisis right now.
After crashing out of the UEFA Champions League to Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-finals, it emerged over the weekend that manager Hansi Flick has informed the club that he wants to leave in the summer.
After winning everything there is to win in his season-and-a-half in charge of the club, you could maybe understand if he just wanted a new challenge but it seems there is something more to the situation.
Despite beating PSG in Paris their European Cup defence came to an end but they bounced back at the weekend with a 3-2 win over Wolfsburg. What nobody saw coming was in the press conference after the game when Flick confirmed to the press that he wanted to leave the club at the end of the season.
It had been rumoured that Flick was the number one target for the German national team after it was announced that Joachim Löw will leave his role after the completion of the Euro 2020 tournament this summer.
While he has admitted that the national team role is of interest to him, it isn’t the reason he wants to leave the Bundesliga champions.
According to reports in Germany, there is an internal struggle happening in Bavaria. It is well known that the club is run in such a way that the manager of the club is responsible only for the coaching of the football team.
The board and executives run the club off the pitch and former midfielder Hasan Salihamidzic is the man in charge of things like transfers. That is the start of issues.
Flick and Salihamidzic have been at loggerheads of the future of the playing squad, with the Bosnian confirming that Jerome Boateng would not be offered a new contract for the new season regardless of his performances in the run-in.
What made it worse was the fact that he was informed of the decision on the morning of the first-leg against Paris Saint-Germain. Add to that the fact the club have refused to agree a new deal with David Alaba, forcing the Austrian to confirm his exit from the club in advance on a free transfer.
Bayern have since commented on Flick’s announcement only to discount it, stating that they will continue to hold talks with the manager up to and at the end of the season to discuss the future. While it’s highly unlikely that anything will change, this is just Bayern’s way of controlling the narrative.
Reports suggest they have already begun the search for a new manager, with Julian Nagelsmann top of their shortlist. While it will be incredibly difficult to take the highly rated boss away from Leipzig, the Bundesliga is essentially Bayern Munich’s playground and they can pretty much do what they want.
If for some reason that doesn’t happen, they have plenty of options elsewhere. Flick was brought up from their coaching staff, while top names like Max Allegri and Jose Mourinho are also available immediately.
Bayern are a superbly run club, everyone knows that. But now their internal power struggle is going to cost them a supremely talented coach and potentially effect who they bring in to replace him.
Liverpool blew a lead late on once again as they drew with Leeds United at Elland Road to stutter in the race for the top four once again.
The Reds started pretty well and took the lead in the first half after a wonderful reverse pass from Diogo Jota found Trent Alexander-Arnold, who reached the ball ahead of Leeds ‘keeper Illan Meslier to squad for Sadio Mane to score his first Premier League goal since January.
Leeds battled back in the second half as Patrick Bamford hit the crossbar and Allison Becker saved from Tyler Roberts, only for Diego Llorente to head home his first goal for the club just four minutes from time.
The result means Liverpool missed the chance to move back into the top four for the first time since February after West Ham’s defeat away at Newcastle earlier in the weekend.
It was a performance that was rather indicative of the season Liverpool have had so far. The team weren’t particularly poor but they weren’t particularly good and while they had chances to win the game themselves, they also could very easily have lost it.
Alexander-Arnold’s form continued to improve with an assist, while Fabinho moved back into centre-back and played well. Allison made some big saves during the game too, while Jota looked dangerous throughout.
Mohammed Salah started the game on the bench and was rather ineffective when coming on and Liverpool just couldn’t really get going as Leeds’ pressing game took over in the second half, leaving Jurgen Klopp’s side with less than 40% possession for the game.
Liverpool now sit two points behind West Ham in sixth place, having played a game more than fifth placed Chelsea. That means with six games to go they will need a big turn in their fortunes to secure Champions League qualification ahead of next season.
With talks over the European Super League putting the entire process into doubt, Klopp will want to ensure his side are involved no matter what happens next season and top four is essential to that.
He will need to make his squad stronger in the summer to get back on a title charge after such an abysmal season this year, with several players likely to leave in the summer to start up a new era at Anfield.
As the season begins to draw to an end, Liverpool must find some form of consistency or risk falling away and finding the gap between themselves and the rest of the top six getting larger and larger, making their job harder and harder.
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.
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)