Verdict: Total goals over 2.5
Best odds: 3/5
Liverpool have a steep hill to climb in their second-leg clash with Real Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinals which is being played on Wednesday at Anfield. The Spanish giants won the first leg last week at the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium by 3-1, courtesy of a brace from Vinicius Junior and a strike from Marco Asensio in between, along with Mohamed Salah scoring the only goal for the Premier League champions.
Much has been said about the season Liverpool have had so far, particularly in terms of the injury crisis that has hit their back line pretty hard. Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip have all been ruled out for the rest of the campaign, as has captain Jordan Henderson in midfield.
The search for the right combination in the absence of these players has taken its toll on their results, and in the Premier League, Liverpool are now sixth with 52 points to their name. Their chances of securing Champions League qualification for next term are still realistic, but the league title is obviously lost with Manchester City firmly in the lead. The race for top four seems a challenge enough for Jurgen Klopp’s men, with Chelsea in fifth, Tottenham Hotspur in seventh and Everton in eighth place all eyeing positions three and four, currently held by Leicester City and West Ham.
Liverpool reached the knockout stages of the Champions League by winning Group D, ahead of Atalanta, Ajax and Midtjylland, and they got past RB Leipzig in the round of 16 with relative ease, winning both legs by 2-0.
The form of the Merseysiders has taken a definite upturn in recent weeks, despite the defeat in the first leg of this tie. They won four and lost two of their last six matches in all competitions, which include a 0-1 defeat at home against Fulham, the 2-0 win over Leipzig, a 0-1 win away to Wolverhampton Wanderers, a 0-3 triumph over Arsenal in North London, the 3-1 defeat to Real and a 2-1 win at home against Aston Villa on Saturday.
Apart from the four players mentioned above, manager Jurgen Klopp shouldn’t have any further injury absences to make up for.
On the other hand, it is to be expected that Thiago Alcantara takes his place in the middle of the park from the start this time, with the experiment with Naby Keita backfiring spectacularly in the first leg. Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum will be joining the Spaniard in midfield, and they’ll likely be playing ahead of what’s now become the usual back four for Liverpool – Nathaniel Phillips and Ozan Kabak flanked by Trent Alexander-Arnold, the hero of their win over Aston Villa on Saturday, and Andy Robertson. Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are likely to take up their usual spots in the attacking line, though it remains to be seen whether Klopp chooses to start Roberto Firmino or Diogo Jota with them. It won’t be much of a surprise if we see all four of them on the pitch together at some point of the match.
Naturally, Alisson Becker is by far the likeliest option in goal.
The race for the title in La Liga is heating up. It seemed at one point that Atletico Madrid were well on course to repeat the success of 2014, which was the last time any team won the trophy apart from Real or Barcelona, but things are now pretty complicated. Atletico are still in the lead with 67 points, but Real are now just behind with 66, followed by Barcelona on 65. Zinedine Zidane’s men made a big step towards the top on Saturday evening by winning the El Clasico at the Alfredo Di Stefano, thanks to goals from Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos, while the only goal for Barcelona came from Oscar Mingueza.
In the Champions League, they won Group B ahead of Borussia Monchengladbach, Shakhtar Donetsk and Inter Milan, before proceeding to triumph over Atalanta in the round of 16. They won both legs, 0-1 in Italy and 3-1 in Madrid.
As for their recent form, Real won all of their last six matches – 2-1 at home against Elche, the second leg against Atalanta, 1-3 away to Celta Vigo, 2-0 at home against Eibar, the 3-1 win over Liverpool in the first leg, and the El Clasico triumph mentioned above.
Much like Liverpool, Real have a defensive injury crisis going on at the moment. Captain Sergio Ramos is out with a calf problem, and even if he wasn’t, he’s been tested positive for COVID-19. Raphael Varane has also tested positive for the notorious virus. Right-back Dani Carvajal has been out for a while with a hamstring issue. His first deputy Lucas Vazquez is also injured, having been forced off against Barcelona with a cruciate ligament sprain. It means Alvaro Odriozola is likely to cover the right defensive flank, with Ferland Mendy on the left, and Eder Militao alongside Nacho in the middle.
The trio of Casemiro, Luka Modric and Kroos performed very well in the first leg and will keep their place, especially with Fede Valverde suffering a bruised foot against Barcelona freshly returned from an injury absence. The same goes for Benzema, Vinicius and Asensio upfront, with the match being played to soon for Eden Hazard. Thibaut Courtois will, of course, be standing between the posts.
Real won the first leg, mostly due to the fact that they comfortably dominated the first half, but things are bound to look different now. With the aggregate scoreline significantly in their favour, they won’t be charging forward too rashly. They will focus mostly on defending and try to hit the Reds through counterattacks, seeking to use the pace of their wingers and the passing skill of their midfielders once more.
As for Liverpool, they have nothing to lose and are expected to attack from the first whistle. They certainly have the quality to hurt Real’s makeshift defence, but they will have to do better than last week. In such a game, goals will likely come in a fair number and at both ends.
Verdict: Total goals over 2.5
Best odds: 3/5
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