Verdict: Total goals under 2.5
Best odds: 11/10
It’s been almost three years since Real Madrid and Liverpool played that notorious Champions League final in Kyiv, in which Loris Karius make two unbelievable howlers, Gareth Bale scored a superb overhead, and Sergio Ramos played the whole match despite elbowing Karius in the back of the head and injuring Mohamed Salah. The Spanish giants won that day, but the Merseysiders bounced back the following season, swept Real’s arch-rivals Barcelona aside in a stunning semifinal before clinching the trophy against Tottenham Hotspur. Real had already been knocked out by Ajax.
They will now meet again, this time over two legs of a Champions League quarterfinal, the first being played on Tuesday at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium in Madrid.
Having won the La Liga title last season, Los Blancos are still hanging in the race this term, despite some periods of woeful form which even stirred rumours about head coach Zinedine Zidane potentially facing the sack. They managed to secure passage from Group B in the final round by beating Borussia Monchengladbach 2-0, and eventually finished ahead of the Bundesliga side, as well as Shakhtar Donetsk and Inter Milan. They went on to beat Atalanta over two legs in the round of 16, 4-1 on aggregate.
Domestically, Real sit in second place with 63 points, three less than city rivals Atletico in the lead and one more than Barcelona in third. The race is obviously wide open, with Barcelona in a good position to move ahead of Real by beating Valladolid tonight (Monday).
Zidane’s team are currently on a good run of results, having won four of their last six matches in all competitions and drawing the other two. Liverpool will, nonetheless, be a stern test, especially with El Clasico squeezed in between the two legs.
Zidane is hopeful of having Eden Hazard available for this match, though the involvement of the Belgian winger is far from certain as he struggles to be fit in time following a muscle injury which kept him out of the last eight La Liga matches, as well as both games against Atalanta. The same goes for midfielder Fede Valverde, but captain Sergio Ramos is out and will likely remain out for the rematch as well. Right-back Dani Carvajal is a huge doubt.
Raphael Varane was rested in the win over Eibar on Saturday and will most likely start. Karim Benzema will lead the line upfront, with Marco Asensio, whose name was on the scoresheet alongside the Frenchman’s, on his flank again. If Hazard is unavailable, Vinicius Junior will join them.
Liverpool had an extremely difficult time since the turn of the year. Having topped the Premier League table at Christmas, they are now 25 points behind Manchester City. They suffered several shocking defeats in that time, especially at home, and that after going 68 league matches unbeaten at Anfield. Injuries in the centre-back department go a long way in explaining the problems that hit them, with Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip all ruled out for the rest season, as well as captain Jordan Henderson.
Manager Jurgen Klopp was often forced to tinker with the team further to try and get around the fact that he had no centre-backs, but things look very different at the moment. Ozan Kabak, who arrived on loan from Schalke 04 on the last day of the winter window, has adapted very well, and together with Nathaniel Phillips and with Fabinho playing ahead of them, he helps form a back line which kept clean sheets in the last three matches.
Liverpool won those three matches, four in total of the last six in all competitions, narrowly losing two. In the Premier League, they are in sixth place, two points off Chelsea in fourth and with the same tally as Spurs in fifth, and finishing above those two teams at the moment seems all they can hope for.
The Reds came through Group D in the Champions League, winning it ahead of Atalanta, Ajax and Midtjylland, and they knocked out RB Lepizig in the round of 16 by winning both legs with the same score, 2-0.
Aside for the four players mentioned (Van Dijk, Gomez, Matip and Henderson), Klopp should have the rest of the squad available, though backup goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher and striker Divock Origi aren’t certain to be ready, having just recovered from injuries.
James Milner started in Liverpool’s convincing win over Arsenal on Saturday, but the 35-year-old is likely to return to the bench in Madrid and make way for Georginio Wijnaldum, alongside Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara in the middle of the park. Alisson Becker will be in goal, with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson on the defensive flanks, and the Kabak – Phillips duo in between.
It will be interesting to see the attacking line Klopp goes with from the start. Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah all played very well against Arsenal, but the deadlock was broken by Diogo Jota three minutes after coming on, and the same player eventually scored the final goal of the game with a cool finish from Salah in between. Jota is on incredible form, but Klopp may opt to use him as a surprise weapon off the bench again.
This will be a tough game for both sides. Real can hardly expect Liverpool to hand them two goals again, but on the other hand, they are still Real Madrid and will take anything they can in this game. But all in all, a cautious approach is very likely from both teams; not many chances, and not many goals.
Verdict: Total goals under 2.5
Best odds: 11/10
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