Champions League Preview | Real Madrid vs Liverpool

Real Madrid’s busy week of season-defining fixtures begins tonight with their first leg against Liverpool at the Alfredo Di Stéfano stadium.

Tuesday’s clash will be the first between the sides since the 2018 final, in which Madrid won 3-1 to seal a third consecutive Champions League trophy.

Los Blancos have won the first leg in eight of their last nine Champions League knockout ties, while they have claimed victories in their last three matches against the Reds in the competition. 

Zinedine Zidane’s men, who are without captain Sergio Ramos and Eden Hazard, host Barcelona in El Clásico on Saturday before travelling to Anfield for the second leg on the following Wednesday.

Los Blancos are currently sitting in third place in LaLiga, although a win in over Ronald Koeman’s in-form side this weekend would see them leapfrog their archrivals and put pressure on a faltering Atlético Madrid.

But this season has not been plain sailing.

After failing to win their opening two Champions League group stage matches (at home against Shakhtar Donetsk and away at Borussia Mönchengladbach), Zidane’s men just about made it through to the knockout stages, where they defeated Atalanta (4-1) fairly convincingly over two legs.

Liverpool meanwhile sit in 7th place in the Premier League, knowing that Manchester City’s weekend victory over Leicester City makes it mathematically impossible for them to retain the title they won with such glory last season.

Despite going through a period in which they lost six out of seven domestic fixtures (including against their arch-rivals Everton), Klopp’s men have won their last two Premier League matches. These important victories were a 1-0 away win at Wolves before this weekend’s stunning 3-0 demolition of Arsenal at the Emirates stadium.

The English side also knocked out Leipzig 4-0 (currently in second place in the Bundesliga) over two legs in the previous round.

And speaking before the match, Zidane was very complimentary of the Liverpool side.

It’s a complete team. It is a very strong and very solid set and when it comes to playing as a team it is very good, there is not a single point in particular, although yes, the three strikers are very good.”

The French manager also had a few words to say about his counterpart, Jurgen Klopp.

“Klopp is a great manager with a great CV and has done superbly at Liverpool. I don’t have to copy him because everyone has their way of going about things. I like to look and learn though and when I did my management course I analysed Klopp.”

Jurgen Klopp, meanwhile, had a few things to say of his own.

He was asked about the 2018 final between the two sides.

We were good in the [2018] game. Real came back. Actually, our team is built for this type of game. We are facing a footballing playing side which helps. We have a chance. Absolutely. Everyone says Real are favourites, great.”

He was also asked if this season’s encounter was revenge for what happened in that final.

“Revenge for 2018? In general, no. Not a revenge tour. Life is like this. I don’t believe in it but it would be nice to get through. They are outstanding and know exactly how it goes.”

The German manager is confident in his team’s abilities and knows that, whatever their league form is, he possesses a good squad of players.

“I am not so determined to show the world how good we are to be honest. It’s about us wanting to get whatever is possible out of this season. We have created the basis, we are still in the fight for CL spots as well.”

Team news

The aforementioned omissions of Sergio Ramos and Eden Hazard are huge losses for Zidane, as well as right-back Dani Carvajal, though influential midfielder Fede Valverde is back in the squad.

“I hope to have Eden back soon. I hope to have a fully fit squad come the end of the season,” Zidane said.

Defenders Virgil Van Djik, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip are all still out alongside captain Jordan Henderson.

Real Madrid and Liverpool both dispatched tricky opponents (Atalanta and RB Leipzig) in the previous round, but they know tonight will be a tougher test.

The LaLiga and Premier League defending champions have had their troubles this season, but they both know about the importance of the Champions League.

It could make or break either club’s season. The Champions League trophy would thus be a fantastic return for either club. Liverpool will need to be particularly wary of Madrid talisman Karim Benzema, who has scored four goals in his three Champions League appearances against them.

And with 19 European Cups between them, including five out of the last seven, you cannot rule out either team winning Europe’s top prize this season.

James Felton

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