Real Madrid can ensure qualification for the Champions League knockout phase and inflict more misery on a struggling Liverpool side when the two European giants meet in the Champions League group phase on Tuesday. The sides will face off at the Bernabeu in the Spanish capital just two weeks after Madrid went to Anfield and tore Liverpool apart in an emphatic 3-0 win. Another victory this week and the holders can already celebrate their place in the last 16, while Liverpool’s hopes will be left in real jeopardy heading into their final two matches.
Liverpool are languishing down in seventh in the Premier League table, with Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Newcastle United meaning they’ve lost as many games as they’ve won in the competition this season. In the Champions League, they remain with just three points, and with the knowledge that one or both of Basel and Ludogorets will move above them should they taste another loss in Madrid.
“We see it as an opportunity,” Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said in his pre-match press conference. “We still very much have the opportunity to qualify from the group. We're not coming here as a team that is expecting to lose and then look at the other games as games we have to qualify.
“We're very much focused on ourselves. We know it's in our hands to qualify out of the group and that's still the objective. It's still in our hands, so that's something that we will look forward to hopefully achieving.”
Yet there remain considerable major concerns on Merseyside. While long-standing defensive failings have yet to be overcome, Liverpool are also struggling mightily in attack and have failed to score in three of their last four games. Striker Daniel Sturridge remains on the sidelines with injury while the likes of Mario Balotelli, Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic, assembled at considerable expense over the summer, are still failing to fire.
There are no such problems for Real Madrid. New signings Toni Kroos and James Rodríguez are in rich form and the team has now taken its winning run to 11 matches, with goals continuing to fly in from all angles. Three days after the win at Anfield, Madrid came up with its biggest victory of the season when sweeping Barcelona aside 3-1. Carlo Ancelotti’s men followed that up with a 4-0 win at Granada on Saturday, which included a sensational goal from Rodríguez, to go top of La Liga for the first time this campaign.
“We’re playing well at the moment and we are all happy,” Ancelotti said, reports Spanish sports daily AS. We are very aware that every game we play is important – that was the attitude we had against Granada and now we are treating this game against Liverpool in the same way. We have confidence but not fear. We have a highly-professional side. We will lose some games but the team’s professionalism is 100 per cent, both when we win and when we lose.”
Against Liverpool, an attack that has been led by Cristiano Ronaldo’s extraordinary 20 goals already this season could be boosted by the return from injury of Gareth Bale. Still, with Isco having performed so well in the Welshman’s stead and in the midst of a heavy run of fixtures, Ancelotti has a few decisions to make over his team selection.
“He’s fine,” Ancelotti said of Bale. “[Fabio] Coentrão, [Dani] Carvajal, [Asier Illarramendi] Illarra and [Sami] Khedira are also available My only doubt is whether to put Bale on from the start and also whether to rest a few of the players who have accumulated a lot of games. I’ll decide tomorrow.”
Prediction: There has been nothing since the two sides met at Anfield to suggest the result will be anything different this time around. In fact, at the Bernabeu it could an even more emphatic win for Real Madrid. Two weeks ago Liverpool were boosted by their passionate home support to create a frenetic early tempo and cause the visitors some initial problems. But once that intensity inevitably faded, Madrid’s class took over to devastating effect. Madrid can still be exposed in transition, although they have improved considerably as the season has gone on, but Liverpool currently lack any really fluidity going forward. Meanwhile, the brittle defense of the Merseysiders should provide Madrid with ample opportunity to continue to rack up the goals as well as book an early place in the last 16.
Real Madrid 3-0 Liverpool
Kickoff time: 2:45 PM ET
TV channel: Fox Sports 1