Whereas 4 years is a very long time in soccer, and groups can enormously remodel a pair instances in that timespan, Actual Madrid and Liverpool look loads like they did 4 years in the past. Liverpool are nonetheless anchored by Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Andrew Robertson in protection and Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah in assault. The sharp finish of the stick for Madrid continues to be Luka Modrić, Toni Kroos, Casemiro, and Karim Benzema up prime. Yeah, there’s no Ronaldo, and there’s no Sergio Ramos, maybe the most important antagonist the final time these two danced within the last. However Gareth Bale continues to be lurking deep within the closet, and if Carlo Ancelottii has essentially the most devious humorousness ever he would a minimum of place Bale on the bench to provide Liverpool some severe shakes.
However the place as that last was outlined by Salah’s damage/Ramos’s judo takedown and Liverpool being poor in midfield (they principally signed Fabinho the following day due to it), it’s final yr’s quarterfinal between the 2 that’s extra instructive as to what Saturday may seem like.
There aren’t a number of surprises for both crew come kickoff. Everybody is aware of how Liverpool play. A seemingly suicidal excessive defensive position that works as a result of van Dijk and Alisson are that good, Robertson and Alexander-Arnold push up far into the assault, Mane dropping deep to hyperlink with the midfield and Salah and almost definitely Luis Diaz working past him. It’s an open ebook, however so few are in a position to cease it.
Everybody additionally is aware of that Ancelotti isn’t actually an in-the-weeds tactician, and trusts his gamers to do what they do. As unusual because it sounds, given the favored notion and size of their teaching careers, Zinedine Zidane final yr was way more into the small print. And Zidane picked out Liverpool’s exhaust port to hit. It was the suitable facet of their protection, the place Vinicius Jr. lives in Madrid’s assault. And Liverpool left Kroos far an excessive amount of time within the 1st leg of that quarterfinal to only launch lengthy balls over Alexander-Arnold’s head with Vinicius working onto them. To wit:
Or, with Alexander-Arnold primarily dropping all sense of route and self after being scarred by the primary objective:
This has been a normal goal for Liverpool’s opponents, with TAA pushing to date ahead and the area behind him, and the notion that he’s additionally not an excellent one-on-one defender. That latter principle isn’t really true, TAA is ok as a one-on-one defender however he can lack tempo in opposition to the quicker attackers on this planet. Which, sadly for him, Vinicius Jr. simply occurs to be. You’ll be able to anticipate Benzema from the begin to stand on whoever companions van Dijk in protection, try to drag them into midfield by dropping deep and leaving Alexander-Arnold on an island. The communication to Fabinho because the holder in Liverpool’s midfield might be essential. Jordan Henderson also can assist out, however a few of Liverpool’s lack of ability to regulate matches early within the season was rooted within the tactic that their right-sided #8, normally Henderson, has been overlapping Alexander-Arnold typically to get the right-back extra central and principally leaving nobody on the suitable facet of protection. It could be actually courageous to return to that effectively in Saturday’s last.
There are some big variations for Saturday’s recreation and final yr’s encounter. The most important one is that Liverpool just isn’t beginning Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak at centerback this time round. Van Dijk normally begins on the left facet of the 2 centerbacks, and nobody will know till it’s introduced whether or not it’ll be Joel Matip or Ibrahima Konate beginning on the suitable facet of the pairing. Konate comes with restoration tempo, Matip comes with the expertise and nous. Konate can get misplaced positionally, as evidenced by Wolves’ opener on Sunday. Matip began the final last Liverpool have been in, and gained, and the sensible cash says it’ll be him within the 11.
Whereas Phillips is a cult hero for his performances on the finish of the season final yr that received Liverpool again into the Champions League locations, he didn’t have tempo, and he did have a behavior of going for each ball whether or not he may win it or not, and would typically go away acres of area uncovered behind him in doing so. That is what Madrid preyed on, and gained’t be as available this time.
Secondly, due to the ropiness of Liverpool’s protection final yr, Liverpool couldn’t press in the identical trend that we’re used to seeing. Have a look at the time Kroos has for the 2 objectives as Liverpool’s forwards sink again. That’s in all probability not going to be the case Saturday.
That was in all probability the plan for Man Metropolis too, and Vinicius and Benzema nonetheless tore them aside within the first leg. The hope for Liverpool is that when Metropolis have been ready to make use of Kyle Walker within the second leg, he had Vinicius Jr. pretty effectively shackled. Solely after he needed to exit late within the second half did issues get crazy for Metropolis. Alexander-Arnold just isn’t Kyle Walker, however the combo of him and Matip/Konate is fairly shut.
As for that urgent, that’s not a certainty. Liverpool have seemed gassed for a number of weeks now. They seemed deadly for the primary 20 minutes in opposition to Chelsea within the FA Cup Ultimate, however have been clearly wheezing by the tip of it. They needed to slog previous Southampton with the B-team earlier than trying very labored in opposition to Wolves on Sunday. Going again even additional, they needed to come from behind in opposition to Villa, couldn’t break down Spurs greater than as soon as after going behind them, have been rocked by Villareal within the second leg of the semifinal. It’s been a month since they’ve seemed just like the all-conquering unholy pressure we affiliate them with, and that was in opposition to Manchester United so it barely counts if in any respect. Whether or not they even can press Madrid furiously for a full match could be very up within the air, and as seen, Kroos or Modrić solely want a second.
Nonetheless, there’s a stage of tempo that Liverpool can in all probability nonetheless set that Madrid can’t match. All of PSG, Chelsea, and Metropolis have turned over Madrid in a single match or extra, and there’s no second leg or entrenched psychological quivering that Madrid can feast on (within the case of PSG and Metropolis). When Chelsea and Metropolis hit the fuel, they have been miles higher than Madrid. Benzema got here up with objectives to maintain them shut, however merely staying shut doesn’t work in a one-off last.
However in fact, Ancelotti doesn’t care about all of that. There’s clearly one thing unquantifiable about this Madrid crew, and even when they’re outdated and sluggish in each spot besides the place Vinicius Jr. performs, there’s sufficient real class to conjure up a pair moments of pure inspiration, which may be all it takes. Liverpool can play this completely, and one Modrić flick or one Benzema end can undo all that work. The plan might be to isolate Vinicius and Alexander-Arnold, however as we’ve seen, little or no has something to do with a plan in the case of Madrid this yr within the Champions League.