Real Madrid are going through struggles of their own ahead of the Champions League last-16 clash against Liverpool.
It’s less than two weeks until Liverpool take on Real Madrid in the Champions League. It’s fair to say Reds fans aren’t feeling optimistic about their side’s chances, and maybe rightfully so, but their opponents aren’t enjoying the best of times themselves.
You would think being the reigning La Liga and European champions, all would be well in the Spanish capital. But that is far from the case and Liverpool will be looking to exploit the issues Madrid are having.
There have even been suggestions in the Spanish media that manager Carlo Ancelotti is under pressure and he ‘must’ return from the Club World Cup in Morocco with the trophy. His side face Egyptian outfit Al Ahly in the semi-finals on Wednesday night.
Madrid’s struggles since domestic football resumed after the World Cup – they are currently eight points behind table-topping Barcelona in La Liga – may have gone under the radar with Liverpool supporters. But they are significant. And the last-16 tie still gives the Reds a chance of avenging the defeat they suffered in last season’s final in Paris.
Ancelotti is idolised in Madrid. He was the manager to bring La Decima – the club’s 10th European Cup triumph – to the Bernabeu, back in 2014, when his team beat city rivals Atletico Madrid in that year’s final. And, after returning from Everton, he then led Los Blancos to Champions League title number 14 last season, as well as the domestic crown. However, according to several Spanish media reports, the Italian’s job could be in danger if they aren’t successful in Morocco this week.
Another Spanish outlet, Diario AS, published Madrid’s message to Ancelotti: “Carlo prove what we know you are, the best in the world. Get our act together.” Nothing like increasing the pressure during some critical months, eh? Jurgen Klopp will be more than aware of the situation and he’ll be preparing his side to act on this.
Like the Reds, Madrid have their own injury issues as Ferland Mendy and Lucas Vasquez are already ruled out of the first leg, which takes place at Anfield on February 21. Thibaut Courtois, Karim Benzema and Eder Militao are all expected to be in the squad for the match on Merseyside but there is a chance they won’t be 100% fit. On the other hand, Klopp is expected to welcome back Virgil van Dijk, Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino for the heavyweight encounter. A shift in momentum, maybe?
Talking of fitness, Ancelotti’s men run the risk of fatigue in the build-up to the first Liverpool clash as they may have to play double the amount of times their English opponents do. The ageing midfield of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, despite all of their talent, will surely feel the effects of jetting off to Morocco for the tournament the Reds won at the end of 2019. The Club World Cup final takes place on Saturday and, if Madrid reach that stage or not, they face a La Liga double-header against Elche and Osasuna before heading to Liverpool.
Since the turn of the year, the Spanish champions have lost three times in all competitions and were outclassed by Barcelona in the final of the Spanish Super Cup. Just to remind you, this is a Barca side who failed to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League and will instead play in the Europa League (if they beat Manchester United in the play-offs).
The Reds have made it through to the knockout stages, despite struggling domestically, and many a time Europe’s elite competition has rescued a poor league campaign. How they need it to happen again. Klopp’s men carry a fear factor about them in Europe no matter what their league form is, and the power of Anfield could go a long way into deciding the outcome of this tie.
Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea, Roma and Madrid themselves have all fallen victim to the Anfield atmosphere and Ancelotti will be wary of the the famous old stadium and the problems the ‘12th man’ can cause for visiting sides come February 21.
Another positive for Liverpool to look toward is that they are actually in good form in the Champions League this season. A shocking 4-1 loss at Napoli on matchday one then led to five wins in a row – including a 2-0 win over the Serie A leaders at the start of November.
For now, the Reds’ focus has to be on the Merseyside derby at home to Everton next Monday, followed by a trip to high-flying Newcastle United on Saturday week. But they will have one eye on Madrid, who are under immense levels of expectations to win the Club World Cup, close the gap on Barca in La Liga, and then overcome Liverpool once again. That’s big pressure.