Goal.com’s KS Leong explores the reasons why Real Madrid have every right to believe that Liverpool are afraid of them
These two sides have amassed 14 titles between them in the history of the competition, four of which have come in the last ten years alone. Yet, the Merengues and the Merseysiders have not met once since the tournament was re-branded the UEFA Champions League. In fact, you’d have to go all the way back to the 1981 European Cup final, which the Reds won 1-0, for their last ever competitive meeting.
It’s not too surprising, though, considering both clubs have had such contrasting fortunes over time. Madrid, after winning the title three times in a span of five years between 1998 and 2002, have never come close again to making another final.
You can understand then why the Spaniards – from both camps, mind you – have been so anxious to build-up the contest by voicing their strong opinions and predictions for the match. Rafael van der Vaart lit the spark when he trumpeted that
But Reds goalkeeper, Pepe Reina responded by saying there’s absolutely nothing for his side to fear. In riposte, Blancos defenders, Pepe and Sergio Ramos boomed that they were optimistic of eliminating their English rivals, who retorted with their own show of confidence from Xabi Alonso and Reina again.
On paper, it would seem that there’s nothing to choose from between these two. But upon closer inspection, perhaps
1. Red Hot At the Right Time
If this encounter were to take place two months ago, the Red Army would not have hesitated to put their money and their mortgage on their
But things have changed dramatically since the turn of the year. Never mind that Benitez’s boys have been in sputtering form or that they have been struggling for consistency,
Los Blancos may not be playing the kind of swashbuckling football to convince bookmakers to install them as favourites to win the competition, but they are getting there; and truth of the matter is that under new coach, Juande Ramos, they know how to grind out a sufficient result. Even more importantly, they know how to keep a clean sheet, which will be extremely crucial considering a single away goal could prove the difference between going home and going to the quarter-finals.
It’s not just the team collectively who have recovered their form. Individually, the players are also back to their very best, from Iker Casillas to Fabio Cannavaro to Arjen Robben and Raul. Confidence and morale will also be a huge factor and around the Bernabeu camp, there are bucket-loads of that to go around, especially after tonight’s 6-1 demolition of Real Betis.
2. No More Injury Nightmares
Two months ago, while the English were busy contemplating calling up their bookies and putting their houses on the line,
Most of their players could barely string three games together without falling injured, while their key figures such as Ruud van Nistelrooy, Mahamadou Diarra, Cannavaro, Pepe, Robben were dropping off like flies one after the other. At one point, they had more first-team players in the treatment room than they had in the dressing room.
But now, once again, things have improved significantly for the nine-time European champions. For some mystical, mysterious reason, the ‘Men in White’ are not getting injured as much under Juande as they did under Bernd Schuster. Even the Dutch Porcelain, Robben, managed to reel off seven straight games before picking up the most minor of niggles while on international duty two weeks ago.
The wing-wizard, who is in imperious form, will return in time to face
In short, Madrid have played only ten competitive matches since the conclusion of the Champions League group phase, compared to Liverpool’s 13 (inclusive of their clash with Manchester City on Sunday). It doesn’t help either that Steven Gerrard is carrying an injury while Fernando Torres is struggling with fitness.
3. Juande The Cup King
The ‘White House’ could not have chosen a better candidate to replace Schuster to lead
In a space of just three years, the man from La Mancha won five various titles with Sevilla (two UEFA Cups, Copa del Rey, Spanish Supercopa and UEFA Super Cup) before adding another to his résumé with Tottenham Hotspur (League Cup).
In sharp contrast, Schuster, despite guiding tiny
This could very well be tagged an ‘all-Spanish clash’. There’s a very high likelihood that
But that fact in itself has little significance on the game. The key element here is that the Merseysiders have a distinct edge over their opponents thanks to the heavy Spanish influence in their squad. But
Players like Gabriel Heinze, Lassana Diarra, Julien Faubert, Robben and coach, Juande himself, all have substantial knowledge of and insight into the English game, their mentality, their subtle tricks, their strengths and weaknesses, to nullify
5. Hungry Giants
While it’s one thing not to win the Champions League or go all the way to the final, it’s quite another not to have progressed past the round of 16 four seasons in succession. For a club of
Liverpool will no doubt have their own burning ambitions to win Europe’s top prize for a sixth time, but there’s no denying that lifting their 19th domestic crown – and their first since 1990 – has become their very own obsession. This season, they have perhaps their best chance in a long, long while to put an end to that barren spell.