Only two matches out of six has been played in Champions League group B but Liverpool has already put themselves in a tricky position. So a defeat against Real Madrid tonight can easily be an unrepairable blow. We need at least a point, perhaps even three, to still be in the progressing picture.
Reigning Champions League champions, galactico club Real Madrid, is visiting Anfield this evening. It doesn´t get much tougher, much bigger. Attacker Gareth Bale is missing from their line-up but players like Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez, Isco, Toni Kroos, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric are capable of causing problems to any team, any defence. And as our back four is shaky at the moment, to put it mildly, it´s a huge question mark hanging over their capability to handle the Real storm.
Liverpool need to put in the best performance for a long time, far better than this season´s lame efforts, to at least have a chance to grab a point. The defence must be much more sharper and decisive than of late otherwise it could be an embarrassing score. And the attack must be really quick to exploit any mistakes the vistors will make. I expect it won´t be many so we have to take advantage of every chance that comes along.
Liverpool could have been in a much less precarious situation hadn´t we lost to Basel last time around. That 0-1 setback gave the Swiss team the upper hand in fight for second spot in the group which means progress to the knockout rounds. Real Madrid will in all likelyhood be top dog in the group. And I guess that Ludogorets ends up last. So Liverpool and Basel has got to slug it out between them.
Here are a couple of possible scenarios and the reason why it´s so important that Liverpool avoids defeat tonight. Right now both Liverpool and Basel are on three points. But the matches ahead can change that dramatically. Liverpool now face Real twice while Basel clashes with Lodugorets twice. If Liverpool loses both encounters and Basel is victorious in theirs then the Swiss has got nine points and Liverpool three. An extremely tough situation to turn around in the two remaining games. It makes it even more difficult because then Real is already qualified and perhaps not as hungry when they face Basel in the fifth match. One point is enough for Basel in that duel to progress and eliminate Liverpool. Not completely unlikely since Basel is pretty strong at home.
So two defeats is not an option for the Reds against Real. A win tonight and a point in the away game would be marvellous but just a single point in the two matches, taken at Anfield for instance, would also be a lot better than nought. Because then Liverpool would be on four and Basel on nine (if they beat Ludogorets twice) going into the last games. It´s still a formidable task to manage. But more doable than trailing three to nine.
But even a point may be too little. To have a realistic chance to go through Liverpool probably need to beat Real once or get help from Ludogorets in their games versus Basel. But as always it´s better to make your own luck than to depend on how other teams fare.
And it´s not impossible for Liverpool to beat Real, they have alreday lost two games in the Spanish league so they are not invincible. And should the Reds conquer the giants from Madrid then the CL future looks rosy. Worst case scenario then is Basel three points ahead of us before the final two rounds. And Liverpool has the advantage of taking on Basel at home in the last match. And we know what can happen at Anfield in such high-profile and decisive matches.
But whichever way you spin it, point or points against Real Madrid is a must.
Liverpool can take heart from history. We have met Real three times in competetive matches and ran out winners on each occasion. First time was in the final of the European Cup in 1981 when Alan Kennedy´s goal in the 82nd minute was enough to seal it.
Five years ago the teams met in the round of 16 in the Champions League and once more Liverpool kept clean sheets winning 1-0 in Madrid and 4-0 in a magic match at Anfield. In the latter Steven Gerrard scored twice, was unplayable and got hailed both by Real fans and Spanish press. Let´s hope for an encore this time. But I would settle for a narrow 1-0 win with Stevie scoring in the 95th minute.
The question is now: Which eleven players is the best to take on Real in a few hours? I would go for these guys:
GK: Simon Mignolet. RB: Javier Manquillo. CB: Dejan Lovren. CB: Martin Skrtel. LB: Alberto Moreno. DM: Joe Allen. DM: Steven Gerrard. RM: Raheem Sterling. AM: Philippe Coutinho. LM: Adam Lallana. CF: Mario Balotelli.
This team is set-up a wee bit defensive bit still with enough attacking quality to be a goal threat.
Some of the above players has not been convincing this season but gets the nod anyhow. Our options are limited. Mignolet, for instance, seemed to be on the right track in the last match, and is when in top form better than Brad Jones. Neither Manquillo nor Glen Johnson is an ideal right back against Real but the Spaniard is a little bit more defensive reliable and fitter than Johnson who is just back from injury. Alberto Moreno is better than José Enrique and should play. Hopefully his abscence versus QPR was just of resting reasons. Lovren has not been good but is a better choice than Kolo Toure against these world class opponents.
I am not so impressed by Jordan Henderson as so many people seem to be. Especially in this game I prefer Joe Allen. We need to keep the ball a lot otherwise Real will murder us. I think Allen is better equipped than Henderson to move the ball within ranks. Sterling, Coutinho and Lallana must play if we are going to have any chance of penetrating the away defence. Balotelli also gets the nod ahead of Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini. The Italian has been poor in his Liverpool showings but I believe he could come alive and be at his best in this kind of high prestigious game.
As always the twelfth man can be a decisive factor in an important European match at Anfield. It has been comparatively quiet at L4 lately. The noice level must raise to something like in the Chelsea game in 2005 if we are to shake Real Madrid.
If everything goes to plan and clicks into gear a win is possible. But I don´t think that we are ready to conquer Real just yet. But I predict that we manage a draw, 1-1 with Balotelli finally scoring again.
It´s time for a resounding battle cry, namely:
We Go Again.