It’s the biggest match of Liverpool’s season, but where will the Champions League quarter-final with Real Madrid be won and lost?
Of course, there won’t be some of the biggest names present for both sides. Virgil van Dijk, Sergio Ramos, Eden Hazard, it’s not the titanic clash it might have been last season.
However, there are plenty of top-class players still taking to the pitch, perfectly capable of causing serious damage.
Nat Phillips vs. Karim Benzema
It’s been a roller coaster of a season for Nat Phillips. On the verge of a move to Swansea City at the start of the season, he has become the lynchpin of Liverpool’s defence. Now he faces arguably the biggest test of his career.
Karim Benzema is a world-class striker, one of the most successful forwards of this century. Where he once played second fiddle to Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, he’s now Real Madrid’s main man.
With 24 goals and assists in 25 La Liga matches, he’s a brilliant offensive threat. Able to link the play well, operate with his back to goal or off the shoulder, he’ll test Phillip’s ability to adapt in-game.
He also doesn’t play to Nat Phillips’ strengths, not looking to contest balls in the air. It does mean if Liverpool’s press works and Real Madrid are forced to go long, Phillips has the capacity to dominate.
Thiago Alcantara vs. Toni Kroos
This should be a fantastic clash of two of football’s greatest playmakers. Thiago hasn’t been able to play to his best often enough this season, with little to no cover behind him.
Fabinho’s return to midfield, however, has unleashed the Spaniard. His last outing against Arsenal was a case in point. He was able to keep the Red’s tempo going and his European experience will be vital.
Toni Kroos on the other hand has been part of one of the world’s most dominant midfields. His range of passing and threat from set-pieces will be a vital weapon for Los Merengues. An elite ball progressor, his ability to run a game by himself is terrifying for the opposition.
This game will be dictated in midfield, where both teams are arguably strongest. Thiago and Kroos will be vital to which side is able to provide their forwards with the best service.
With both sides missing their best defenders, this will be even more crucial than usual.
Diogo Jota vs. Raphael Varane
It didn’t look possible for someone to break up Liverpool’s fabled front three, but Diogo Jota appears to have managed it. His direct running, goal threat and aerial ability have refreshed Liverpool’s attack since his return from injury. With eight goals from seven Premier League starts he has provided the thrust Sadio Mane has failed to provide for much of the season.
One of his direct opponents will be Raphael Varane. Having arrived at Real Madrid from French side Lens, he has been a fixture for the 13-time European champions. Alongside Sergio Ramos, his athleticism and technical ability have helped him develop into one of Europe’s very best centre-halves. Now though, without Ramos alongside him, he’ll have to marshal the defence himself.
The Reds will be hoping he produces something similar to the disaster class he dropped at the Etihad Stadium last season. Twice when pressed near his own goal, Varane committed mistakes that led to Manchester City winning the tie. With the high energy style of Liverpool’s forwards, expect to see them try and make him commit those mistakes again.