TIA Preview Panel: Real Madrid (a)

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Welcome to the second edition of the This Is Anfield Preview Panel. Ahead of each match the TIA Team will provide their thoughts on the fixture, hopes for team selection, men to watch and their result prediction.

Real Madrid vs Liverpool
Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Broomy: It will be tight, it will be passionate, it will be vibrant…. Its 28 years since the 5 time European Champions Liverpool and 9 times kings Real Madrid battled it out on the ultimate stage. Injection of pace, finesse, width, pace on the flanks, a strong midfield and finishing ability up front will the catalyst to Liverpool getting a result at the Bernabeu.

Real defence will be brimming with confidence after recording a 9th straight win after beating Real Betis 6-1 last weekend. Sergio Ramos and Gabriel Heinz are likely to be at full back while Portugals Pepe should partner Cannavaro at center back. I don’t think Liverpool will set up any differently to the way they normally do. A lot will depend on whether Steven Gerrard is fit and available for selection, however, for me Gerrard will start on the bench so hopefully Benayoun will play in the center just behind Torres. Kuyt should start on the right, however, i’d prefer to see Babel replace Riera on the left for this game, Babel would provide much needed strength, pace, skill and trickery against Ramos.

In central midfield, the return of Alonso is a welcome boost for Liverpool. Alonso will be our key man in exploiting gaps in Reals defence. Alonso and Mascherano will play a pivotal role on Wednesday, keeping possession will be the key. The game could be won in that midfield area. For Real will be Lassana Diarra, Diarra has added solidity to Reals midfield and its no coincidence that Real have won every game since he joined.

At the back should be the familiar Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel and Aurelio. Arbeloa (a former Real Madrid player) will have to be on top of his game dealing with Robben who will be a constant threat down the left. Robben has been in electrifying form since his return from injury under Juande Ramos.

Player to watch: Raul whose goalscoring tally for 2008-09 is already at 19. Give him half a chance and he’ll punish us, He is in great form at the moment and hit a brace last weekend against Betis…. Carragher will have to keep a close eye on Raul, if we can cut the supply line to Raul, Liverpool can look forward to another Champions League Quarter Final… Also, keep an eye out for Istanbul hero Jerzy Dudek on the bench, Dudek has only made eight appearances for Real since leaving Merseyside.

Key head to head: Torres v Cannavaro ‘“ Torres tried and failed for 6 years to break his goalscoring duck at the Bernabeu while playing with Bernabeu. Torrres will also be even more desperate to make an impact having missed the games with Athletico earlier this season. Cannavaro, like Richard Dunne last weekend will rely on his superb reading of the game to keep Torres in check.

Prediction: 1-0 to Liverpool. You can guarantee that the Spanish members of Liverpool’s squad will be desperate to show what they can do, while Benitez has already masterminded surprise wins in the Nou Camp and San Siro in recent seasons, therefore, I envisage a special Torres goal to give us a much needed win and the away goal….

Tetteh: Tonight’s Champions League match up with Real promises to be quite a tough affair. Two giants of European football, Liverpool and Real Madrid, clash at the second stage, with both clubs surely seeing the champions’ league as their best chance for silverware this year – both are in second place, 7 points adrift from their respective league leaders. But the symmetry and poetry of the occasion doesn’t end there. Rafa Benitez returns to the club where he began his coaching career, while Fernando Torres returns to the city where his previous exploits with Atletico haven’t earned him too many fans within the hallowed walls of the Santiago Bernabeu. Reina also returns to Spain, hoping to win his first match against Real. Others of Liverpool’s Spanish contingent will be looking forward to the trip, with Xabi Alonso scheduled to return to the side, and Arbeloa practically guaranteed his spot at RB. Liverpool’s squad contains no less than 7 1st team players who once faced Madrid in La Liga, so this added familiarity may be to our advantage ‘“ In addition to Reina, Alonso, Arbeloa and Torres, Yossi Benayoun, Albert Riera and Fabio Aurellio will all be returning to familiar territory.

In other team news, Liverpool wait on a late fitness test to determine whether Stephen Gerrard will be fit to return from his hamstring injury, but Daniel Agger didn’t even make the trip to Spain, with his back injury keeping him out of the squad. Benitez will likely choose a rather similar lineup to the side that faced Manchester City, with Riera on the left and Dirk Kuyt on the right, Torres leading the attack and a largely unchanged back line, perhaps with the exception of Fabio Aurellio returning at LB. The only changes are likely to be in midfield where Xabi Alonso returns in place of Lucas, and Yossi will be waiting to see if he gets the nod ahead of the still recovering Gerrard.

Opposition Player to Watch: The main man to watch will be Madrid legend Raul. His clever movement and creativity will require Carragher’s attention for the full 90 minutes. However, I’m expecting a strong midfield battle, the winner of which should determine the final result. If Mascherano and Alonso can stamp their authority in the battle in the middle of the park against Lassana Diarra and Fernando Gago, Liverpool should be able to control the match despite being away from home. One potential threat as always will be the pace of Arjen Robben on the break, with the Dutchman eager to avenge his two defeats in this competition at the hands of the reds during his time at Chelsea.

Key head to head: Mascherano vs Fernado Gago. The two Argentine midfielders will be dueling for control of the center of the park, and this is likely to determine the outcome of the match.

Score Prediction: It won’t be a high scoring game. I’m expecting a cat-and-mouse affair, with much of the match spent in a tense midfield battle. I expect we’ll be able to return to Anfield with an away goal or two to our credit. My money’s on a 1-1 draw, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Torres steals a late winner to give us a big advantage in the second leg.

Max Munton: Whether or not Rafa decides to risk Steven Gerrard remains to be seen, but I doubt very much that it will be from the start. I fear if we risk him at any point in the match, it could upset the rest of our season. We can’t lose such an important player. My other fear however is that if we don’t use him, and don’t get a rosy result, it could sink Liverpool heads even more. I’d like to see Ryan Babel given a better shot from the start. Yes, he often comes off the bench to much dissapointment, but he’s young and needs time to settle into a match which has already had the pace set.

Opposition Player to Watch: I have to agree with Broomy and Tetteh, Raul can pull of anything. He may be getting on a bit (Sportin Gijon players were chanting for him to retire) – although still only 31 and he can still frustrate defences. He silenced the Sporting Gijon critics by scoring twice in a 4-0 victory. And he can damage Liverpool, too.

Key head to head: Torres vs Cannavaro (and co). The local hero is back in Madrid and ready to do damage to his former club’s nearest rivals. Torres is no stranger to the Berabeu and will be hoping to prove the reputation he’s carried over to England and become a hero of the Kop with. But Real have a strong defence and Cannavaro, rested after coming off at half-time in their 6-1 thumping of Real Betis at the weekend, will be a strong figure in keeping Torres at bay. Expect Torres however to torment Sergio Ramos, Pepe and Heinze, and testing Casillas, too.

Score Prediction: Lots of hype, lots of tension. It could be fireworks. It’ll probably be 0-0.

To mark the end of the 30-year wait for a league title, the ‘Liverpool Mishmash’ poster is available to order exclusively on This Is Anfield — the history of the Reds in one image!

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