Gareth Bale will be a notable absentee from the mouthwatering clash between Real Madrid and Liverpool, but Reds manager Brendan Rodgers admits the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo means that may be of little advantage to his side.
Bale is out with a muscle injury but Rodgers said the phenomenal form of Ronaldo, plus the threat of Bale’s likely replacement Isco, means Liverpool will have to be at the top of their game against the reigning European champions on Wednesday night.
Ronaldo never scored at Anfield during his time at Manchester United, but the Portuguese international has scored 15 times in his last seven La Liga outings, breaking a 71-year-old record, and has scored in five of his six appearances against Premier League teams in Europe.
Rodgers told a news conference at Anfield: “Gareth Bale is a world-class player with fantastic speed and fantastic talent, but with the squad Real Madrid have they can bring in players like Isco so I don’t think really it’s an advantage if he doesn’t play.
“It’s still going to be a very difficult game for us, they have a squad full of top-class players.
“Of course there is a special talent in Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the best player in the world at the moment, and his evolution from being a soloist who scores goals to a goalscorer is there to see and his record is incredible.
“But we have to make a plan for our team first to ensure we cause Real Madrid problems and then prepare yourself for the quality players they have, but that will be as a team.”
Liverpool have potential problems up front, with Mario Balotelli yet to get off the mark in the Premier League – the Italian appeared dejected after failing to score against QPR at the weekend – and Daniel Sturridge out injured.
Rodgers has tried to boost Balotelli’s confidence by telling his striker that he is at least getting into the right positions but there are suggestions he may leave the 24-year-old on the bench.
“He’s been fine, of course he was disappointed after the weekend – he’s a goalscorer so he wants to score goals,” added Rodgers. “But I highlighted to him he was in the positions to miss, he was arriving in the areas, so I think it’s only a matter of time before he gets his goals.
“He’s a good kid, he’s working hard and he has scored goals in big games and I’m sure he will go into the game tomorrow night – if selected – focused on getting off the mark again, and as long as he is in there getting into the positions I’m sure he can score.”
Raheem Sterling may hold the key to Liverpool’s chances up front after he excelled against QPR, and Rodgers brushed off questions about the player having told England manager Roy Hodgson he was tired. Rodgers said there was no issue with Sterling being able to produce the goods again three days after his last match.
“I think he’s shown over the last couple of years he has that quality and ability to do that,” said the Liverpool boss. “Probably a lot more was made about what happened when he was away with England.
“It was no surprise to me [against QPR], he was a real catalyst for us – wonderful speed, technique and hard work so I’ve no doubt he can arrive into the game and produce the same quality.”
Rodgers was asked by a TV crew to answer a question in Spanish and he demonstrated impressive linguistic skills in reply, saying in Spanish: “One day if I get a chance to work in Spain I will happily answer questions in Spanish but that day is not for now.”