Two giants of European Football meet on Wednesday night at Anfield for their third game in Group B of the Champions League. Ben Twelves discusses how Brendan Rodgers should shape his team for the clash.
Liverpool return to Champions League action on Wednesday night when they host the current European champions in as big a clash as they come at Anfield, in a game that the Reds will be looking to get their European adventure back on track.
Brendan Rodgers’ side slumped to a disappointing 1-0 defeat against Swiss champions Basel almost three weeks ago, tightening the group and denting the their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stage in the process.
Two wins from two league games so far this month for Rodgers’ men has improved Liverpool’s Premier League position and the Reds will be looking to carry the positive results, but not performances, onto the European stage starting against Carlo Ancelotti’s fantasy football-like team on Wednesday.
Rodgers: "The good thing about this group is that we really lift ourselves for the big games."
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceLFC) October 21, 2014
The glamorous encounter will be the second match in just four days for Rodgers and his team, and the Liverpool boss is going to have to use the full depth of his squad over what will be a testing period for Liverpool who play six games in just 18 days in a hectic schedule of games – finishing with Chelsea arriving at Anfield.
Gerrard: "We're new back in the CL so I'm not sure Real will be coming here with any fear but for us it's a fantastic challenge."
— Tony Barrett (@TonyBarrett) October 21, 2014
Liverpool welcomed back Joe Allen and Emre Can to the match day fold in Sunday’s abysmal display against QPR, but Rodgers is still without top striker Daniel Sturridge, who it was revealed late on Friday night is frustratingly out for a further month after picking up a calf muscle injury in training.
The England striker’s presence is sorely missed in the starting XI, with Mario Balotelli desperately struggling to replicate anything like his promising performance when played alongside Sturridge in a two man partnership.
Mamadou Sakho is still unavailable for selection and with Kolo Toure being a last resort, Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel should continue their ‘work in progress’ partnership against one of the most frightening strike forces in world football on Wednesday.
Alberto Moreno is set to be welcomed back into the squad and he along with fellow Spaniard, Javier Manquillo, should both come straight back into the starting XI for the clash in place of Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique who filled their shirts at Loftus Road.
Allen and Philippe Coutinho – who both helped rescue the Reds as second half substitutes on Sunday – will be hopeful of playing from the beginning this time and they should both be involved from the start, in place of Adam Lallana and Emre Can, who looked off the pace against QPR on Sunday in his first game back from injury.
Mario Balotelli’s continued poor has led to frustration within the fan base with calls for the Italian to be dropped to the bench in place of a pacey, hungry and direct approach against Madrid, but it seems more likely that he may receive the partner in attack that he claims he needs to be able to perform.
The Line Up
Rodgers must move away from the rigid 4-2-3-1 formation for the match to avoid a complete demolition job from the away side and that leaves the Liverpool boss with two genuine options the first of which is a return to the diamond shaped midfield set up.
The back four will see Moreno returning on the left, Rodgers will have to decide whether to bring Manquillo back in or stick with Glen Johnson for his experience.
In the midfield, Steven Gerrard in the deeper position should be partnered by Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen with Philippe Coutinho at the tip, allowing Raheem Sterling to partner Mario Balotelli up front, giving the Italian the strike partner he says he needs.
Those changes to system and personnel would see Liverpool line up like this against the European champions:
The other alternative for Rodgers is to play a highly energetic and aggressive 4-3-3 system as pointed out by Jamie Carragher on Monday Night Football.
This would allow Liverpool to play with a mobile pressing midfield and attack and thus dropping the underperforming Balotelli to the bench – utilising Sterling as a ‘false 9’ and central attacking figure.
If Rodgers chooses to shape his side up in a 4-3-3 formation, this is how the starting XI should look:
With the reverse fixture to come before crunch clashes against Basel and Ludogorets, a result on Wednesday night would be a massive boost to Liverpool’s qualification hopes.
Rodgers says "character and spirit" needed as well as quality, tomorrow night. "That's what's enabled us to win games during this season"
— Neil Jones (@neiljonesgoal) October 21, 2014
Gerrard: "When the calibre of Real Madrid come to town everyone knows you have to perform to the max to get an kind of result.
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceLFC) October 21, 2014
It proposes to be a monumental challenge for Brendan Rodgers’ struggling Liverpool and the Reds will have to improve immeasurably if they want to pick up anything other than a crushing defeat against arguably the best team in world football currently.