Liverpool’s quest to reach a fourth European semi-final under Jurgen Klopp will see them need to overcome a hurdle in the shape of Real Madrid, and the Reds will need to bring their A-game.
The Champions League is back on the agenda and the next week is season-defining as Liverpool meet the Spanish outfit in their bid to retain hopes of silverware in 2020/21.
Klopp’s men find themselves in the last eight thanks to toppling RB Leipzig, while Madrid overcame Liverpool’s group stage opponents in Atalanta in the first knockout round.
It sets up a clash of six-time European Cup winners against the 13-time victors, with this the first meeting since the two last met in the final back in 2018.
While the narrative certainly centres around Mohamed Salah and Sergio Ramos, the clash is one with a myriad of key battles which are likely to determine the outcome.
Liverpool have not been at their relentless best throughout the campaign but cup competitions require a different tact and the Reds have acquired that know-how in recent years.
Zinedine Zidane’s side, meanwhile, are no strangers to knowing what it takes to reign triumphant and it sets up a tantalising tie.
And here are the three sliding door moments for Liverpool in their first-leg meeting with Los Blancos.
High press, high pressure
If Real Madrid are susceptible to the counter, the Reds must make them pay.
The high-press has not been as effective as we have grown accustomed to with injury and the resulting imbalance throwing the Reds off their stride this season.
But Real have proven to be susceptible to a high-tempo and press, culpable of defensive mistakes under pressure and Liverpool’s full-backs in addition to the forwards could have a lot to say in exposing them once more.
Any combination of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota can then look to penetrate Real’s defensive line and use their speed in the transition when and should the Spaniards look to be adventurous.
They have experience in abundance but they are not without fault and Liverpool will need to be able to count on their ruthlessness in front of goal to return to Merseyside with a positive result.
If Liverpool are to safely navigate the tie, an away goal will be needed.
It’s no secret that Liverpool’s Anfield record has been woeful since the turn of 2021, with a run of seven games without a win, the last six of which ended in defeat, and only one goal scored in comparison to the 10 conceded.
While European nights present a change in competitions and pose a different set of challenges, the Anfield ghosts could well remain by the time Real arrive following Aston Villa’s weekend visit.
And finding the net at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano could help alleviate the pressure in addition to, more importantly, handing Klopp’s men a leg-up.
Only twice under Klopp in the Champions League have the Reds not scored an away goal in a two-legged tie, the first at Barcelona and the second at Atletico Madrid – one ended in triumph, the other heartbreak.
As abovementioned, Liverpool have the threat needed to strike and their record in Europe this season makes for good reading as only one of their eight clashes has ended without a goal to their name. Now to make it eight from nine.
Threat at the death
If Liverpool take their foot off the gas at the death, they will be punished.
While Real Madrid have scored in the first half more often than not this season (20 times from 37 games), they are stronger finishers after the interval and Klopp’s side can ill afford to take their eye off the ball.
In fact, Zidane’s men have found the net in 27 different second halves this season for a return of 38 goals, having been kept scoreless in the second 45 only 10 times across La Liga and the Champions League.
In those 10 games, they have failed to win on eight occasions (four defeats and four draws), showcasing the importance of keeping them at bay and remaining on our toes.
It’s an area of the game Liverpool have tightened in recent weeks having not conceded in the second half in their last six games, but seven of the 10 that they have this season have come in 2021.
Liverpool are, of course, not without their own threat going forward but they must be alert on their own line as the game ticks closer to 90 minutes, with Real having scored 18 goals this season after the 80-minute mark.
It makes up 26 percent of their season’s tally. Navigate this in both legs and Liverpool will hold themselves in good stead to progress.