Liverpool are back under the Anfield lights for a Champions League showdown with Real Madrid, a side they have not inflicted defeat on since 2009.
Liverpool vs. Real Madrid
Champions League Last 16 First Leg | Anfield
February 21, 2023 | 8pm (GMT)
Two wins on the bounce and two clean sheets to match, the mood around Liverpool has shifted in the right direction at just the right time.
Jurgen Klopp‘s side are still not firing on all cylinders but their recent results and the return of key players has injected needed optimism, time to make it count against Real Madrid.
Here’s all you need to know ahead of kickoff.
1. Is Darwin fit?
Darwin Nunez was withdrawn at the hour mark at Newcastle after a “painful” shoulder injury that left the Reds sweating over his fitness with just three days between games.
“There’s a chance,” Klopp said of Nunez’s involvement. “We have to see how he can deal with the pain. When we know that, we have to make a decision.”
The sight of the Uruguayan in training on Monday afternoon was a very welcome one.
Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota will be waiting in the wings if needed in attack after two appearances off the bench.
Thiago, Luis Diaz, Ibrahima Konate and Calvin Ramsay all remain sidelined.
2. Key Real duo miss out
Real Madrid announced their 23-man travelling squad on the eve of the clash, with two key names missing out due to illness.
Toni Kroos and Aurelien Tchouameni missed out on the final squad after failing to recover in time, though Thibaut Courtois has returned to fitness and will start at Anfield. Typical!
Eden Hazard is also among those who have made the trip but he is not a key player for Carlo Ancelotti, unlike the likes of Luka Modric, Vinicius Jr, David Alaba, Eduardo Camavinga and Federico Valverde, who have all travelled.
Karim Benzema was left out for Real over the weekend but is expected to return straight to the XI. Impeccable timing, as always.
Possible Real XI: Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Rudiger, Alaba; Camavinga, Modric, Ceballos; Valverde, Vinicius Jr, Benzema
3. First Champions League start for Stefan?
There is unlikely to be too much change for the Reds despite the three-day break and much will rest on Nunez’s availability, with either Jota or Firmino able to take his place in the XI if needed.
Stefan Bajcetic has earned his place in the side and there is no reason to take him out of the fold, which would make this his first Champions League start.
His rise has been incredible.
Naby Keita should come under consideration, but it could be that Fabinho and Jordan Henderson keep their spots alongside the youngster, in front of an unchanged backline.
Predicted Reds XI: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Bajcetic, Fabinho, Henderson; Salah, Gakpo, Nunez
4. Salah can overtake Gerrard
Mohamed Salah can become Liverpool’s top European goalscorer with a goal against Real Madrid, overtaking Steven Gerrard’s tally of 41, a record they currently both share.
Not only that, but he could also surpass Gerrard’s record of Anfield goals in European competition – the pair are currently tied on 18.
As the Champions League‘s joint-top goalscorer in the group stage with seven, you can’t bet against Salah finding the net and adding a further two records to his collection.
5. Trent needs to avoid a yellow
Trent Alexander-Arnold will miss the second leg in Madrid if he receives a yellow card at Anfield having already collected two in the group stage.
Champions League rules state that players will be suspended for a game if they accumulate three yellow cards between the first group stage match and the second leg of the quarter-finals.
The right-back was carded against Rangers and Napoli.
Think we know which flank Ancelotti will be targeting!
6. Bogey team
The two clubs have met nine times in their history, all in the Champions League. Liverpool won the first three without conceding a goal, but have since lost five of the last six encounters.
The most defeats to a single team in European competition. Ouch.
Two of those recent defeats came in the final of this competition, with the Reds scoring just two goals in the last six encounters – it’s not been a rewarding fixture, has it?
It’s about time that all changes, and Tuesday at Anfield is the perfect place to start.
7. “Let’s go together again”
Speaking to the media ahead of the clash, Klopp is expecting Anfield at its best:
“You always work so hard to qualify for the Champions League so I really think you have to cherish these moments. That’s Liverpool vs. Real Madrid, we all dreamt of that.
“It will be a special game. I expect Anfield on their toes, to be honest.
“I’m really happy for the people that they saw us in better shape in the last two games, they have more things to look forward to.
“Let’s go together again.”
Up the Reds!
8. The boss won’t be disappointed
We’ll need help to have all our flags out again on Tuesday, and we’d encourage everyone to bring theirs. We want everyone involved! Bring a scarf. A red Kop: full of flags, banners, and scarves. Let’s show the world our traditions and keep The Kop the greatest stand in the world!
— Spion Kop 1906 (@SpionKop1906) February 16, 2023
Klopp is expecting Anfield at its best, and that’s what he will get.
After the brilliant sea of red seen against Everton last week, Spion Kop 1906 have called for fans to “go bigger” for the visit of Real Madrid.
Supporters have been urged to “show the world our traditions and keep the Kop the greatest stand in the world,” with scarves, flags and banners. What a sight it promises to be.
We all know the power of Anfield, it’s time Real Madrid were given another reminder!
9. This ref loves a penalty
The referee is Romania’s Istvan Kovacs. This is his first match in charge of Liverpool.
He has reffed Real once before, in their 4-3 semi-final defeat at Man City last season.
And don’t be surprised if you see a penalty awarded as since the start of last season, he has refereed 61 matches and has awarded in that sequence 37 penalties, including 18 in 21 games of this campaign.
10. How you can watch and follow the match!
Liverpool vs. Real Madrid is live on BT Sport 1 in the UK, with coverage starting at 7pm (GMT) ahead of the 8pm kick off.
If you fancy a Liverpool perspective on proceedings, then join Sam Millne on This Is Anfield’s matchday live blog, starting at 7.15pm.
Into these, Reds!