Champions League draw pits Real Madrid against Liverpool - Get ready for Ramos v Salah round 2

Mohamed Salah Sergio Ramos Liverpool Real Madrid GFX
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The Reds might be enduring a forgettable season on the domestic front but all of a sudden a run to the Champions League final looks possible

So, will it be repeat or revenge?

Almost three years after colliding in the final in Kyiv, Liverpool and Real Madrid meet in the Champions League once more. It promises to be another cracker.

Both sides, surely, will fancy their chances of securing a place in the semi-finals, where a winnable-looking tie against either Porto or Chelsea awaits. On paper, at least, it looks the more favourable half of the draw.

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For Liverpool, it is a chance to slay a true European giant as well as a few demons. Nine of the team which started the 2018 final remain at Anfield, as does the manager who was left heartbroken by the Reds’ 3-1 defeat.

Mohamed Salah, in particular, would have smiled at Friday’s draw. The Egyptian’s memories of Kyiv are painful, having managed just 31 minutes before succumbing to the rough-housing of Sergio Ramos, the Real Madrid captain.

Salah versus Ramos will be perhaps the most intriguing sub-plot in what is already a fascinating tie.

Jurgen Klopp has faced Real more often than he has any other opponent in the Champions League. This will be his eighth meeting with the Spanish giants.

He has won three of those, including a memorable semi-final triumph with Borussia Dortmund in 2013, when Robert Lewandowski announced himself on the world stage with an incredible four-goal masterclass against Jose Mourinho’s side.

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Liverpool were impressive in gliding past RB Leipzig in the last 16, while Real Madrid progressed comfortably against Atalanta. Neither side has enjoyed a particularly convincing domestic campaign – Liverpool sit sixth in the Premier League while Real are only third in La Liga - but both bring elite pedigree to the latter stages of this competition.

Between them, they have lifted the trophy 19 times and contested no fewer than 25 finals.

For Klopp, the Champions League represents the last real chance to salvage a season which once promised so much. The Reds’ defence of their Premier League title was undermined in the autumn and collapsed in the winter, but spring brings with it renewed hope and optimism. All of a sudden, that final in Istanbul in May looms large.

And we all know about Liverpool and Istanbul, don’t we?

There’s still a long way to go before then, of course, and Real are a formidable foe even if they are a fair way from being the side which dominated the Champions League between 2013 and 2018.

There is no Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale, but Ramos and Raphael Varane and Luka Modric and Karim Benzema remain. No player has scored more Champions League goals against Liverpool than Benzema, who has 21 for Real in all competitions this season.

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In addition to the old-timers – and you can add Casemiro and Toni Kroos into that mix - Zinedine Zidane will look to a new generation to carry the 13-times winners forward.

The likes of Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and the brilliant Uruguayan midfielder Federico Valverde represent Real’s future, while players of the class of Isco and Marco Asensio should never be ignored.

Liverpool hope they have turned a corner in recent weeks following a miserable January and February. Certainly there was promise in the manner in which they overcame Leipzig over two legs, and Monday night’s hard-fought win at Wolves hinted at an improved defensive resilience, which will certainly be needed in the continued absence of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip.

The return of Diogo Jota, who scored the winner at Molineux, has added plenty, while the presence of Fabinho in midfield has been felt throughout Klopp’s side.

The Brazilian had a spell on loan with Real Madrid from Rio Ave earlier in his career, and was signed by Liverpool immediately after that defeat to Los Blancos in the 2018 final. He, as much as anyone, will relish this draw.

It is a shame, of course, that there will be no fans to add noise and colour to what is a mouth-watering fixture. Liverpool will play the second leg at Anfield, but whether that is an advantage right now is questionable. Klopp’s team, remember, have lost their last six fixtures on home soil.

They play just one fixture between now and the first leg, visiting Arsenal on April 4. Klopp will hope his international contingent return fit and healthy, though his training numbers at Kirkby have been boosted by the cancellation of the South American World Cup qualifiers, and by the surprise omission of Trent Alexander-Arnold from the England squad.

All in all, it’s set up to be a classic. Two flawed teams, for sure, but two European heavyweights without any shadow of a doubt. Who will land the knockout punch this time?

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