Real Madrid and Liverpool have had the most contrasting of fortunes throughout the season so far. Los Blancos could barely string two decent performances together in the early parts of the campaign, while the Reds were cruising along nicely, seemingly on their way to their first league title in almost two decades.
But the two sides have literally swapped places since the turn of the year, so much so that they have remarkably somehow found themselves in an identical position in their own domestic leagues, both occupying second spot in the table and trailing their respective leaders by exactly seven points.
However, at this point in time, it would appear that the Spaniards are the more satisfied of the two hunters.
Another Year, Another Attempt
Although the Merengues are hitting peak form in the Primera Division, it is the Champions League where they really need to chain together a flawless run if they are to go far. But they still need to take things one step at a time, starting with the first knock-out phase.
Los Blancos will attempt to get past the round of 16 for the first time in five years. The last four seasons have all ended in disaster at this stage of the competition, despite numerous signs of promise and success. What’s even more frustrating is that they’ve always been eliminated by the narrowest of margins: a 2-1 aggregate loss to Juventus in 2005, 1-0 to Arsenal in 2006, exiting on the away-goal rule to Bayern the following year, and 2-1 defeats in each leg to Roma last term.
While their form will give the team and the Bernabeu faithful an immense burst of confidence, it will also increase the pressure on the players significantly to succeed, considering there wasn’t much hope for the side just two months ago. Back then, a last-16 meeting with
But the tables have been turned dramatically and the English giants could not have picked a worse time for the Champions League to resume. They have hit, without doubt, their worst patch of form this season, winning just three games in their last nine outings in all competitions.
But amazingly, they have not lost a match in regulation time since early November, when they crashed to a 4-2 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup, just 11 days after losing to the same team in the Barclays Premier League. It remains their only defeat in the league this term, but the ten draws that they have accrued have proven to be their downfall.
While stalemates are rarely beneficial in league play, it can be extremely helpful when it comes to two-legged cup tournaments. Having made the semi-finals of the Champions League three times in the past four years, much of their success can be attributed to their ability to grind out a result when they needed it most; drawing 1-1 with Arsenal in the first leg of last season’s quarter-finals before romping to a 4-2 second leg win; a 1-1 aggregate draw with Chelsea in the semi-finals the year before, which enabled them to win on penalties and the triumphant 2004/05 campaign when they held Juventus and Chelsea to scoreless draws in the away legs of the quarters and semis but emerged victorious at home by the slimmest of margins en route to the final.
This season has been no different, as Atletico
Feb 21 Real
Feb 15 Sporting
Feb 07 Real
Jan 31 Numancia 0-2 Real
Jan 25 Real
Feb 04 Everton 1-0
Lassana Diarra, Julien Faubert, Dani Parejo and 21-year-old Hungarian striker, Adam Szalai have all been registered to the squad to replace Ruud van Nistelrooy, Ruben de la Red and Mahamadou Diarra, all of whom have been ruled out for the rest of the campaign.
Coach Juande Ramos has no fresh injury concerns. Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder have fully recovered from their muscular niggles and they are expected to be restored to the first XI. Guti has also returned from a calf muscle tear but he may have to settle for a start on the bench.
Defenders Gabriel Heinze and Fabio Cannavaro picked up minor knocks during Saturday’s 6-1 thumping of Real Betis, but both were able to train normally at the start of the week. Michel Salgado has completed rehabilitation on his right thigh injury, although he will not be match-fit.
Probable Starting XI (
The biggest news for Rafa Benitez is the return of talismanic captain, Steven Gerrard. The 28-year-old finally returned to training this week after three weeks out with a hamstring injury and he has travelled with the squad to
Veteran centre-back Sami Hyypia has been recalled to the side after being omitted altogether for the group stage. He is expected to replace Daniel Agger, who has been left behind in
Midfielder Xabi Alonso returns from suspension but fellow Spaniards, Alvaro Arbeloa and Albert Riera will incur a one-match ban if they pick up another yellow card.
Probable Starting XI (4-4-2): Reina – Arbeloa, Skrtel, Carragher (c), Dossena – Benayoun, Mascherano, Xabi Alonso, Riera – Torres, Kuyt
PLAYERS TO WATCH
There’s one man who wants to beat
There’s one man who wants to score at Real Madrid more than anyone else and it’s Fernando Torres. El Nino heartbreakingly missed the trip back to
This will be Juande Ramos’ toughest test since the 2-0 loss to
It will be a tight contest but with the hosts obligated and expected to take all the attacking initiative, they should be able to nick at the very least a one goal victory.
KS Leong, Goal.com
Goal.com Manager is YOUR chance to prove your managerial abilities and win top prizes! Click onto http://fantasy.goal.com, register for FREE and select YOUR Champions League line-up today!