First Leg Summary
In the first leg Liverpool did what they do best in cup competitions- stifled the opposition and stole a late goal. Real Madrid really didn’t show much quality apart from a couple of good one-two combinations and tricky runs from Arjen Robben. The Reds didn’t create too much either but Torres had a couple of decent opportunities, while Xabi Alonso could have scored another audacious halfway line lob. In the end it was an unlikely header from Youssi Benayoun in the 82nd minute that gave Liverpool the crucial away goal and 1-0 lead going into the second leg.
Liverpool and Real Madrid Play League Swapsies
In the build-up to the first leg, Liverpool were still in the Premier League title race while their counterpart’s own La Liga hopes were still hopeful at best. How much can happen in the space of a week and a half!
Defeat at Middlesbrough over the weekend combined with Manchester United’s unstoppable run leaves Liverpool in third place (on goal difference behind Chelsea) and 7 points off the pace with a United game in hand. Meanwhile, Real Madrid find themselves only 4 points behind Barcelona after their 11th consecutive win and the Catalunyans’ second successive defeat at the hands of the Blaugranas’ city rivals, Atletico.
What bearing does this have on the Champions League Second Leg? Well, Liverpool will certainly focus their silverware-attaining hopes on Europe. Having been knocked out of the FA Cup by Everton, Liverpool have no match this weekend and this an 8 day rest until next Wednesday’s match against Real. On the other hand, Madridstas will be excited both at the prospect of being back in the title race and facing their city rivals, Atletico Madrid, on Saturday night. Perhaps the Champions League will not seem so crucial to the success of their season after all.
Rafa Benitez will feel extremely confident going into the second leg at Anfield and will undoubtedly field a workmanlike team, while pinning his hopes on Torres’ threat on the break. Mascherano and Alonso were superior over Diarra and Gago in the first leg and with captain Stevie G returning, the steel in midfield will be ready.
Juande Ramos will have concerns despite knowing that one goal will completely change the tie. Raul was virtually non-existent in the Bernabeu fixture, certainly not playing the targetman role well against the ugly centre-half of Skrtel and Carragher. Deliveries into the box are unlikely to bring much joy against Liverpool so Ramos will be largely pinning his hopes on intricate ball play between the likes of Robben and Higuain opening up the opposition defence. Alternatively, Liverpool may just make a mistake.
Real Madrid will score the opening goal but the Anfield crowd will blow Fernando Torres on his way to an equaliser, taking Liverpool through.
Extra Note – Benayoun the unsung hero
I have always been a fan of the Israeli poster boy from his days at West Ham. Despite not getting a consistent run for Liverpool until very recently, he has always played well, offering a bit more intelligence and trickery than most of the oaves at Anfield. I hope he gets to play the second leg, having scored a famous winner for them in Madrid.