Real Madrid vs. Liverpool: Tactical Preview of Champions League Bernabeu Clash

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterNovember 4, 2014


Liverpool travel to Spain to take on Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday and will look to banish the memories of their recent 3-0 loss.

Anfield applauded Cristiano Ronaldo—a former Manchester United midfielder!—off the pitch after an absolute masterclass in October, and Brendan Rodgers knows he's going to have to make some serious changes to avoid a pasting against the reigning European champions.

Real Madrid Setup

Carlo Ancelotti has a selection dilemma by the name of Gareth Bale: The Welsh winger is back fit, per AP (h/t The Telegraph), and ready to go again, but James Rodriguez (playing in his position on the right) has enjoyed a superb month.

If he wants to shoe-horn James and Bale into the 4-4-2 that's been working so well, he'll have to drop Isco, another key cog in great form.

Possible RM XI.
Possible RM XI.@stighefootball

At right-back, a change may be forced in the form of Dani Carvajal, who limped off against Granada with a hamstring issue, so Alvaro Arbeloa will likely step in.

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In central defence, Pepe is a question mark after his odd, error-ridden showing this weekend and the return to full fitness of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.

Liverpool Setup

Per WhoScored.com, Suso, Mamadou Sakho, Jon Flanagan and Daniel Sturridge remain long-term absentees. There are no fresh injury concerns for Brendan Rodgers to deal with.

The shape of the side is a big question mark, as it's always difficult to work out how the manager is going to set up. There could be a selection call between Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho if it comes down to one spot.

Possible LFC XI.
Possible LFC XI.@stighefootball

The Mirror claims captain Steven Gerrard will be dropped for the big night as Rodgers has an eye on Chelsea next weekend, and although it's not been confirmed Gerrard will duck out, the manager has prepared us for a possible bombshell: "I don’t see it as a gamble. This week and these games against the likes of Real Madrid I see as a great opportunity for the squad—you put them out there and you put your trust in them to perform."

Key Tactical Point 1: Swamp the Space Ahead of the Defence

On paper and in principle, the idea of dropping Gerrard for a night under the lights in Madrid is 100 percent insane. In form or not, he's your captain, your heartbeat and your most assured player.

That said, we admire coaches who make bold decisions and play to their tactical strengths, and it's possible Rodgers could take a leaf out of Ronald Koeman's book and adjust based on how the game is clearly going to go.

Ronaldo's heat map vs. Liverpool at Anfield.
Ronaldo's heat map vs. Liverpool at Anfield.Squawka.com

Madrid's 4-4-2 wreaks havoc between the lines. They have a man less in midfield, but Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are so assured on the ball they don't need a third man to keep hold of it. It gives Ronaldo and Karim Benzema time to find space between midfield and defence, and they can turn on a sixpence and fashion a goalscoring chance.

That space has to be filled, and Ronaldo has to be clamped. If he's allowed free reign again (see heat map), Liverpool will lose heavily once again.

That's where dropping Gerrard—whose defensive awareness and lack of legs makes him an average-at-best solution here—becomes attractive. Emre Can is a natural in the role, and while he's a long shot given his inexperience, he'd be a better tactical fit.

Key Tactical Point 2: Drop Mario Balotelli

There's value in keeping faith in Balotelli and playing him until he scores. He needs to find a rhythm and he won't do that on the bench, kicking his heels and playing on his iPad.

But here, Liverpool need to defend deep to ensure they don't get crushed and should look to spark counterattacks whenever possible. They had some joy against Queens Park Rangers without the use of Gerrard's long passing, and they can move from back to front in three passes with or without him.

Balotelli's dithering on the ball is not conducive to quick counters.
Balotelli's dithering on the ball is not conducive to quick counters.SportsNet

Rodgers will be tempted to hang his hat on Raheem Sterling up front, Lallana just behind and Coutinho a little deeper to jink a tackle and open the pitch up for runners. He should pull the trigger on that selection; Gerrard is not a necessity for counters if they're dribbling, ground-based counters.

Balotelli, in all honesty, would likely squander the strong positions and make a meal of the chances given the form he's in. His poor decision-making arguably cost the Reds an early goal at Anfield, and they can't afford such profligacy again.

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