Liverpool face a huge task of containing the European Champions tonight. Carlo Ancelotti’s team have travelled to Merseyside to take on last season’s Premier League runners up in the third match of the UEFA Champions League.
Liverpool currently sit three points behind Madrid in Group B after they lost 1-0 in Basel, while victories over Ludogorets and Basel have shot Madrid to the top of the group as they look to become the first side to enter the knockout stages.
Here are three things the Reds should do to take something away from the match.
Rodgers needs to pick Joe Allen
Welshman Joe Allen missed a month of action with an injury and that was when supporters, pundits and probably the management started realizing the player’s worth.
While people have been criticizing Liverpool’s all-over-the-place defence for their bad performances, alongwith the virtually absent attack (Daniel Sturridge’s injury has not helped the cause), people are not seeing how average the Liverpool midfield is at the moment. Steven Gerrard is not a defensive midfielder. Last season, the Liverpool captain moulded into the role and did well for himself, but he was still not doing a great job as a defensive midfielder. Gerrard however, does create a lot of damage from the middle of the park by picking out neat passes and linking up play with the attackers. However, he is just not good enough in the role to provide decent cover to the fragile defence. Brendan Rodgers doesn’t have another defensive midfielder to replace Gerrard. Lucas is no more trusted with the responsibility and Emre Can is very young (20) and is more box to box than defensive.
The presence of Joe Allen in the midfield would help Liverpool get a lot more urgency in the middle third of the pitch. Steven Gerrard’s defensive duties will become easier with Allen’s presence. Moreover, Jordan Henderson, who often gets reduced to being the water-boy of Gerrard as he is regularly coming back to help his captain out, can focus more on the attacking role, something he is showing great promise for.
Rodgers should drop one of Coutinho or Lallana and pick Joe Allen instead as he could make the midfield much more compact and effective against the likes of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez.
Play with 2 strikers or drop Mario Balotelli
Balotelli has been under huge pressure and the Italian seems to be finding hitting the back of the net tougher and tougher with every match. It is unfair to criticize him too much because he works in a 2 man striker role. Liverpool’s system of swift, fast attacking renders him helpless as opposition players are able to crowd him and dispossess him very easily.
Rodgers therefore needs to play with another player alongside him. Fabio Borini should be given a chance since Rickie Lambert has failed to create any sort of an impression and is himself too immobile. The Italian outcast has lost the trust of the team but after a successful loan season at Sunderland, has certainly shown that he can cause a difference in Liverpool’s attack.
The other option would be to move Raheem Sterling into a more advanced role and operate him as the false 9. Jamie Carragher has said that Liverpool should drop Balotelli altogether and use Sterling alone. However, this doesn’t seem like a good choice since Sterling’s conversion rate is not too good and having the striking responsibilities alone in a match of this magnitute could be too much for the 19 year old who recently faced a lot of criticism. Thus playing Balotelli along with Sterling in a slightly more advanced role seems like the best alternative in the absence of Sturridge.
Anfield needs to roar
This should be a given. Liverpool seem to step up in big games and the Kop faithful have waited for 5 long years for nights like these and they can ultimately prove to be the difference if they can create an atmosphere that can lift the entire team.
Ultimately it is what the team does on the pitch, the team that made Bobby Zamora look like Critiano Ronaldo himself. But if Liverpool fans know something, it is that their team always seems to get a major lift off of their crowd. Carlo Ancelotti and ex-player Alvaro Arbeloa have already spoken about this before the match. The one person that can do the biggest damage to Real Madrid’s progression is Liverpool 12th man- the supporters.