A makeshift Madrid midfield and Benzema's gone off the boil: Liverpool have no reason to fear ragged Real

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Karim Benzema Carlo Ancelotti Luka Modric Real Madrid 2022-23 GFX
Jurgen Klopp's men have had their own issues this season but they will not be going up against the same side that beat them in Paris last year.

Real Madrid were at the peak of their powers the last time they met Liverpool, in the 2022 Champions League final.

Karim Benzema was scoring goals for fun, Vinicius Junior was in the form of his life, and the famous midfield trio of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro was dominating all before them.

Given Thibaut Courtois then produced an all-time goalkeeping performance in Paris, it's easy to understand why Madrid not only won, but did so courtesy of a relatively comfortable 1-0 win.

On Tuesday night, though, when the two teams meet again at Anfield, Madrid will look very different.

Casemiro has gone and so too has the air of invincibility around Carlo Ancelotti's side.

Indeed, Madrid are malfunctioning rightnow. They are eight points behind Liga leaders Barcelona and are playing with nothing like the same panache or self-belief as last season.

While Liverpool certainly have problems of their own, they have no need to fear Madrid – and here's why...

  1. Faults at full-back

    Faults at full-back

    Prior to the 2022 Champions League final, all the focus was on a struggling Dani Carvajal, who was matched up against a then-red hot Luis Diaz. But the right-back held his own, and kept one of the Reds' most influential players relatively quiet.

    This time, it might not be so easy — albeit against different personnel. Carvajal has been in and out of the team over the last month, struggling with both injury and fatigue.

    On Tuesday, he will square up to a different kind of player in Darwin Nunez. The forward isn't as refined as Diaz, nor is he really as good. But Nunez can create chaos and, for all of his faults, is fast, strong and coming into form. Basically, he's not the guy you want to go up against if you're in physical decline.

    On the other side, David Alaba will face a different issue. The left-back has only recently come back into the team after nearly a month out, and is yet to be truly tested. Madrid have been easily exploited down his flank in recent weeks, too, especially with Vinicius given licence to stay higher up the pitch. With Mo Salah showing signs of being back to his best, Alaba has a long 90 minutes ahead.

  2. A makeshift midfield
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    A makeshift midfield

    Aurelien Tchouameni was a perfect signing for Madrid.

    He replaced an ageing legend in Casemiro, injecting boundless energy into a leggy midfield, and restoring defensive solidity that was just starting to wane.

    Perhaps most importantly of all, he was nicked from the noses of Liverpool.

    However, Tchoaumeni will not play on Tuesday having been ruled out with illness, with fellow midfield stalwart Toni Kroos joining him on the sidelines.

    Real do, at least, have depth in midfield. Eduardo Camavinga has been excellent in recent weeks, while Modric always seems to show up on Champions League nights.

    What happens in the other position remains to be seen, though. Dani Ceballos is the current flavour of the month, but hasn't maintained his electric form, while Fede Valverde, another former Liverpool target, is also an option.

    Regardless, it looks like Madrid will have to piece together a midfield trio that has never before started a game together. And against a Reds unit that is just starting to find its feet again, that could be an issue.

  3. Benzema's struggles
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    Benzema's struggles

    For all of last year, Benzema was a certainty for Real Madrid. Regardless of the game, opponent, or situation, Benzema delivered. It's what won him the Ballon D'Or.

    This year, though, the Frenchman has needed protecting slightly. The 35-year-old has struggled with various knocks and missed nearly two months with a muscle injury. And while he's still been in the side for big games, Benzema's production and on-field presence has certainly dropped off.

    His numbers are, of course, not to be sniffed at. He has still scored 11 times in La Liga. But, remarkably, he doesn't have a Champions League goal to his name so far this season.

    Indeed, against the best teams, on the biggest stage, Madrid's star man has been slightly off-kilter. A trip to Anfield could bring the best out of Benzema but there's no denying that his poor form cannot be construed as anything but encouraging for Liverpool.

  4. Ancelotti's errors

    Ancelotti's errors

    Welcome back, big-game Carlo.

    The last time Ancelotti played Liverpool, his side was at full strength. He later admitted that he had to do little in the way of tactical preparation; he knew exactly how Jurgen Klopp's side would set up, revealing that the Reds' "very clear identity" made them "easier to decipher" than the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea.

    It certainly went swimmingly for Ancelotti in the end, with Madrid securing their 14th European Cup by shutting down Liverpool's star forwards and then hitting them with a killer goal on the break.

    This year, though, the manager has some choices to make. And he hasn't always got them right this season. In the Spanish Super Cup, he failed to react to Barcelona's modified 4-2-3-1 formation, and saw his side lose 3-1. Against Villarreal, a week before, he stuck with his usual side and saw a more direct Villarreal beat his team 2-1.

    Ancelotti has been a manager long enough to know when to stick to his guns, and when to tinker. And he seldom does the latter, entrusting his core group with his signature, laissez-faire form of football, which so often gets results out of big-game players.

    This year, though, big-game Carlo seems to have lost his Midas touch. Will he really be able to find it at Anfield?..

  5. The Anfield effect
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    The Anfield effect

    Despite Liverpool's fallibility this season, Anfield has remained a fortress in continental competition, with the Reds having won all three of their group-stage home games, including a mightily impressive 2-0 win over Europe's in-form team, Napoli.

    Furthermore, Jurgen Klopp has only lost one Champions League on Merseyside during his seven years in charge, when Diego Simeone masterminded a 3-1 win at Anfield in February 2020.

    And then, there are all the big results, with that famous 4-0 rout of Barcelona obviously the pick of the bench. However, Liverpool have also beaten the likes of PSG and Manchester City in their own backyard.

    There's a lot of mythology around Anfield, but those famous Champions League nights are seldom falsified.

    That, more than anything, is where Madrid might struggle. They haven't won in England since 2015 – ironically, against a very poor Liverpool side – though they did hold the Reds to a 0-0 draw to seal their place in the 2020-21 semi-finals.

    However, that game was played during the pandemic, meaning there were no fans present. Anfield on Tuesday night will be a very difference proposition.

    Of course, this team is too experienced to be fearful of a hostile atmosphere, but the makeshift nature of the line-up, coupled with the poor form of certain stars, means Liverpool away represents a significant threat to Madrid's hopes of holding on to their European crown.