Rafa Benitez pinpoints how Liverpool can beat Real Madrid in Champions League clash
Rafa Benitez feels all is not lost for Liverpool as they prepare to mount another epic Champions League comeback at Anfield.
The Reds have a 3-1 first leg defeat to overturn if they are to make it through to the semi-finals to face Chelsea, after being given a rude awakening by Real Madrid in Spain last week.
Liverpool’s weakened back line was breached far too easily by Madrid’s attack, while their opponents dominated possession and were a cut above virtually all evening.
Still, Mohamed Salah’s away goal has given his side a fighting chance back on home soil, and Benitez has pinpointed the key elements which could help Liverpool win the crunch clash between two of his former clubs.
Plenty will be riding on Jurgen Klopp’s selection for the second leg, after the Reds’ boss made what turned out to be a real blunder in the first tie by starting Naby Keita in midfield ahead of Thiago Alcantara.
Keita was out of sorts both defensively and offensively, and was hauled off after just 40 minutes, but Benitez insisted Klopp should not be blamed for his decision as he had “information we don’t have”.
Instead Benitez highlighted where Thiago could make a major difference if given the opportunity, suggesting his fellow Spaniard could “control” the return fixture.
“He is a player who can dictate the tempo for Liverpool, he can find the right pass and has the quality to anticipate the movement of the strikers and do something a little different,” Benitez told The Telegraph.
The biggest issue facing Liverpool will undoubtedly be whether their defence can successfully keep Madrid’s attack at bay.
Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak were given the runaround by Vinicius Junior, Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio and both centre-backs are expected to start again in defence.
But Benitez feels a tactical tweak to the way the whole back four are organised could help Liverpool significantly, by slightly dropping their defensive line.
“Sometimes you can start too high and then it’s easy for the other team to play in behind,” he said. “I’m not saying they have to play deep but a little bit deeper — and I’m talking maybe only five metres — means you can attack the ball instead of letting it bounce and then have to start running back.”
It was from a similar scenario which Madrid’s first goal came from last week when Toni Kroos lofted a direct pass over the head of Phillips for Vinicius to run on and score.
Madrid may well be forced into a tactical change of their own however, as an injury to full-back Lucas Vasquez has ruled him out of the clash.
The Los Blancos are already without first-choice centre-back pairing Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane due to Covid-19, and Benitez feels this may persuade Zinedine Zidane to revert to a five-at-the-back formation like he has used already this season.
In the event they do, he has urged Liverpool to test Madrid’s back line and “put them under pressure” and by “making them play”.
Klopp has already backed his side to create more chances at Anfield than they did in the first leg, and as Benitez put it, the “precise” finishing of Salah could prove pivotal, though conceded the lack of supporters in the ground will hinder Liverpool’s chances.
Benitez added: “It’s really important Liverpool start with intensity and start well but at the same time not to rush the match, not to panic if they don’t score early.
“Concentrate, keep the balance, have a clean sheet if possible and even if a first goal comes quite late they will still have time to score again with the quality of players they have.”