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Anfield, Real Madrid’s minefield

Though struggling in league, hosts will fall back on history of always having beaten Madrid in Europe.

By: Reuters | London | Updated: October 22, 2014 10:05 am
Real's Iker Casillas (L), Cristiano Ronaldo (C) and Marcelo train in torrential conditions at Anfield on Monday. (Source: Reuters) Real’s Iker Casillas (L), Cristiano Ronaldo (C) and Marcelo train in torrential conditions at Anfield on Monday. (Source: Reuters)

Liverpool will expect their noisy fans to recreate the special Anfield atmosphere that has helped them become kings of Europe five times when they take on Champions League winners Real Madrid on Wednesday night. Brendan Rodgers’s team, third in Group B with three points from two matches, have not yet shown the swagger that swept them to second place in the Premier League last season and they laboured to a 3-2 win at bottom club Queens Park Rangers on Sunday.

Liverpool, though, have won all three previous games against Real in Europe’s elite competition and manager Rodgers is confident his players will give the 10-times champions a run for their money in front of a typically raucous home crowd. “Real are playing as well as they have played for the last five to 10 years,” he told the club website. “What’s great for us is that we’re playing at home. We have a great crowd and this is a team that can rise to the level. Real Madrid, as the champions, are an exceptionally good side but we’ll be ready.”

Liverpool’s shortcomings were all too evident against QPR and with striker Daniel Sturridge missing with a calf injury and Mario Balotelli short of confidence, breaking down Carlo Ancelotti’s side could be a problem. Real have no such issues up front and with Cristiano Ronaldo bagging 15 goals in eight La Liga matches, Rodgers is well aware of the challenges Liverpool face. “He is an amazing player and his evolution over the past few years into becoming a goal-scorer has been incredible,” said the former Swansea City boss. “Real have everything, a lot of experience, top players, speed and technique.”

Ancelotti’s men have hit form in La Liga with five straight victories but they look likely to be without forward Gareth Bale who has a buttock muscle strain.

Play to win

Atletico Madrid midfielder Arda Turan does not care what people think about their football so long as they are successful, he said ahead of the Champions League clash at home to Malmo. The La Liga winners and last season’s Champions League finalists have a game plan based around a solid defence and hard work which Turan believes is the best way with the resources available to them. “I’m sorry that people may be critical. Our football may not be pretty but it’s winning football,” Turan said.

“Sometimes the teams playing the nicest football don’t win games or titles. Certainly there are times when we would like to have more of the ball but we don’t have Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi in our side so we have to be a real team and work hard. We need to defend more than Madrid or Barcelona but that style has made us champions. I respect everyone’s right to an opinion and I too enjoy the football played by the likes of Barca or Bayern Munich. However, I prefer our own style.”

Atletico have found it difficult to maintain their consistency this season but go into the match after a 2-0 victory over Espanyol at the weekend. They have lost important players from the last campaign like Diego Costa and Filipe Luis while the new faces are still finding their feet.

Diego Simeone’s side conceded three goals in defeat away to Olympiakos in their opening group A game although they followed that up with a 1-0 victory at home to Juventus. Turan said that it was the arrival of Simeone that gave the players the belief that they could beat the biggest clubs. Atletico face a Malmo side that lost away to Juventus but then beat Olympiakos. Atletico midfielder Tiago is set to miss the match at the Vicente Calderon through injury which could mean a chance for unsettled Mario Suarez to prove his value.

Tough job

If Anderlecht are to have any realistic chance of prolonging their involvement in the Champions League beyond the group stage, a home win over Arsenal is paramount. The Belgium side are joint bottom of Group D with one point from their opening two games, two points behind Arsenal and five behind leaders Borussia Dortmund. Arsenal are not firing on all cylinders, however, and Saturday’s 2-2 home draw with Hull City left Arsene Wenger’s side 11 points off the pace in the Premier League.

The London club are still formidable opponents, but if ever there was a good time to face the Gunners it might be when they are stretched with record signing Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud and Mathieu Debuchy injured and first-choice keeper Wojciech Szczesny suspended after his red card against Galatasaray.

Theo Walcott is on the verge of a return after a long-standing knee injury while Aaron Ramsey (hamstring) and Jack Wilshere (knee) are slight doubts but should be available. Reserve keeper David Ospina is also injured so third-choice Emiliano Martinez is expected to start for Arsenal. While failure to reach the knockout rounds for the 12th consecutive season would represent failure for Arsenal, getting there would be a massive achievement for Anderlecht.

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