“On the 109th anniversary of the maritime disaster, Real Madrid, with their patched-up unit, defended by dropping the anchor and would not let Liverpool’s heavy-pressing-intent destroy their plan. Zidane has galvanized a fragile unit that was down and out six months ago and has achieved success with those players who have spent the season on the fringes”
It was another stern test for Zinedine Zidane at Anfield. He had in his mind the dramatic comeback of Monaco back in 2004 and the famous choke by Barca in 2019 at the Anfield. Liverpool might be having a bad time in the Premier League, but in the Champions League, they have been better. The opponents were Real Madrid, who, like the Reds, are bruised and cornered – but in the battle of tactics and mental strength, Zidane showed everyone, who the real boss is!
Like Barca, the Royal Whites took a lead to Merseyside, a 3-1 first-leg advantage and they did not choke as Real Madrid are on their way to the 2020-21 Champions League semifinals thanks to a 0-0 draw with Liverpool in their quarterfinal second leg on Wednesday night at Anfield.
The Los Blancos soaked up all the pressure from the Reds thanks to some top goalkeeping from Thibaut Courtois and strong defending from centre-backs Nacho Fernandez and Eder Militao, superb display from the make-shift right wing-back Fede Valverde and obviously the destroyer in the midfield, Casemiro.
With his side suffering from a slew of injuries and absences, Zidane had to reshuffle in the defence, so Valverde was picked over Alvaro Odriozola to start at right-back, joining Militao, Nacho and Ferland Mendy on the back-line. Meanwhile, up top in attack, Marcos Asensio was back in the mix alongside Vinicius Junior and Karim Benzema.
Zidane stuck to the 4-3-3 formation and Jurgen Klopp opted for the same.
Liverpool came out howling at the Los Blancos after building from the back – they were aggressive and searched for goals, even if it was at the cost of taking risks.
Real Madrid did not press immediately, rather stayed composed enough to weather the storm.
As soon as the Liverpool wing-backs moved higher, Benzema was seen to press the two centre-backs only to cut the horizontal passing lanes and Real started to press higher with the intention to exploit the spaces left by the advancing Reds.
Now, this ploy made Andy Robertson drop deeper only to collect the ball in the wider region and outweigh Benzema, but in turn, this ploy forced the Reds to stay deeper enough to the benefit of the visitors – because the more they stay deeper, the more they would not be able to attack.
Fabinho dropped himself in between the centre-backs to outnumber Benzema so that the wing-backs can push higher.
With Benzema left alone, Luka Modric joined the press backed up by the rest of the team.
Benzema and Modric stayed in between the 3-men backline and it allowed one of the forwards – Marco Asensio to win back the ball.
At the centre of the park, Toni Kroos and Casemiro stayed firm and that meant Roberto Firmino dropped from his centre-forward role to outnumber them in the midfield.
Upfront and in the midfield Liverpool made it 3 vs 2 situations and made the pressing difficult for Real Madrid.
It turned out to be a well-set trap by Liverpool and attract the centre-backs of Real Madrid switch to a highline defence and left spaces.
But they did not fall into that trap, rather stayed focused and disciplined.
Militao, Nacho, Valverde and Mendy were rock solid and their composure hardly let the Reds break the resistance.
The Reds pressurized and Real Madrid switched to a 4-4-1-1 formation with Kroos sitting on Fabinho and Gini Wijnaldum.
The Real Madrid defenders minimized the spaces in between the lines led by the destroyer Casemiro, who showed the Reds who the best defensive midfielder in the world is – in one of the defining moments of the night, he scythed James Milner down to the ground – a reply to what he did against Benzema. There was an altercation between him and the Reds with Zidane laughing at the background – the boss knows what his boy is up to.
Casemiro aka The Tank not only guarded the defence but provided key passes and won duels like a boss.
When the Reds advanced with a 2-3-5 formation, Casemiro along with Kroos stayed narrower to cut off the threats from Milner while Militao and Naco had been outstanding in neutralizing the ground and aerial threats.
Liverpool crowded the Real Madrid penalty area and threw everything and which left spaces for Vinicius Junior during transitions – he looked dangerous and his pace outweighed the Liverpool defenders.
Then, Thibaut Courtois had to produce two top-drawer saves in the opening stages, as Liverpool tried to take advantage of Uruguay midfielder Valverde’s inexperience in defence.
The Belgian reacted well to deny Mohamed Salah after he was set up by Sadio Mane and then clawed away a James Milner curler which was ducking into his top corner.
Valverde produced a crucial block from Firmino in the second half to maintain Madrid’s two-goal advantage and stop any wobbles before Courtois denied Salah again in stoppage time to kill Liverpool’s last hopes.
On the 109th anniversary of the maritime disaster, Real Madrid, with their patched-up unit, defended by dropping the anchor and would not let Liverpool’s heavy-pressing-intent destroy their plan. Zidane has galvanized a fragile unit that was down and out six months ago and has achieved success with those players who have spent the season on the fringes.