Champions League Group B
Liverpool v Real Madrid
Tonight 7.45pm, Anfield
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has urged his players to seize the opportunity to join the ranks of Anfield greats and deliver a performance against Real Madrid which can turn them into legends.
The Reds face the Champions League holders at Anfield after making an indifferent start to the season both domestically and in Europe.
Although they are fifth in the Premier League Liverpool’s performances have been far from sparkling and they were fortunate to earn a 3-2 victory over QPR at the weekend.
In Europe, things have not been that much brighter; Liverpool laboured to a 2-1 home win over Bulgarian side Ludogorets Razgrad in their opening fixture and lost 1-0 away to Swissoutfit Basle last time out.
However, Rodgers believes his players will relish the chance to face Real Madrid on their own turf despite the stuttering start his side have made to the campaign.
“These are the types of games that are talked about for years and years,” Rodgers said.
“Steven Gerrard’s two goals in the last game against Real Madrid are still talked about. The performances are in the big games and if you make a big contribution that is what the supporters remember.
“We are going into the game after being up and down but underpinning all the great performances last season was the spirit and character in the group and that will serve them well.
“But they can go in the game to get a result for the team and what can come from that is a legendary status.”
While the purists are relishing a match-up between two sides renowned for the quality of their attacking quality, Rodgers acknowledges a degree of pragmatism may be required.
Worryingly his side have struggled defensively this season, conceding 12 goals in the Premier League.
That concern might see Liverpool adopt a slightly different approach.
Similarly, there is a school of thought in Madrid that Real will become defensively tighter to compensate for the loss of Gareth Bale, who will miss the game with a thigh injury.
“Real Madrid are probably the best attacking team in the world,” Rodgers said. “You can’t go gung ho against them. At times their counter attack, when they keep four players up the field, so you have to respect that.
“They have great players who play high up the field and stay up the field.
“We have to be good in areas of our game to nullify that. In 99% of the games we will impose our style, but you have to still pay attention to the speed of them on the counter attack.
“Of course we are looking forward to facing Real Madrid, but also I have some world class players.
“This group lift themselves for the big games. We haven’t got to the levels of last season for whatever reason.
“I’m confident with the great competitors we have in the team will rise to the standards set by playing Real Madrid.”
Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli was the subject of criticism after a poor performance against QPR.
But Rodgers will not pull the Italian striker, who has managed just once goal since he joined from AC Milan August, out of the firing line and insists he is a player who thrives in big games such as this.
Rodgers said: “It’s a game Mario is keen to perform in. Obviously he scored a terrific goal in the last Champions League game here so he will be really motivated to perform well.
“He has got experience of performing in the big, big games and he has got that experience to take into the game.”
Liverpool are still without striker Daniel Sturridge who has a calf injury while defender Mamadou Sakho remains on the sidelines with a thigh problem.
Real Madrid are set to be without Bale, but Rodgers believes they still have the world’s best player, if not the most expensive, at their disposal.
“Cristiano Ronaldo is arguably the best player in the world at the moment,” Rodgers added. “His evolution from a soloist who scores goals, to a goalscorer is there for all to see.
“We have to prepare for the quality players they have and we will do that as a team going into the game.”
Possible Liverpool team (4-2-3-1): Mignolet; Johnson, Skrtel, Lovren, Moreno; Gerrard, Henderson; Sterling, Coutinho, Lallana; Balotelli.
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