Real Madrid are into the Champions League semi-finals. Their goalless draw at Anfield followed the 3-1 first leg win to mean Zinedine Zidane’s side are back among Europe’s final four. Here comes an analysis of the second leg, answering the questions we had before the game and asking some questions that we now have going forward.
1. Could Real Madrid break the 3-1 ‘curse’?
Real Madrid took a 3-1 first leg lead into an away European second leg, knowing that this is a result that hasn’t always gone their way. The average for teams with a 3-1 lead after the home leg progressing is 79% over the history of European competitions, but Real Madrid’s record was just 60%, having gone through six of the 10 times when they had a 3-1 lead from the home leg. Well, they did it again. Now, their record with this first leg result is 64%. And, by the way, it’s three times out of three for Zidane, having taken 3-1 first leg home leads against Napoli, PSG and Liverpool and turned them all into qualifications for the next round.
2. How would Real Madrid deal with the absence of Lucas Vázquez?
Lucas Vázquez being injured might not have sounded like a big deal back at the start of the season, but the way the Galician has filled in for Dani Carvajal all year means that his season-ending injury actually was a major blow. So, with Carvajal still out, how would Zinedine Zidane deal with the right-back question mark? With Álvaro Odriozola? Eh… nope. He went for Fede Valverde, which was a bold move. But, it was a move that worked. Zidane knew exactly what to do to deal with this absence. It worked really well against one of the teams with the best left sides in Europe.
3. How would Vinícius impact this game?
Vinícius was the star of the first leg, scoring two goals but also causing so many more problems for Liverpool’s defence. So, how would he do in this game? Jürgen Klopp was asked about the Brazilian in his pre-match press conference and said that he was “impressed but not surprised” by Vinícius’ performance. So, would the German have a different approach for dealing with the Brazilian in the second leg? Well, not really. Vinícius played well and there are two reasons why he wasn’t quite as impactful in the penalty area. One is that Trent Alexander-Arnold was better individually. The other is that Vinícius didn’t even want to get into the box so much. The 20-year-old showed superb maturity in receiving the ball and knowing when to slow the pace down and use his excellent technical skills simply to help the team keep possession, understanding the circumstances of the tie.
1. What is Real Madrid’s best central defensive pairing?
Sergio Ramos? Raphaël Varane? Nacho? Éder Militão? When all are fit, which two (or three) of these centre-backs should play? This is a question being asked after Nacho and Militão’s excellent performance at Anfield and also in the first leg. From my point of view, there’s still no doubt that Ramos and Varane is Real Madrid’s best central defensive pairing. But, if you listen to the Wednesday night Spanish radio or TV after this Real Madrid game then then you’d know that the average Real Madrid fan has major doubts about this. Maybe it’s recency bias. Maybe it’s frustration at the reports of Ramos and Varane’s renewal demands. But, this is a debate that might have started from this tie.
2. Does Odriozola have any chance of staying at Real Madrid?
Álvaro Odriozola is a right-back. In theory, he should be Real Madrid’s second-choice right-back. But, he has become the bag of cheap pasta in the back of the cupboard that is only there for a total emergency. Dani Carvajal is the starter, then a winger like Lucas Vázquez became the option once Carvajal went down, even with Odriozola healthy. Once Lucas suffered an injury too, Zidane still didn’t turn to Odriozola - well, apart from the final 18 minutes. The truth is that the Frenchman doesn’t trust him. That’s why he put a half-injured midfielder at right-back in this game instead of Odriozola. So, what does the future hold for Odriozola? Well, it’s clear that it won’t be at Real Madrid. He has the most miniscule of chances of staying. The same chance of you eating that pasta in the back of the cupboard in the next week.
3. How to approach the Chelsea tie?
Of the teams remaining in the 2020/21 Champions League, the team with the highest average possession is Manchester City with 62.6%. Then, it’s Real Madrid, with 59.1%. So, they have better possession numbers than Chelsea, who have 55.5%. If just looking at since Thomas Tuchel took over, Chelsea’s numbers hardly change and only inch up to 55.8%. So, what do Real Madrid do in the next round. You’d think that the game plan against Chelsea would be to let them have the ball, defend deep and hit them on the break, but Real Madrid are also clearly a team that can handle the ball better than most. So, how does Zidane handle this tie? Well, for now, as he said in his post-match press conference, he isn’t thinking about that semi-final just yet...