In the first leg of their quarter-final against Liverpool, Real Madrid earned an impressive 3-1 victory as they dominated throughout and they could even have won by a larger margin. The keys to this victory are discussed below, with Euan McTear reporting from Valdebebas in his usual three answers and three questions form.
1. No Varane. So, what would Zidane do?
The drama of this quarter-final first leg started eight hours before kick-off with the news that Raphaël Varane had tested positive for COVID-19. This was such a key blow. So, what would Zidane do? Well, he went for a 4-3-3. Would he have stuck with the 3-5-2 of recent games had Varane been available? That might be brought up in the press conference and we might find out, but what we know is that the 4-3-3 – which was tilted towards Real Madrid’s left side as Benzema was on top of Trent Alexander-Arnold so often – worked brilliantly.
2. How would Real Madrid deal with Liverpool’s press?
“Intensity. They have so much intensity.” That was one of the main descriptions of Liverpool coming into this tie and one of the big doubts was how Real Madrid would handle their press, especially with Sergio Ramos missing. But, they handled this well. Nacho, Éder Militão and Thibaut Courtois were all calm under pressure, while also knowing when to boot the ball towards Row Z (well, the Di Stéfano doesn’t really have a Row Z, but you know…). Designed long balls were also a part of Real Madrid’s strategy, often in the direction of Vinícius, who did so well to bring them down or to make the right run onto these parcels from the sky. And it also helps when you have Toni Kroos playing many of these long balls. His ball for the Vinícius goal was his 85th completed long ball in the Champions League this season, a crazy stat when no other player has more than 56.
3. How would the absence of Ramos be felt?
By now, we all know Real Madrid’s stats in the Champions League without Ramos. In their last 11 European games without him, it had been eight defeats and three wins. So, how much would they miss Ramos in this first leg and in this tie? Well, with Nacho and Militão each having solid performances at the back, they didn’t actually miss Ramos too much on the pitch, if at all. As for Ramos’ leadership, well they still got that even though he wasn’t out there. Ramos was sat in the stands and was shouting and screaming advice and encouragement throughout the game. “Everybody up!” “Back to the ‘keeper!” “Watch out!” There was some advice for the referee too… I could hear it clearly from where I was sitting and I wasn’t even that close to him. So, you can bet the Real Madrid players heard it too. Ramos was very much present in this big night for Real Madrid, at least as a leader.
1. How good will this be for Vinícius’ confidence?
This was Vinícius’ night. Partly because he was such a key part of Zidane’s gameplan and partly because he had one of his best performances of his young career. It’s not just the goals, as his overall play and dribbling were good too, but the two goals clearly stand out. Now you have to wonder where Vinícius might go from here. All of the greats of the past couple of decades have had a Champions League coming out game and this might turn out to be Vinícius’. And, it comes off the back of a good performance in the Atalanta second leg too.
2. Will Real Madrid come to regret the Asensio misses?
Marco Asensio did well too, scoring the second goal. His form has really picked up in the past couple of weeks, but he could and probably should have scored another goal. There was a chance at the end of the first half after a Ozan Kabak error, a one-on-one in the 64th minute just before the 3-1 and then yet another chance in the 67th minute that could have made it 4-1, when he couldn’t quite turn and shoot in the box. Asensio was taken off shortly afterwards and can be pleased with his contribution, but Ousmane Dembélé has a story to tell about missing good chances in a first leg against Liverpool…
3. Will Zidane go for the same line-up in the second leg?
Ferland Mendy and Fede Valverde were the only players at risk of suspension and neither was booked, so Zidane will largely have the same players available for the second leg. Maybe there’s another injury or maybe Dani Carvajal or Eden Hazard can return, but it should basically be the same pool of options. So, will he go for the same starting XI? Remember, there’s obviously El Clásico in between now and next Wednesday’s second leg. But, it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see Zidane go for the same set-up. Liverpool surely won’t. For many reasons, but one was how much they improved when Thiago came on. Let’s see, but for now this is a big first leg result for Real Madrid to savour.