Real Madrid’s second leg against Liverpool turned out to be a lot more comfortable than many expected. Not only did they go through, but they won 1-0 on the night too thanks to a Karim Benzema goal. This was a much-talked about game before it and there’s lots to discuss afterwards too, so let’s get to some talking points.
1. Would Ancelotti go for energy or experience in midfield?
When it came to tonight’s line-up, the biggest question mark was in midfield, as has been the case for most of the season. In the pre-match press conference, Carlo Ancelotti had been asked if he’d rather have the energy of his younger midfielders or the experience of Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić. He replied that he wanted both energy and experience, and that led him to pick a midfield with the German and Croatian flanking Eduardo Camavinga. It worked. Kroos and Modrić played with more energy than they have done most of this season and Camavinga played with the experience of a veteran. It could hardly have gone any better.
2. Would Ancelotti work out how approach this second leg?
The other main question going into this second leg was how to approach it tactically. Ancelotti received some criticism for claiming that “this is a more complicated game for us than for Liverpool”, but he had a point. Liverpool knew they had to attack and score, whereas Real Madrid could easily be trapped between two approaches, that of protecting the first-leg result or that of trying to play on the front foot. Almost like the energy and experience point above, Real Madrid navigated the nuances of this second leg perfectly. They were able to slow the game down where possible, but also throw players forward in attack when it made sense. It helped that Liverpool played with such a bizarre lack of urgency, but credit to Ancelotti for learning the lessons from the Chelsea second leg last year.
3. Could Carvajal play another 90 minutes?
I was quite surprised when Carvajal played the full 90 minutes against Espanyol on Saturday, because we all know by now that the 31-year-old can’t put two good 90 minutes together in the space of a few days. That has been the case for sometime now, so I wondered if there was a chance that Ancelotti was thinking of starting Lucas Vázquez in this game. But, no. He went with Carvajal again and he played most of the 90 minutes, coming off in the 86th tick of the clock. But, he was really poor in this game, especially at the start as he couldn’t handle any pressing from Liverpool. He didn’t make as many mistakes as the game went on, but this was also because he wasn’t given the ball as much. He went from having 1.3 touches per minute in the opening 10 minutes to just 0.7 touches per minute over the rest of his time on the field. Did his teammates realise what was happening and stop passing to him? Perhaps…
1. Can Real Madrid convince Nacho to stay?
On the other flank, Nacho had a tough start too against Mohamed Salah as the Egyptian’s pace allowed him to get in behind a few times in the first half, but the Spaniard absolutely stepped it up towards the end of the first half and for the entire second half. He dominated Salah and seemed to get under his skin too, even enticing the winger into lashing out after one tussle. Nacho absolutely stepped up once again and has been one of Real Madrid’s top five players since the World Cup. He is one of seven players out of contract at the end of the season and Benzema is the most important to renew, obviously. But, after that, renewing Nacho might be the next most important. But, he wants to be guaranteed minutes and he wants two years. Can Real Madrid find a way to convince him?
2. How did Benzema injure himself? And, is it serious?
There was a mini rollercoaster of emotions for Madridistas when the goal went in. In the space of a few seconds, they went from euphoria to worry as Benzema’s smile turned to a grimace. The Frenchman had scored his 89th Champions League goal, but picked up an injury somewhere along the way. How had he injured himself? At first, nobody seemed to know. During the strike? During the run to celebrate? A later replay, though, showed that the Frenchman clattered into Vigil van Dijk in the build-up to the goal, which is where he seemed to injure his right lower leg, the same one he suffered a knock to in the Real Betis game. It was serious enough for Ancelotti to take him off straight afterwards, but now we’ll have to wait to see if it means he misses El Clásico too.
3. Who will Real Madrid get in the quarters? And, more importantly, will it be another second leg at home?
With Real Madrid getting the job done, they’re now into the quarter-finals of the Champions League and will find out their next round opponent in Friday’s draw. Any team can be drawn against anyone at this stage, so Los Blancos could face: Benfica, Chelsea, Bayern Munich AC Milan, Inter Milan, Manchester City or Napoli in the next round. Perhaps more important than who Real Madrid face is whether they get the second leg at home, something that is now decided by the luck of the draw. Last year, Real Madrid got the second leg at home in all three of their ties and, of course, won them all, while they’d earned the right to play at home in tonight’s second leg and got another Bernabéu victory. That means that Real Madrid have won 11 of their past 12 Champions League knockout ties with the second leg at home, with Ajax in 2018/19 being the exception.