Wednesday, February 25, 2009

CL Preview: Liverpool vs Real Madrid

By: Gareth Freeman

From a Liverpool point of view the draw for the first knock out stage of the Champions League could have been a lot kinder on Rafael Benitez but from a football point of view this is a mouth-watering contest.

I’m inclined to agree with Pepe Reina, who earlier this week said Liverpool were well matched with Real and there was little to chose between the two sides. I’m going to run through the Spanish giants’ strengths and weakness and see if I can offer any betting tips along the way.

Real may have lost a lot of ground to Barcelona in the league this season but they are still a decent side and are the form side in Spain. They’ve won their last nine league games in a row, including a 6-1 drubbing of Real Betis in their last match. Rafa’s boys will have to be at the top of their game to take Juande Ramos’ side down.

The good thing for the Reds is that in cup competitions league form counts for very little. Benitez is also a master tactician and I’m sure his game plan will be spot on by the time these two meet at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night. Steven Gerrard has also passed a fitness test to face Real and this is just the kind of boost Liverpool need going into a tie like this.

The Madrid midfield is where the real danger men are in the Spanish side. The Dutch duo of Sneijder and Van der Vart are exceptional players going forward and Sneijder in particular is deadly from set-pieces. I’m sure everyone will remember Arjen Robben from his Chelsea days and if anything his game has improved since he moved to Spain, expect him to cause a lot of problems.

For me Real’s right-back Sergio Ramos is a very dangerous attacking threat. However, his defending can be questionable at times and that should allow Albert Riera space down the left-wing to cause Real problems. Real also opted to include Lassana Diarra in their Champions League squad over striker Klaas Jan Huntelaar, which could be a bonus as the Liverpool lads will know more about the former Pompey midfielder than the Dutch striker.

Ruud Van Nistlerooy will play no further part this season and that should come as some relief to the Liverpool defence. However, they do have Raul and Gonzalo Higuain who are more than capable of scoring goals and it will be a difficult task for Carragher and co to keep the Madrid attack quiet.

Personally, I think a draw is on the cards in this match. Rafa’s priority will be to defend and perhaps nick an away goal so I think he’ll line up the Liverpool defence as tight as possible so they can take advantage of home advantage in the second leg. If you’re thinking of having an online football bet on any of the other games on Wednesday night I think Bayern Munich should be too strong for Sporting Lisbon, even if it is in Portugal, and there should be fairly decent odds on that as well.

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