Real Madrid vs. Liverpool: One task for each player in the first leg

Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images) /

Real Madrid took care of business against Eibar in La Liga this Saturday, and their focus now turns to the Champions League. Los Blancos will stay at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano to take on Liverpool in the first leg of the quarterfinals. And the Reds are coming off an even more impressive result, having decimated Arsenal at home behind a brace from substitute Diogo Jota and an additional goal from leading scorer Mohamed Salah.

Defeating Liverpool won’t be easy, in spite of the Reds’ struggles due to injury. But Real Madrid know they must get off to the best possible start in the first leg, as some of their energy will be sapped over the weekend in El Clasico.

Let’s look at one key task for each player in the expected Real starting XI.

GK Thibaut Courtois

Thibaut Courtois is probably going to have to be perfect on Tuesday night, because Real Madrid can’t afford to surrender an away goal. This tie could be so close that it comes down to away goals, and we know Real’s strength is on defense, even when we account for some of their recent attacking success against the likes of Atalanta and Celta Vigo. But perfection is not easy to attain with Sadio Mane, Salah, Firmino, and Jota on the other side.

LB Ferland Mendy

Real Madrid fans and Liverpool fans have had plenty of back-and-forths about Ferland Mendy and Andrew Robertson. Who is the better left back? I think the nod has to go to Robertson, because he was much better in 2018-2019 (before Mendy went to Real) and is the bigger asset in the attack. And that’s the task for Mendy. He must prove he can provide good service for the attackers. We all remember his brilliant, game-winning goal in the first leg against Atalanta. Can he have another magical Champions League play?

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CB Nacho Fernandez

Leadership. That is what Nacho has provided to Real Madrid whenever Sergio Ramos has been injured, as the captain missed more than a month of action in the winter. And since he is injured again, leadership is what’s needed from Nacho against Firmino, Salah, and Mane.

CB Raphel Varane

Raphael Varane is one of the best center backs in the world, but he’s another player who is the subject of much debate between the faithfuls of both of these fiery fanbases. Real need Varane to play a mistake-free night at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano. The pressure is on him just as much as it is on Courtois to keep Liverpool off the scoresheet.

RB Lucas Vazquez

Lucas Vazquez is no right back, but he could’ve fooled some people with his big-game performances against the likes of Barcelona, Borussia Monchengladbach, and Atalanta this season. His task against Mane and Robertsen will be tough, and he has been exposed by better players before, such as when he went up against Yannick Carrasco in the most recent El Derbi. His job is to be a pest and to avoid making things too easy for Mane.

Real Madrid, Toni Kroos
Real Madrid, Toni Kroos (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images) /

CM Toni Kroos

Since he played against Eibar as a substitute, it’s safe to lock in Toni Kroos as a starter in the first leg of the quarterfinals. The German international is playing as well as any midfielder in the world right now, and this is a game he can control. I would be more shocked if Kroos is not Man of the Match than I would be if he is. He’s just that good. His task is simply to dominate.

DM Casemiro

Casemiro will go toe-to-toe with Thiago, who has been meme’d by the types of Premier League fans who don’t actually watch games or appreciate football but rather choose to say inane things like, “Look at Liverpool’s record with Thiago in the lineup!”

Thiago is one of the best of this generation. And Casemiro needs to be equal to him defensively. He must show great strength against Thiago and beat him in the chess match.

CM Luka Modric

Luka Modric is wonderful in so many ways, and we recently saw him put on masterclasses in a deep-lying role against both Atalanta and Eibar with other midfielders not in the starting XI. On Tuesday, Modric will be on the right-hand side in his usual role, and I’d like to see him get a goal or an assist. Real Madrid need end product against Liverpool, and the Croatian could be the one who provides some of the good stuff.

LW Vinicius Junior

Vinicius Junior’s task is to do exactly what he did against Atalanta. He doesn’t need to score directly. Expecting him to score is unfair, since that aspect of his game is very much a work in progress at the age of 20. But I’d love to see him attack Trent Alexander-Arnold. Drive at him and cause Liverpool problems. Maybe win another penalty. Or feed Karim Benzema with another assist. Whatever it is, I want to see him push the envelope on Tuesday night.

CF Karim Benzema

Keep the streak alive. Karim Benzema has now scored in seven straight games in all competitions after heading home Vini’s weak-footed cross this weekend vs. Eibar. The French No. 9 is one of the most in-form players in the entire world, and he is on a different stratosphere as an all-around threat at the position than any other striker. At the end of the day, Real Madrid, in 2021, need his goals the most. So his goal is very much to get a goal.

Next. 4 burning questions from Real Madrid's win over Eibar. dark

RW Marco Asensio

But Benzema isn’t the only Real Madrid attacker currently on a scoring streak, which comes as a massive relief to Madridistas. Just as Liverpool’s big win over Arsenal shows they may be catching fire at the right time, Asensio is indeed finding his footing at the right time.

After finally getting rest against Elche, Asensio scored off the bench in back-to-back 3-1 wins over Atalanta and Celta Vigo. Then on Saturday against Eibar, Asensio hit the bar on a free kick and had a ridiculous backheel goal chalked off for offsides. Not to be denied his streak, he got his goal with a composed finish. His goal against Liverpool is to be consistent. Make the right decisions off the ball and the right passes. Get into good positions. Work the goalkeeper. Chip in defensively. Do the little things and continue to regain more of that goodwill.