After being proven correct in my latest bold prediction which received an abnormal amount of attention, I’m back to make yet another bold, but logical, prediction. Liverpool, just like Chelsea against Atletico, will progress with ease against Real Madrid bar an almighty fluke, and for similar reasons.
Atletico Madrid quite simply couldn’t create chances or relieve pressure on their defensive block against Chelsea because they had no outlets to help them get up the pitch or stretch Chelsea’s defence. Although Real Madrid’s general approach is entirely different, both teams have the same major issue, and that’s a lack of outlets which saw Atleti get pressed off the pitch and the same will happen to Real Madrid, albeit to a different extent.
But how can a team with players with such incredible quality with the likes of Kroos, Modric, Ramos, and Casemiro get pressed off the park? Well, it’s not because of them, as such, but more so because of what’s in front of them. Although Benzema is a world class centre forward with incredible technical quality, he’s not an outlet and won’t run the channels. Sure he can hold the ball up because of his superb link-up play, but that requires a very direct and accurate pass into his feet under copious amounts of pressure (Liverpool’s press) to enable him to do that, which is unlikely to be repeated often throughout the game. Below, Varane attempts an almost impossible pass into the feet of Benzema and it’s easily cut out.
Vinícius Júnior, on the other hand, is an outlet who’ll run beyond Liverpool’s defence and offer that pass into space which will stretch the game for Madrid. However, he’s their only reliable outlet. Considering Madrid typically play a diamond, a 4-3-3, or a 3-5-2, they’ll only have 2 players at the top of the pitch, but if Zidane opts for the 4-3-3 the other player high up the pitch is typically Rodrygo or Asensio who, as implied, are not outlets. An example of a consequence of every player showing for the ball to feet can be seen below:
A chipped pass is attempted towards Vinícius who, in this instance, is showing for the ball to feet, as is every other Madrid player. What Madrid are crying out for in this situation is a piece of clever movement to drag the opponent towards the play before Vinícius, or any other forward, spins and runs into the space the opponent has vacated, like this, for example.
Not only would this give Real a direct passing option, but it also frees up space for the players who want the ball to feet to move into to receive possession. The direct run stretches the pitch vertically so there’s more space to play in by reducing the compactness of the opposition shape. The opposition have to track and prepare for runs beyond their defensive line, but if there’s no outlets, then they can be more aggressive in their approach because they know the opposition won’t reliably play it in behind their high defensive line. A great example of this is when Bayern smashed Barcelona 8-2. As you can see below, Bayern’s defensive line was past the half-way line and they counterpressed Barca with ease because Semedo was forced to play a short pass because everybody was looking for the ball to feet and there was little space to play in. He passed to Roberto who lost the ball and Bayern scored.
Barca are not a team who lack top technicians so losing the ball in the build-up won’t reliably be down to technical errors, but more so down to their lack of players to stretch the pitch to 1) offer a direct pass and 2) increase the verticality of the oppositions shape which increases the overall space to play in. I expect Liverpool to create lots of chances from forcing errors in Real Madrid’s build-up because of these reasons.
However, because of the elite technical quality Madrid possess, they will play their way out of Liverpool’s press on occasion despite the mass pressure they’re inevitably going to be under.
Although they can play out of Liverpool’s press, albeit unreliably for the reasons mentioned above, they lack the necessary outlets (bar Vinícius) required to punish Liverpool when The Reds are transitioning from their pressing shape into their consolidating block. This means that they are reliant on forcing Liverpool back into their settled, consolidating block and creating that way. Although Karim Benzema possesses elite production value with 30 goal contributions in 33 games, the penetration levels in the rest of the Madrid team are frighteningly poor. Casemiro is their second top scorer with 5 goals this season which speaks volumes as to how they lack penetration in the final third in all facets of play (in transition and versus low blocks). As a result of this, it’s important to note that even when Madrid do sustain pressure, they’re not overly likely to score.
Another problem for Madrid is that they’re unlikely to be able to sustain pressure for large periods in the game due to the quality of Liverpool’s press and their own lack of outlets, but also because of reasons that haven’t been discussed already which include Madrid’s press. There’s too many facets of the game that they don’t have control under which will prevent them from keeping Liverpool penned into their own half.
When a Madrid attack breaks down, they look to (counter)press to win possession back high up the pitch. The way in which they press is quite fluid due to the nature of Zidane’s management style, but it is relatively compact, thus making it a method of chance creation in which Madrid can score from if they can force a Liverpool error. However, they’re not hellbent on pressing and will sit back and block space in a more cautious fashion if needs be, as seen below:
However, their press isn’t bulletproof and is prone to being played through on occasion. With a fluid high press comes moments of poor structure where a typical pressing trigger for any good pressing team can receive with time and space, and this is where Liverpool can exploit Madrid in transition because Liverpool have the outlets required to punish teams after playing out of their press, whereas Madrid don’t.
Again, this means that Liverpool will have settled periods of possession where they too can sustain pressure and attempt to break down Madrid’s consolidating block.
Overall, Liverpool can score from pressing, playing through Madrid’s press, and settled possession. Madrid can similarly score from pressing and in settled possession, and in the off-chance they can score from playing through Liverpool’s press, but it’s much less likely than Liverpool scoring in those circumstances. Liverpool have top technical quality, in the same vein as Madrid, but more importantly have devastating outlets, which Madrid lack. Most of Madrid’s attacks are going to be vs Liverpool’s consolidating block where Madrid lack goals anyway, whereas Liverpool have an equally devastating threat in all regards and are notoriously compact as hell.
Against Atleti, the commentator uttered ‘6 minutes and Real Madrid haven’t got the ball past the half-way line.’ They were besieged because they were easily pressed because they had nobody to stretch the pitch. Atleti dominated Real in the opening exchanges of the game thanks to their well-drilled high press with top players. However, because Simeone’s teams aren’t as aggressive in their approach as a team like Liverpool, they were happy to block space in a 4-4-2 for large portions of the game. Of course Liverpool will be forced to do that, but they’ll aim to control the game via pressing for the entire game, whereas Atleti don’t do that. Atleti also lack the devastating quality that Liverpool have as a whole, suggesting that Liverpool are a nightmare match-up for Los Blancos.
In relation to gamestate, it doesn’t affect this tie massively because both teams are set in stone as to how they play. If Madrid go 1-0 up, Liverpool simply have to remain aggressive in their approach because they can score via a multitude of ways, and Madrid won’t willingly give up the ball for large periods of the game. On the other hand, if Liverpool go 1-0 up, The Reds will again have to remain aggressive to assert control on the game, which they will do, but from Madrid’s perspective, they have to remain calm and attempt to sustain pressure on Liverpool’s block for as long as possible, which will be difficult to achieve.
The evidence suggests that it’s incredibly likely that Liverpool will progress in this tie, particularly considering it’s a two-legged encounter. However, Liverpool were the much better team against Atletico last season and did not win because they didn’t take their chances, and that’s football, but will lightning strike twice? I don’t think so.