Sunday 22 September 2019

Comment: Klopp must follow Munich template to conquer Real

Tactics Talk

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: PA
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: PA
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

'The midfield battle will decide the game.'

It's the easiest cliché to trot out, yet it's particularly relevant when it comes to tomorrow's Champions League final in Kiev.

A tactical look at Real Madrid v Liverpool
A tactical look at Real Madrid v Liverpool

There is no way of looking at the respective strengths of Real Madrid and Liverpool without reaching the conclusion that it is the selection and application of the players in that department which will determine the outcome.

Granted, the excitement levels around the showdown in the Ukraine have been heavily influenced by the fact that both teams are stronger going forward.

Liverpool's explosive front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and the outstanding Mo Salah present an obvious threat. Real Madrid's three-in-a-row tilt is again driven by Cristiano Ronaldo while Zinedine Zidane must choose between Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale and also ruminate over the possible deployment of Marco Asensio.

Both teams have defensive flaws that have been highlighted in the helter skelter knockout stages of this year's thrilling renewal and their respective domestic struggles. The aggregate scorelines (7-6 and 4-3) in the semi-finals back up the point.

Liverpool's stiffest test was the quarter-finals where the intensity of the engine room - in tandem with the front three - allowed them to push and win possession high up the pitch against Manchester City. That is likely to be what is asked of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum although there is a risk involved.

Real Madrid are a savvy winning operation and in Luka Modric and Toni Kroos they have two players who are well able to retain possession with one touch and pass from side to side with a view to bringing their team out of danger. If Liverpool press, yet cannot take the ball from Modric and Kroos, they will be vulnerable.

The question for Zidane is whether he wishes to set up deep and seek to neutralise Liverpool's threat with a view to breaking at speed.

The inclusion of Bale would aid Madrid if they opted to try and absorb pressure from Klopp's side and then move forward at pace.

Sitting off Liverpool can frustrate them, as Chelsea proved in their recent Premier League clash. They want an opponent that tries to take the game to them, and makes mistakes.

Modric and Kroos are efficient with the ball, although they can occasionally be slow to chase back and it will be interesting to see if they are provided extra protection in the form of Casemiro who operated as a shield in a diamond shape in last year's decider. He was left out of the semi-final but even if he does play, there is a chance that Madrid can be exposed from wide areas.

That trio does have more subtlety than their opposite numbers, and that may ultimately prove decisive. There are other key angles to this game.

Liverpool must take chances with crosses

In the semi-final second leg, Zidane sprung a surprise by benching Casemiro and including Mateo Kovacic in midfield along with Modric and Kroos. But an old problem reared its head and that was Madrid's difficulty in dealing with crosses into the box. It hurt them against Juventus in the quarter-final and it was exposed again by Joshua Kimmich's early strike with Madrid's midfield casual when it came to tracking a run.

1. (in example above) When the ball is worked to the right side, Madrid have the numerical advantage to cope with the threat from Bayern.

2. Kimmich - the eventual goalscorer - has made a run into the box beyond Kovacic and Kroos with Marcelo drawn to the ball.

3. Ramos and Varane are unable to deal with the ball but the issue for Real is that Kimmich is free to mop up the loose ball and score with Madrid's midfield three watching on. The third Juventus goal at the Bernabeu came from an unchecked run from Blaise Matuidi.

Madrid's roving full-backs

Marcelo is a player that polarises opinion and the good and the bad has been evident in the knockout stages. He was on target away to Juventus with a resourceful burst forward and he is a major outlet in attack. But he leaves space behind that can be exploited by teams that use it well.

Klopp alluded to it this week, and half of the goals Madrid have conceded this term have come down the Brazilian's flank.

Mo Salah will seek to capitalise on that, although a bold approach from Marcelo could press the Egyptian into defensive duty. On the other side, Dani Carvajal is not immune to getting caught out of position either. If Zidane does go with a narrow midfield, it leaves them open to a team with real strength in wide areas.

4. Having attempted to support a break, both Carvajal and Marcelo are exposed when Bayern regain possession which, in this incident, culminates in Franck Ribery (7) wasting a promising position.

5. In the same game, having been in support of an attack seconds earlier, Marcelo is only returning back into his own half as Kimmich prepares to take aim with Bayern's opening goal of the semi-final first leg. There are countless other examples.

The threat of Benzema

One of the big decisions that Zidane faces is in the striking department. Ronaldo will of course play and he enjoys lining up alongside Karim Benzema who can be an unselfish foil but has an ability to ghost into dangerous positions around the box with simple movement. However, going with Bale would give Madrid a better option on the counter. They also have the clever Asensio or Isco as a potential option behind a front two. Liverpool do give teams opportunities in the situations that Benzema thrives in.

6. The build-up to Benzema's equaliser at home to Bayern in the semi-final. He hangs back to sit close to left-back David Alaba and anticipates the far-post cross.

7. He is in plenty of space to dispatch the header that eased the pressure on the hosts at that juncture.

8. Roma create a similar chance in the first leg at Anfield but they waste this position with Andy Robertson outnumbered at the far post. Marcos Alonso scored for Chelsea against Liverpool from a simple cross too.

Should Madrid sit deep (Roma v Chelsea)

There was a feeling before the semi-final first leg at Anfield that Roma would have try and sit in deep and frustrate their hosts as Klopp's team can labour against that strategy - especially on their own patch. Instead, Roma adopted a cavalier approach.

Liverpool fatigue was cited as a factor, but Chelsea offered an example of how to quite comfortably stifle the counter-attacking force by allowing Liverpool to enjoy spells of possession in a 1-0 win success for Antonio Conte's side at Stamford Bridge.

9. Sadio Mane misses this one-on-one opportunity, but the fact he was allowed get into position highlighted how Roma continued to leave themselves vulnerable

10. Liverpool win the ball against Chelsea but the home defence gravitate towards the edge of the area leaving no room for Salah, Mane and Firmino. Alexander-Arnold eventually blasts the ball over the bar. If Madrid can get ahead, they should have the know-how in the centre of the park to manage the game and prevent Liverpool's attackers from getting into one-v-one positions.

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