UEFA Champions League 2022/23: Key tactical battles to watch out for as Liverpool seek revenge against Real Madrid – tactical preview
Last season’s UEFA Champions League finalists will meet again this season but now in the Round of 16 and in considerably different form and circumstances than the previous campaign.
The first match will be at Anfield. Klopp’s Liverpool qualified in second place in Group A while Napoli advanced in first place. Meanwhile, Real Madrid topped Group F with 13 points.
However, at present, with parity in the level of many of Europe’s top teams, qualifying in the first place does not ensure an “accessible” opponent in the Round of 16, and this is one such the case.
It is no secret that Real Madrid have been Liverpool’s tormentors in recent years. The Spanish club won the final of the 17/18 season against the Reds and then eliminated Klopp’s side in the quarter-finals of the 21/22 edition and even sent the 2020 Premier League champions packing a year before that.
So, it’s a rivalry-heavy match-up that offers plenty of tactical content to consider ahead of next Tuesday’s game.
This tactical analysis preview will be an analysis of the tactics that can be expected from both sides, homing in on four key tactical areas that could make a difference at Anfield.
Vinicius Junior vs Trent Alexander-Arnold
One of the most interesting duels of this match, as it was in the last Champions League final, will be Vinicius Junior vs Trent Alexander-Arnold.
It is no secret that the English fullback is not strong enough defensively to stop a player like the Brazilian. Although Real Madrid often look to connect with their left-winger, on this occasion they could look to him a little more as he may be a great option to progress and dynamise possessions in the opposition’s half.
1v1 duels will not be the only situation in which Real Madrid can take advantage of Vinicius Jr’s connections, but also through crosses or passes into the box. The goal that won Los Blancos the title in the last Champions League came with the Brazilian attacking the back of Trent Alexander-Arnold to finish.
Vinicius Jr in width is always a threat to be reckoned with. In addition, Madrid could use various mechanisms to isolate him in order to give him more time and space.
Real Madrid’s Brazilian player is living his best professional life right now. The Brazil international has been able to perform at a high level in the vast majority of his matches since the beginning of last season. Playing at Anfield is always a huge challenge, but Vinicius Jr has shown the ability to overcome any challenges.
However, this duel will also be interesting when Real Madrid are forced to defend and must contain the threats of Alexander-Arnold and Robertson.
Real Madrid’s 4-5-1 to defend Liverpool fullbacks
Klopp’s Liverpool are a team that place great importance on their full-backs. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson are two players Real Madrid will need to mark very tightly to prevent them from doing any damage when attacking.
However, the plan that will be used for each should be very different, although in both the wingers should have to drop back several metres.
On the left wing, Robertson is usually a player who sets the team’s attacking width. Liverpool often activate him after progressing down the right, so it will be necessary for Madrid’s right winger (possibly Federico Valverde) to drop back with him to prevent the fullback from being able to receive freely or do damage by getting into the box.
Nonetheless, such an intense run throughout the match is very exhausting for any player.
On the right wing, Alexander-Arnold tends to stay in intermediate positions and it is Salah who stays wide. However, he has a highly developed role to alternate his channels so that the team maintain the presence of a player in each of the two wide channels.
For this reason, Vinicius will need to drop back to avoid 2v1 situations in which Liverpool look to progress.
Given what they have done this season, it would not be surprising if Ancelotti installs a low block in which he looks to cover his Liverpool fullbacks with his wingers.
However, Jürgen Klopp’s side could do a lot of damage through counter-attacks, so it will be necessary for the Spanish club to be very tidy in all phases of the game.
Camavinga’s role as organiser
With Toni Kroos and Aurélien Tchouameni possibly out, and Camavinga having played a great game against Osasuna, it looks like the 20-year-old midfielder will start against Liverpool in the Champions League.
The Frenchman’s version of an organiser will be something the English club will need to keep an eye on, as his ability to progress play and his good chemistry with Luka Modric could bring the Reds a lot of problems in the central areas.
Camavinga is a very intelligent and technically-gifted player able to beat pressure and then link up with teammates in favourable areas to attack.
A key to the match will be the intensity of Liverpool’s pressing. Nonetheless, there are two scenarios that the home team will need to be aware of: Camavinga’s ability to beat opponents through dribbles/body feints and positional rotations in the midfield.
Among Real Madrid’s most pressure-resistant players is Luka Modric, and the Croatian often acts as an organiser to dynamise his team’s attacks.
Camavinga is not a traditional organiser. He will not be limited to giving short passes and running a small part of the pitch. In addition, Madrid’s attacking dynamics allow him to carry the ball, attack space and have a lot of influence near the box.
This means that he is able to make key passes frequently, as he is a player with great technique and vision.
In addition, Vinicius’ quick runs will need to be watched to prevent this connection from happening in the final third of the pitch.
Madrid’s build-up phase against Liverpool’s high pressing
Football is in the era of “short build-up vs high pressing” and this will be one of the keys to the match.
Real Madrid are one of the most effective teams when it comes to overcoming high pressures to progress, but this season they have not been as effective in these situations.
Meanwhile, Liverpool are one of the most intense and effective teams when pressing high. Not only are Madrid almost certain to suffer losses in this phase of the game, but the Reds could create dangerous chances immediately upon recovering the ball.
Moreover, for Ancelotti’s team, long passes do not seem to be an option, as they do not have any as dominant in the air as the opposition’s centre-backs. And the chances of this are reduced if Benzema does not play in the end.
However, on the occasions when Madrid are able to make progress, their star quality will be very difficult to defend against so Liverpool will need to keep their lines tightly coordinated to avoid being caught out.
So what does this all mean?
Liverpool and Real Madrid will have a high-intensity match this week. There is no doubt that this is the most attractive game of the lot especially given the great rivalry between the two clubs on the European stage.
Klopp’s side have failed to beat the Spanish side in their last few games and will be looking to do so this time around, although this will not be an easy challenge.
Both clubs have a very definite game idea with which they could hurt their opponents and their effectiveness does not diminish despite how well they know each other.
For this reason, what will decide the score will be the small details of the game.