To say that Liverpool are huge underdogs heading into their clash with Real Madrid this evening is an understatement of laughable proportions.
The Reds have toiled to little avail in the Premier League thus far this term, struggling to perform with the same panache and gutsy freedom that saw them come within a captain’s slip of potentially winning their first English title since 1990. They’re currently seventh in the table, and have already lost as many games as they gave won.
Real, in contrast, could not be more in-form if they tried. 11 straight wins on the bounce sees them sitting top of La Liga - having seen off the challenge of Barcelona in this season’s first El Clasico ten days ago - and they’re merely three points away from securing qualification from the Champions League group stages with two games to spare.
Many feel that the secret to Los Blancos’s brutally efficient machine lies with the management of Carlo Ancelotti.
The Italian has succeeded where more than one of his world-class predecessors failed in finely tuning the cogs within the Galactico setup in order to find a near-perfect balance between being lethal when on the ball and tirelessly motivated to win it back when they lose it.
But if Ancelotti is the brains behind the operation then there’s no prize for guessing who stands as the beating heart of the squad. It’s not the long-serving Iker Casillas, it’s not fan favourite Sergio Ramos and it’s not £85 million man Gareth Bale, despite the furore surrounding his return to the fold after injury.
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Cristiano Ronaldo's form
It’s the man who is currently ripping records apart like they were made of wet toilet paper, and the one who stands on the brink of rewriting the history of European football thanks to his tremendous goal haul in the competition many deem the hardest on earth; Cristiano Ronaldo.
If you haven’t been made aware of the rate at which the Portuguese superstar is finding the back of the net this term then I implore you to familiarise yourself before you miss the chance to see arguably the greatest footballer the world has ever seen doing what he does best at a virtually unprecedented rate.
22 goals across 15 matches in all competitions sees Ronaldo being lauded as a phenomenon in his prime, and when he lines up against Liverpool tonight he’ll have the chance to conquer a record he’s been chasing since his Manchester United days.
The 29-year-old stands on the verge of eclipsing Raul’s tally of 71 goals in the Champions League, with his opener at Anfield two weeks ago having taken him to 70.
With Lionel Messi on 69 it’s a validated certainty that Ronaldo will be desperate to bag two more as soon as possible, and this in itself confirms beyond all doubt that he’ll be in an unforgiving mood tonight.
Set to break the record?
Of course he’ll have every chance of claiming a brace if Liverpool’s defence is as unorganised as it has been to date this term. On top of this with Rodgers confirming that Steven Gerrard might be rested for this weekend’s Premier League tie against Chelsea, the solidity and leadership present in the Reds’ back-line is set to be put to the biggest test yet.
Ronaldo, one would assume, will certainly fancy his chances. The Santiago Bernabeu has become his favourite haunt when it comes to goalscoring, and where better to break the record of a Real legend before the fans who worshipped him like a god?
There is nowhere better, and Ronaldo knows this all too well. Rodgers has arguably the most arduous task of his career to date in finding a solution to a Real disease which has killed almost every team it’s been put up against this term, and if he doesn’t manage it then it could quickly become embarrassing.