Liverpool predicted starting XI v Real Madrid

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Liverpool play host to current holders Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday night, and things could not be more different between the two at this moment.

Brendan Rodgers' men have been struggling, to say the least, so far this campaign. They sit fifth in the Premier League, however this position flatters them after putting in a number of dismal performances. The latest in the 3-2 away victory against Queens Park Rangers, when the Reds needed the help of two own goals to seal the three points.

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After netting 103 goals last season, the Reds have been poor on the attacking front, netting just 17 times in all competitions, and needed the help of two own goals from Richard Dunne and Steven Caulker on Sunday.

Carlo Ancelotti's men are quite the opposite and are flying, at the minute. Although they tasted defeat in two of their first three domestic fixtures, the Spanish giants have very much found form since.

Cristiano Ronaldo has been the spear-head of an ultra-impressive attack, grabbing 15 goals in seven La Liga games, with Madrid warming up for their European fixture with a 5-0 away win against Levante.

With Madrid scoring freely at the minute, Brendan Rodgers has the up-most task of containing the likes of Ronaldo, James Rodriguez and Karim Benzema. Luckily for the Northern Irishman, he does not have to deal with the threat of the world's most expensive footballer, Gareth Bale, who misses the tie through injury. 

Nonetheless, it is still a stiff test and Rodgers should implement tactics that he and his side are familiar with. Against Chelsea at home last season, Liverpool were frustrated as the away team defended extremely well, not allowing the attacking force of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling any room on the ball. Jose Mourinho's men were stubborn, and allowed minimal efforts on Petr Cech's goal and hit the Reds on the counter attack.

With Madrid offering a stunning attacking line-up, Liverpool should carefully inflict similar to seal the three points.

Starting XI

Goalkeeper - Simon Mignolet

The Belgian has had a troubled time on Merseyside since he moved from Sunderland in 2013. Mignolet is a super shot-stopper, one of the best in the league in fact, however his decision-making is questionable. The goalkeeper looks nervous when coming to collect the ball, as saw against QPR at the weekend.

Nonetheless, he is Liverpool's best option and he may well just shine against Madrid. If Rodgers uses correct tactics to keep the Spanish side narrow, it may well force Ronaldo and co. to shoot from a long way out.

Mignolet made some top saves against QPR, keeping out efforts from Charlie Austin with his legs in the first-half, and then a driving shot from Sandro, which was flying into the bottom right-hand corner if it wasn't for the 26-year-old's heroics. With the Real Madrid arsenal known for hitting stunning efforts from outside the box, as well as possible tactics of being forced to do so, Mignolet could be a hero come 10.00 pm on Wednesday.

Right-back - Javier Manquillo

If Liverpool want to keep out the threat of the the Madrid attack, Rodgers must play his best defenders.

Glen Johnson is the usual gatekeeper of this position, however, his defensive duties are seriously questionable. Too often, he makes poor decisions and lays off attackers needlessly. The England international usually finds himself in the starting XI due to his attacking capabilities, yet, the Reds do not require this.

Instead, loan signing Javier Manquillo makes much more sense. Although he is not as much as an attacking threat, the Spaniard looks a lot more stable when going about his defensive duties. He proves it very difficult for wingers to get past him, with his greatly timed tackles and his large physical presence being the reason so.

This is what Liverpool very much need if they are to get anything from the game, and being an Athletico Madrid academy graduate, he will be pumped up for the game.

Centre-back - Dejan Lovren

Lovren hasn't had the easiest time at Anfield since his £20 million move from Southampton in the summer..

Nonetheless, he is one of Liverpool's best defenders based on previous form and will likely start. This is a serious challenge for the Croatian, as he is up against what could quite possibly be, the best team in the world. If Lovren has a good game against Madrid, it could be a real confidence-booster for him.

The 25-year-old seems to feel the pressure of his big-money move, and is trying too hard to impress. Instead, he should just relax and do what he has done so many times for both Southampton and Croatia. On his day, Lovren can cope with any attacker, as we saw in the World Cup, when he kept Neymar and co. quiet for long periods when his country played Brazil.

Centre-back - Martin Skrtel

Skrtel is Liverpool's most experienced defenders, and must be the leader of the back four in this fixture.

The Slovakian was superb throughout last season, putting in class performances against Everton and Tottenham Hotspur, especially, at home. Although Real Madrid are a class above those two sides, they have some fair attackers in Ross Barkley for the Toffees and Christian Eriksen for Spurs.

Real Madrid will be throwing the kitchen sink at Liverpool on Wednesday night, and the most important thing Skrtel must do is not dive in to the tackle, but at the same time not allow so much space for the Madrid attackers to shoot.. He is famous for lunging into tackles, giving away several daft penalties. As well as that, we have saw him lay-off the ball far too much already this term, something which starting occurring towards the back end of last season

If this is cut from his game, and he stands up the Real Madrid attack, he will cause huge problems for the 'new Galacticos' attack.  He has a great game to keep Diego Costa quiet for his country last week, and will have to be at his best to keep Ronaldo off the score sheet.

Left-back - Alberto Moreno

Moreno has been a beast since he moved to Liverpool, really impressing on the left hand side of defence. He was missing against QPR through injury, however should return for this European fixture.

First off, the Spain U21 International will not be intimidated by the away side, having played for them for Sevilla on multiple occasions. That will come to his side's aid, and his inside knowledge could be vital.

Further, if Liverpool want to play counter-attacking football, Moreno is key. Despite being a defender, he has already displayed just how good on the attack he is. Against Tottenham, the Spaniard drove at the Spurs defence from inside his own box with pace and power, before slotting past Hugo Lloris.

This is exactly what the Reds will need if they are to win the game. Moreno assaults with so much pace and power, and when Liverpool do get a chance run at the likes of Pepe and Sergio Ramos, he will be key to causing problems for Iker Casillas.

Defensive-midfield - Joe Allen

Allen may not make the headlines for Liverpool, but in this fixture, he would be key to getting a result

The Welshman has the energy and work-rate as good as anyone, and Liverpool need players like this in this fixture. Allen was brought on against QPR on Sunday, and completely changed the game for the Reds. He may have went unnoticed to many, yet his hard graft in the middle, constantly snapping at the heels of the likes of Sandro and Charlie Austin forced mistakes.

Allen will do whatever Rodgers wants him to do, and in this fixture, Liverpool need someone to sacrifice their usual game. Although Lucas is more natural in the defence, he is clumsy too often and fouls constantly. Allen, however, works hard and although he may not commit to tackles as often as his Brazilian team-mate, he makes the opposition make the mistake.

Defensive-midfield - Steven Gerrard

Gerrard is the most decorated player in the Liverpool side, and by far the most experienced in European clashes. 

He may not be the player he was when the Reds lifted the Champions League almost 10 years ago, but a lot of that talent remains. Gerrard must lead the Liverpool side to dealing with Cristano Ronaldo, and you can bet that we will see a few sliding challenges from him early in the first half, setting the tone for his team-mates.

If Rodgers wants to attack on the counter, Gerrard will be key to playing provider to the forward men. His passing is some of the best in world football, and when Liverpool try and catch out Madrid on the break, Gerrard will likely turn into supplier, as well as getting himself up the field.

The home side will need plenty of pace up-front and want the ball ahead of them to latch onto. Gerrard will be ready and able to do this, weighting his long passes perfectly that will cause serious problems for the Madrid back-four.

Centre-midfield - Jordan Henderson

The former Sunderland man has been immense in the Liverpool midfield this season. Although he had an extremely slow start at Anfield, Henderson has developed to become one of the first men on Brendan Rodgers team-sheets.

You know what you're getting from Henderson, week in, week out. He offers the Liverpool side a high energy rate, never stopping all game. His defensive duties have improved an awful lot over the past 18 months, really throwing in some solid challenges. Attacking wise, too, he has come on leaps and bounds, committing himself much more to Liverpool's attacks.

He has very much got better on the ball which has mostly imprrssed, and his vision will be pivotal. On multiple occasions this season, Henderson has hit inch perfect through-balls creating attacks, with his assist to Raheem Sterling on the opening fixture against Southampton being the stand-out. If the Reds are to counter attack, Henderson's superbly weighted passes will be necessary. 

Left-wing - Philippe Coutinho

Coutinho has had somewhat of a slow start this season, not finding his best form that he repeated so often in the 2013/14 campaign. The Brazilian came on to replace Adam Lallana against QPR, and showed so many signs he is back to his best. 

Coutinho attacked the home side's defence so well, twisting and turning the likes of Steven Caulker and Richard Dunne. He was involved directly in all three of Liverpool's goals, bagging himself the second, after his trickery saw his shot deflected into the bottom left corner.

The former Inter Milan man was top class for Liverpool's counter attacking play last campaign, and he can very much repeat this form. He has an excellent relationship with Raheem Sterling, and their understanding could be key on Wednesday if the Reds are to get a result. 

If he can frustrate Pepe all game, winding the Portugese bad-boy by never allowing him to get near the ball, that could also be a bonus for the Reds, as he is prone to being sent off. Playing on the left will allow the Coutinho to attack the by-line as well as cutting inside and having a shot at goal, like he did at Loftus Road.

Right-wing - Raheem Sterling

Sterling, hands down, has been Liverpool's best player this season so far. Although just 19-years-old, his pace mixed with clever trickery and an excellent work-rate has saw the England international quickly become one of Europe's most feared players.

Like Coutinho, Sterling was involved in all three of Liverpool's goals against QPR. Despite the probabilty of playing out wide, the teenager must lead the Reds forward line. His pace will cause problems for the whole of the Real Madrid back-four when getting on the end of through balls from Gerrard, Henderson and Coutinho. 

At times, Sterling should act like a second striker when his Brazilan has the ball wide on the left, a position he will be comfortable to play.

Striker - Mario Balotelli

'Super Mario' is yet to hit it off on Meryseyside, however, Brendan Rodgers keeps pursuing with him up top. Personally, I'd like to see Fabio Borini start in this fixture, but it is very unlikely.

Balotelli must change his style if Liverpool are to get a result. Usually, the Italian likes to hold the ball up, yet this fixture will be about hitting Madrid on the break.

Although he is big in stature, Balotelli has pace that is deceiving and can very much fit into the Liverpool side - if he wants to. He has to be ready to be off the mark for when his side dispossess the away side's attack and punish the current Champions League holders in a matter of seconds.

Balotelli is likely to have a lot of noise in his ear from the centre-back pair of Sergio Ramos and Pepe, who love to get into players heads. However, the Italian must not react, and instead let his football do the talking, which will be the best answer.

Raheem Sterling
UEFA Champions League
Cristiano Ronaldo
Real Madrid
Mario Balotelli

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