Published On: Thu, May 3rd, 2018

Why Liverpool shouldn't fear Madrid or Bayern in potential Champions League final

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In the previous Champions League rounds, it appeared Cristiano Ronaldo was defying convention. When a frontman ventures out alone, they usually release albums of such incapacitating conservatism that they are exposed for what they are without the erratic drummer and weary bassist: bereft of ideas.

Ronaldo expressed concerns over his depleted backing band in November – “Pepe, (Alvaro) Morata, and James (Rodriguez) made us stronger and the players are younger now” – but then donned eye-liner and pulled on a sparkly unitard to take centre stage during Real Madrid‘s hunt for a third consecutive continental crown. His solo project was a success as he netted 15 goals before Wednesday’s semi-final – a solitary undertaking more in the vain of Lauryn Hill’s breakout from the Fugees than Victoria Beckham’s post-Spice Girls foray.

But then Ronaldo played Bayern Munich and mustered just 28 touches throughout the first leg, revisiting those concerns from earlier in the season. It was a rare quiet night from the Portuguese, but one that doesn’t leave him culpable for blame. The ensemble around Ronaldo is considerably weaker than last season and barely better than a Bayern Munich outfit ravaged by injury. Liverpool, which has one foot in the final following Tuesday’s 5-2 victory over Roma, should have nothing to fear from either of these European behemoths.

Related: Real Madrid takes victory at Bayern Munich in scrappy affair

During the first half, Bayern was the better side. Joshua Kimmich‘s 28th-minute opener was a clear demonstration of just how multi-talented he is, scampering into space left by Sergio Ramos‘ peculiar exploration of the left wing and catching out Keylor Navas when the goalkeeper was anticipating a cross.

However, missed opportunities from Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller, and Franck Ribery perhaps exposed the reservations that have stalked Bayern Munich this season. The Bavarians are simultaneously lacking competition and genuine rivalries in the Bundesliga, and their Champions League campaign hasn’t been the most difficult, with group-stage rival Paris Saint-Germain presenting their toughest opponent over the previous 10 matches. Besiktas and Sevilla were kind draws in the knockout rounds.

There was a dearth of big-game ruthlessness from Bayern Munich that would be expected of players like Lewandowski. And with Arjen Robben and Jerome Boateng joining Manuel Neuer, David Alaba, Arturo Vidal, and Kingsley Coman in the treatment room during the fixture, Bayern is dipping into its reserves. Mohamed Salah must’ve watched the mistake from Alaba’s deputy Rafinha that led to Marco Asensio‘s goal and wished for his own opportunity to eviscerate the Brazilian veteran.

(Photo courtesy: Action Images)

Asensio’s effort proved to be pivotal, with Real Madrid then completing the formality of seeing out a result. Los Blancos will be praised for concluding the match in a professional manner, but that would neglect the full story. Winger Lucas Vazquez was uncomfortably thumbed into the right-back slot when Dani Carvajal departed with what seemed to be a hamstring complaint – a change that would be appetising for Liverpool’s left-sided forward Sadio Mane. Karim Benzema, who was called into the match in Carvajal’s stead, had only scored four fairly meaningless goals since the end of November against Leganes, Real Betis, Alaves, and Las Palmas.

Ronaldo’s isolation saw him not find the target in a Champions League tie since last May. Benzema showed little to suggest he’d correct his dry spell. The French manager’s trust in Isco was put into question once more when he was substituted at half-time. For most of the midweek affair, Bayern dealt with Real Madrid just fine. The Reds’ defensive general Virgil van Dijk and his vastly improved colleague Dejan Lovren would’ve taken note.

And that’s before you delve into Real Madrid’s defensive issues. Three goals were surrendered at the Bernabeu to Juventus in the previous round, almost gifting an improbable comeback to the Bianconeri, and there were frantic backline swipes and some questionable positioning from La Liga’s third-placed club at the Allianz Arena.

The scruffiness of this much-anticipated first leg was pandemic and encouraging for Liverpool. As the Reds showed in their own opening meeting with Roma, they will prey on brief defensive lapses in a matter of seconds. Judging from Wednesday’s performances, Liverpool could best either Bayern Munich or Real Madrid in the Kyiv final on May 26.

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