Two of the most successful European clubs will face each other for the first time since the 2018 Champions League final. Real Madrid play host to Liverpool at the Spanish Capital on Tuesday, April 6, in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals.
Los Blancos haven’t enjoyed the same level of success since 2018 final, however, the same cannot be said for the Reds. Jurgen Klopp has won Liverpool their first Champions League title since 2005 and their first Premier League title ever.
Here are the 5 key clashes where the outcome could be decided:
Karim Benzema vs Ozan Kabak:
Benzema is having an incredible season, already scoring 18 goals in his 25 La Liga appearances in 2020/21. He is on course to have his best-ever individual season for Real after 12 long years at the club. The Frenchman will come up against Liverpool’s most recent addition to their squad, Ozan Kabak. The 21-year-old centre-back has settled in well at his new club. Although he only signed for a 6-month loan period, his performances so far will tempt Liverpool to exercise their option to buy Kabak on a permanent basis. Kabak and his new defensive partner, Nat Phillips, have kept 4 clean sheets in the 4 games they have started. However, Benzema is of a different calibre from the players the pair have come up against so far.
Vinicius Junior vs Trent Alexander-Arnold:
Real Madrid’s tricky winger, Vinicius, was rested for the side’s latest game against Eibar. It is likely that the Brazilian will return to the starting XI on Tuesday night. He will come up against Trent Alexander-Arnold, who put in his best performance of the season against Arsenal on Saturday night. After being dropped from England’s squad in the recent international break, the right-back’s display vs the Gunners was the perfect response to Gareth Southgate. Trent has been criticised on the defensive side of his game and will need to be wary of Vinicius’s tricky feet without compromising on the threat he poses while bombing forward.
Casemiro vs Fabinho:
The battle of the two Brazilian defensive midfielders. Casemiro and Fabinho are arguably the two best CDM’s in world football. It will be interesting to see who among the two win the midfield battle. They will, of course, need help from their two central midfielders on either side (Kroos and Modric for Real Madrid & Thiago and Wijnaldum for Liverpool). Fabinho’s last three starts for the Reds have been from the number 6 position, guiding his side to three straight victories and clean-sheets against challenging opposition. Impressive stats… It will come down to who can control the game to perfection.
Ferland Mendy vs Mohamed Salah:
Mendy has been Zinedine Zidane’s go-to left-back/left wing-back (depending on the system used) for the past two years. The 25-year-old French international is one of the most balanced full-backs in European football, known for his ability to stay calm under pressure. Tuesday night, though, will be a whole different challenge. Mendy will come up against Mo Salah, who is amongst the world’s best forwards. The “Egyptian King” has been in blistering form this season, scoring 26 goals in 41 appearances and averaging a goal contribution every 110 minutes across all competitions.
Raphael Varane vs Diogo Jota:
Raphael Varane has started every single one of Real Madrid’s Champions League clashes in the last 2 years, coming up against the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Romelu Lukaku, Kylian Mbappe, and most recently Duvan Zapata. He was rested in Saturday’s clash against Eibar, which will ensure that he’s fresh to face Diogo Jota. Jota has been a breath of fresh air for Jurgen Klopp’s side, scoring 12 goals in his 1160 minutes in the Premier League and Champions League.