Real Madrid vs Liverpool: Three key players to look out for

The Hard Tackle looks at three key players to watch out for in the upcoming match between Real Madrid and Liverpool on Wednesday.

The Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League will conclude on Wednesday with the marquee fixture of the first knockout stage. Real Madrid and Liverpool, the finalists of the 2021/22 edition, will lock horns in the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, with a spot in the quarter-finals on the line.

Real Madrid reached the Round of 16 by topping Group F ahead of RB Leipzig. But while they were largely imperious before the World Cup break, their form has petered out in the last couple of months. And Carlo Ancelotti’s men have won just one of their last four matches across all competitions.

On the other hand, Liverpool had to overcome a first-game defeat to Napoli to finish runners-up in Group A. But like Real Madrid, the Reds have blown hot and cold in the last few weeks. Jurgen Klopp’s men were on a four-game unbeaten run, including a 7-0 drubbing of Manchester United, before losing 1-0 to Bournemouth this past weekend, hardly an ideal preparation for the latest tie.

With neither team particularly flying, the match sets up to be an unpredictable affair. And as the two sides look to reach the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, there will be a few players who can singlehandedly change the game. With that in mind, The Hard Tackle looks at three key players for the game between Real Madrid and Liverpool.

Mohamed Salah

Will Salah deliver the goods for Liverpool? (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Considering Liverpool will be under the pump from the word go, one man needs to step up and guide his team to an unlikely comeback. This player holds the key to an unforgettable victory. We are, of course, talking about Mohamed Salah.

The Cody Gakpos, Darwin Nunezes, and Roberto Firminos of the game all are match-winners. But Salah has the ability to shift the balance on his own when he is on song. And the Egyptian attacker can potentially trouble Real Madrid to no end on Wednesday.

The left-back berth is potentially a problem area for Real Madrid amid Ferland Mendy’s fitness issues. If the Frenchman starts, he might not be up to pace, bringing Salah into the picture for a memorable performance. And if Mendy is not fit, Eduardo Camavinga will likely start as a makeshift left-back.

Salah thus has the opportunity to make it a long night for Real Madrid and the hosts’ defensive unit. And how the 30-year-old fares will ultimately determine whether Liverpool can script a dramatic turnaround, exact revenge on Real Madrid and reach the quarter-finals.

Marco Asensio

Could Asensio be the difference maker for Real Madrid? (Photo by Oscar del Pozo/AFP/Getty Images)

Players like Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, and Vinicius Junior will invariably be under the spotlight on Wednesday. But the next name on our list is a player who will not even start the game this week. We are going with Marco Asensio as our second candidate.

The Spanish international faces an uncertain future at Real Madrid and might not be at the Santiago Bernabeu for long. But he has often scored crucial goals for Los Blancos when coming off the bench, also finding the back of the net in the come-from-behind win over Espanyol this past weekend.

So while the 27-year-old is trying to figure out where he will ply his trade next season amid links with Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester United, he can potentially make the difference for Real Madrid in a possibly closely-contested affair.

The Spaniard should invariably appear off the bench in the second half as the hosts try to clinch the win. And that is when Asensio revels for Real Madrid, at least as far as the recent history is concerned. Who knows, maybe a game-changing performance will help him secure his future. Clubs like Chelsea and Manchester United will surely be watching.

Trent Alexander-Arnold

Alexander-Arnold needs to rediscover his best form. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Continuing with the theme of Liverpool’s right-hand side potentially being a match-winner, we pick another game-changer from the flank. The player in question is none other than English right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold.

The 24-year-old has endured a forgettable 2022/23 campaign thus far, with his defensive frailties coming under the spotlight. And with teams not shying away from taking him on, his creative output has fallen off a cliff. But with Mohamed Salah giving the cue to pile on the attack, Alexander-Arnold will have the opportunity to turn around his fortunes.

Granted, the threat of Vinicius Junior will loom large throughout the game. And Alexander-Arnold will invariably have his hands full over the course of the ninety minutes on Wednesday. But the English international needs to be at his best to get Liverpool back into the tie.

Chances are, Jurgen Klopp will set his team up to take advantage of Real Madrid’s potential problem area. And the German tactician should place enough cover to help bring the best out of Alexander-Arnold. Expect the 24-year-old to rise to the occasion and change the game’s face.

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