Jurgen Klopp has questions to answer ahead of Liverpool's Champions League trip to Porto

Alex Broun 13/02/2018
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With Liverpool recording a morale-boosting 2-0 win over Southampton on the weekend, the Reds now head to the imposing Estadio do Dragao to face Porto, who are unbeaten in 20 Primeira Liga games so far this season – 16 wins and four draws.

Here are our talking points ahead of the crucial Round of 16 Champions League clash:

Klopp has midfield issues as Can can’t

With Emre Can suspended due to too many yellow cards in the group stages Jurgen Klopp has some tricky decisions to make in the midfield.

A fit-again Jordan Henderson was rested against Southampton and should start in the centre of the midfield but who will be alongside him?

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was poor on his return to St Mary’s and was withdrawn on the hour mark so unless Klopp was resting him as well, expect Gini Wijnaldum to start on the right with the ever-reliable James Milner on the left.

Both Wijnaldum and Milner have their flaws, the former tending to go missing when the battle heats up in midfield and the latter looking a few yards off the pace several times this year, but the only other option is injury-prone Adam Lallana and that is a risk Klopp is unlikely to take from the start.

Dejan Lovren may come in for Joel Matip

Dejan Lovren may come in for Joel Matip in defence.

Who partners VVD at the back?

No Liverpool fan needs reminding that defence remains the Reds Achilles’ heel this season, and no sooner have they put one good performance together (such as Southampton) than they have fallen in a heap (such as the last ten minutes against Spurs).

Reds supporters will meet with great trepidation talk that Klopp plans to partner the improving Virgil van Dijk against Porto with Mr Air-swing himself, Dejan Lovren.

Lovren’s mistakes have been spectacular this season – even more so than last season – with his regular gaffes leading to Liverpool giving up crucial points in the Premier League though he can’t be blamed for either the FA Cup exit against West Brom or the Carabao Cup demise against Leicester as he didn’t start in either match.

Joel Matip, it can be argued, was not much better against Southampton and for Klopp it really is a choice between the lesser of two evils – Lovren or Matip – with Ragnar Klavan being usurped by Van Dijk in the left centre-half role.

The thought of Alberto Moreno making an appearance on the left of the back four is a terrifying thought, especially after his personal calamity against WBA, but surely Klopp can not make that mistake again of starting the haphazard Spaniard in such a crucial tie.

Andrew Robertson has made nearly every post a winner in his first season at Liverpool and is arguably the in-form left full-back in the Premier league.

The Scot must start with probably Joe Gomez (20) getting the nod on the right ahead of Trent Alexander-Arnold (19) as Klopp rotates his young defenders.

Roberto Firmino love to play in orange.

Roberto Firmino loves to play in orange.

All in orange

Odd as it may sound, Reds fans will be happy not to see Liverpool wearing red on Wednesday night. Rather they will prefer the bright orange third strip which has been decidedly lucky for Liverpool this season.

The Reds have worn it five times without defeat this term: four wins – 7-0 v Maribor, 4-1 v West Ham, 3-0 Stoke and 2-0 Southampton – and one draw, the  3-3 thriller with Arsenal.

Wijnaldum and Van Dijk already know orange well as they play in it for their national team, the Netherlands, but the way the team plays when they are wearing it – Klopp, the rest of the squad (and supporters) are no doubt warming to it as well.

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Karim Benzema is part of the Real Madrid problem as PSG's prince Neymar prepares to become king

Matt Jones 13/02/2018
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Real Madrid will be raring to go as they prepare to welcome Paris Saint-Germain to the Bernabeu on Wednesday as the Champions League resumes for the knockout stages.

A few weeks ago, Los Blancos may not have been looking forward to this tussle as they’ve fallen off the pace dramatically domestically, while not enough of their star players have shone.

But four straight wins in the league plus the return to form of talisman Cristiano Ronaldo will have boosted them.

PSG, meanwhile, will travel to the Spanish capital in high spirits, having lost just once in 15 games in all competitions since their final group game in December.

Here are some of the key tactical talking points ahead of the encounter…

WILL ZIDANE FINALLY BENCH BENZEMA?

Karim Benzema has come under-fire from critics.

Real boss Zinedine Zidane has stuck by fellow Frenchman Karim Benzema, so a massive question is will he continue to do so despite a drastic loss of form in front of goal?

The former Lyon man offers more than a goal threat, this is clear. He’s industrious and his link up play is underrated, but with the wealth of talent Madrid have in their attacking midfield ranks, it would surely pay for Zidane to drop Benzema and add a midfielder to the mix, like Isco or Marco Asensio.

Real don’t really rely on their strikers, with Benzema one of a few out-and-out striking options they possess, Borja Mayoral the only other centre-forward.

But whereas Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos and Isco have found form in front of goal in recent weeks, Benzema is on course for his worst goalscoring season in a white shirt.

He’s scored just once in his last 11 games and has found the net only six times in 25 games. He scored nine in 33 during his debut 2009/10 campaign, but his strikes have steadily risen since. Only last term did he start to decline, with 19 goals the first time in seven seasons he’d dipped under 20.

He wasted three clear chances in Saturday’s 5-2 defeat of Real Sociedad where even amid some flowing football, Benzema was jeered by some in the crowd.

WILL EMERY THROW CAUTION TO THE WIND AND ATTACK MADRID?

Unai Emery 1

PSG manager Unai Emery will still have the memory of Barcelona’s thrilling comeback at this stage last year in the front of his mind. After a scintillating display in the first leg in Paris, in which the hosts thrashed Barca 4-0, they were undone in the Camp Nou by an extraordinary Blaugrana revival as they stormed back to win 6-1.

What will Emery’s approach be this time? With the second leg in Paris, the French side will come in as slight favourites. It just depends whether they have the mental fortitude to keep thoughts of last year’s exit out of their minds.

Although Madrid have steadied the ship in recent weeks, they still appear all at sea and a rampant, free-scoring PSG could cause them all sorts of problems. With the likes of Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe let loose on a suspect defence, Emery should opt for a bold, attacking approach in the first leg to put Madrid on the back foot.

PSG might play in a weaker league but they possess few weaknesses on paper. However, in the seven years since their money-spinning takeover, the French giants are still yet to go beyond the quarter-finals. Dumping out the reigning champions would provide a real statement to the rest of the competition.

BOTH BOSS’S SEASONS WILL BE DEFINED BY EUROPE

The pressure is building on Real boss Zinedine Zidane.

After an abysmal start to the defence of their La Liga title, the Champions League represents the last opportunity for Real Madrid to salvage their season.

Woefully out of contention in the league – Real are a dismal fourth and 17 points adrift of leaders Barcelona – they were eliminated from the Copa del Rey by lowly Leganes.

Zinedine Zidane needs to win an unprecedented third successive European title to have any hope of remaining Madrid boss beyond the end of this season.

Unai Emery, meanwhile, has no such concerns domestically. PSG are sitting pretty atop Ligue 1, 12 points ahead of reigning champions Monaco, and comfortably through to the quarter-finals of the Coupe de France.

However, Emery will largely be judged on his performances in Europe this season. PSG are expected to complete a clean sweep of all domestic trophies in France but the season will still be deemed a disappointment if they do not go far in the Champions League.

A PASSING OF THE TORCH

video-birthday-battle-spain-la-liga-real-madrid-barcelona-neymar-cristiano-ronaldo-copa-90-sport360

Neymar is by no means a kid anymore but he is still one of the most exciting talents in the game. And there’s plenty to suggest by his decision to leave Barcelona last summer that we haven’t seen the best of the brilliant Brazilian yet, not by a long shot.

On the opposite side on Wednesday will be Cristiano Ronaldo, the old master. With his career reaching its twilight years, the stage is perfectly set for the young pretender to usurp the king of his throne.

While Real are struggling domestically, in Europe they’ve been much more impressive on the continent with Ronaldo setting a new record for scoring in every single group game, the first player to ever do so.

He’s also leading the way with nine goals. On top of that, Real have undoubtedly been kings of this competition in recent years, winning three of the last four titles.

If Neymar can lead his side to victory over the two legs and topple the holders, it would go some way to cementing his reputation as the best player in the world.

PSG need a deep run in the competition and if Neymar was to lead them to glory, it might just push him from out of Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s shadow.

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Cristiano Ronaldo back to sit on his Champions League throne as Real Madrid take on Neymar's PSG

Matt Jones 13/02/2018
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Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain take centre stage on Wednesday night as the two juggernauts battle it out in the heavyweight tie of the Champions League last 16.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar will likely be centre of attention, but both sides possess a wealth of talent capable of changing the match in a blink of an eye.

Here, we look at the key battles which will form the basis of what we all hope will be a thrilling spectacle in Madrid.

STRIKING TALENT

CRISTIANO RONALDO V NEYMAR

Basic Stats

Goals: 9-6

Assists: 1-3

Shot accuracy: 46%-50%

Key passes: 1-20

It’s a case of the present meeting the future as veteran marksman Ronaldo comes up against one of the game’s brightest young talents in Neymar.

It could also provide a glimpse into Real Madrid’s own future with the brilliant Brazilian supposedly being fitted for a bright white shirt in the Spanish capital.

Ronaldo has always had his detractors, critics who claim he’ll never be remembered as a true equal to Lionel Messi, but this season his form in front of goal has dropped.

The 33-year-old has returned to his best in recent weeks, scoring seven goals in his last four La Liga outings, including a hat-trick in Saturday’s 5-2 defeat of Real Sociedad.

Two braces against Deportivo and Valencia confirm Real’s talisman is hotting up when it matters most.

While Real have struggled in the face of Barca’s brilliance domestically this season, Ronaldo has driven them and himself on in Europe, where he broke yet another record before Christmas, becoming the first player to score in every single Champions League group game.

He’s also the competition’s highest scorer ever with 115 – 18 more than Messi.

On the other side of the pitch will be Neymar, who surprisingly left Spain last summer after failing to really shine in Messi’s shadow. He’s predictably been purring in Paris, even if his talent appears wasted in an inferior league.

The Samba sensation has netted 28 times in 27 games for PSG in all competitions this term, including 11 in his last eight appearances.

He’s joint second in this season’s goalscoring charts – behind Ronaldo’s nine – on six, while only James Milner (yes, James Miler) – has more assists (5) than Neymar’s four.

Ronaldo v Neymar

CHIEF CREATORS

LUKA MODRIC V MARCO VERRATTI

Basic Stats

Goals: 1-2

Assists: 1-2

Key passes: 5-7

Pass completion: 89%-94%

While Ronaldo is very much the centre of attention at Los Blancos, the real star at Real in recent years has been Luka Modric, who has been one of Europe’s best creative sparks.

The crafty Croat dictates the Madrid tempo in midfield alongside Toni Kroos, with the marauding Casemiro providing the freedom for Modric and Kroos to set up attacks and feed the frontmen.

While he doesn’t possess lung-busting pace or power, he is rarely dispossessed, although he has lost some of his consistency this season and if rumours are to be believed, the 32-year-old is one of the players under threat of the axe this summer.

He only has one assist and one goal in the Champions League this season while his 89 percent pass success rate is only good enough for 10th place among midfielders who’ve made 380 passes or more, and just five key passes made. Although he still has the guile to make things happen, it appears his powers are waning.

While Modric may be on the move this summer, the only place Verratti seems to be going is closer towards the standards set by the ex-Tottenham man. The Italian is one of the best performing midfielders in the Champions League this season, having made 573 passes at an average of 97.2 per game – only Ever Banega (711) has made more.

His 94 percent success rate though puts him right near the very top, with only Scott Brown (97), Steven N’Zonzi (96) and Sergio Busquets (95) above him who’ve made 300 passes or more.

Unlike many of his peers, Verratti thrives on breaking up the play of PSG’s opponents and then distributing the ball to his teammates with more flair. His awareness and positioning are both excellent. His high success rate for tackles and interceptions means he’s constantly focused throughout the 90 minutes.

Modric v Verratti

DEFENSIVE DUTY

MARCELO V DANI ALVES

Basic Stats

Pass completion: 81%-86%

Total passes: 324-445

Tackles won: 22-3

Aerial duels won: 6-1

Two fierce competitors whose chief concerns are preventing their teams from conceding goals, but whose real value arrives in how effective they are at starting and joining their attacks.

Marcelo and Alves are two modern great full-backs, equally adept at halting opposing wingers in their tracks as they are bombing forward and contributing an attacking threat.

Marcelo, who was prone to errors in his early Madrid career, has significantly cut out a lot of the mistakes which diminished his overall quality to establish himself as one of, if not the, world’s best left-back.

Going forward, he has taken huge strides in recent years, displaying significantly improved on-the-ball skills and passing creativity to help carry the weight of Madrid’s attack, recording high figures for both assists and even goals.

He will have his work cut out on Wednesday as he is likely to be tasked with shackling one of the most electrifying talents in the game, Kylian Mbappe.

As for veteran Alves, he has been a pioneer of the new, modern-day full-backs, helping to redefine the position. And despite winding down his career, he is still a ball of energy on the right flank, who shows no signs of fading.

Despite turning 35 in May, no defender has attempted more passes in the Champions League this season than the Brazilian (445) other than Man City’s Nicolas Otamendi.

Only Aleksandar Kolarov, Alex Telles and tonight’s opponent Marcelo have attempted more crosses.

Marcelo v Alves (1)

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