Champions League Round of 16, second leg: Real Madrid (5) v Liverpool (2), Wednesday, 8.0 – Live on Virgin Media Two
Around this time last year, just after Real Madrid had somehow survived against Chelsea, Carlo Ancelotti concluded that he must be immortal, but it’s not a theory he plans to put to the test – and he certainly doesn’t want to go through that again. Which is why the Italian coach has asked his team to ignore the doubts he insists will be even greater than Liverpool’s and put away their calculators as they step into the Santiago Bernabéu for the Champions League last‑16 second leg on Wednesday, 5-2 up from the first.
There is no point protecting a lead and considering it done is a prelude to discovering it’s not. So Ancelotti says Madrid will “attack more than defend”. He speaks from experience: he lost the most absurd final of all having been 3-0 up against Liverpool in Istanbul and 17 years later won an even more incredible European Cup after beating the same team, the conclusion of a collection of comebacks that was barely believable. En route he found himself in almost the same situation his side encounter now.
In the quarter-final in April 2022, Madrid won 3-1 at Stamford Bridge. But with 15 minutes remaining, Chelsea had overturned the score to lead 3-0, 4-3 on aggregate. Outplayed and heading out, somehow Madrid found a way back: Rodrygo took the game to extra-time, where Karim Benzema won it, 5-4 on aggregate. There is a scene in the recent documentary Real Madrid: Until the End when, exhausted, sitting shattered in his dressingroom immediately after the game, Ancelotti says: “If I didn’t die today, I’m immortal.
“I don’t externalise much tension and pressure but there are moments when you suffer and that was one of them,” he said. You learn, too; that at least is the hope. Madrid return to European knock-out nights at the Bernabéu, where last season they came back against Paris Saint‑Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City.
Three goals up from the first leg at Anfield, the parallels with the Chelsea game are present, the manager believes. “We have not spoken a lot about that,” Ancelotti said. “[But] we have a live memory from last year that will help us. We will try to make it a different game.
“Mentally, the game tomorrow is more complicated for us than Liverpool. Liverpool have to come full-on, to get the best they can from the first minute to the last, no matter what happens. The first leg result creates doubts in us in that sense. We will try to be at our best from the first minute, but it is inevitable that we have more doubts than our opponents.
“The message is quite simple: there are no calculations. We have to play the best way we can. Our idea is not to calculate, but to repeat the open match that we had in the first game. We certainly won’t play thinking that we have an advantage in the score. It will be open and we want to play our best attacking football. Liverpool will come here and try to turn the tie around. We don’t only think of defending. No, we think more about attacking.”
Ancelotti said Madrid “did lots of things well” at Anfield, although Antonio Rüdiger warned they could not repeat the opening 15 minutes, when they found themselves two down. Asked whether he could see the Liverpool that arrived in Madrid being the same team that beat Manchester United 7-0, Rüdiger replied: “Yes.”
How then do you stop them gaining momentum, he was asked. “By not sleeping in the first 15 minutes,” he said. “It is very important for us to find the right balance: not only come to defend and say: ‘Okay, we have a three-goal lead.’”
Rüdiger also speaks from experience: this time last year, he was on the other side. Yet if there is a warning there for Madrid, there is one for Liverpool too. After all, Madrid found a way through, which somehow they always did last season.
“When you play against Madrid you feel that the Santiago Bernabéu is something different,” the former Chelsea defender said. “Last year it was hard for me at the Bernabéu. I had never seen that. My former coaches always say: ‘You play against Madrid, you play against the badge.’ They always prove people right – that this badge is something bigger. The atmosphere was fantastic and I am more happy to be part of Madrid now and see it as a Madrid fan.” – Guardian