The Anfield Wrap’s match preview before Real Madrid v Liverpool in the Champions League last 16 second leg…


THE highest of highs followed by the lowest of lows.

Losing to a team at the bottom of the table always hurts, but doing so after an emphatic 7-0 win against Manchester United with a performance and result of that manner stings a little more.

At times this season we have been reminded what this team is capable of and been made to look like fools for doubting them. The wins against both Manchester sides left you wondering how much work there really was to do in summer, and then often days later you are brought back to reality.

Feelings of euphoria quickly followed by despair is something Liverpool fans are used to, but the way in which it played out in the first leg against Real Madrid still left us in a state of disbelief.

Two early goals in the fourth and 14th minute and we were in dreamland, only for Real Madrid to do what they do best and find something out of nothing — and then to do it five times.

Perhaps it’s the optimist in me, but I’m sure at least some would agree that the scoreline wasn’t reflective of the performance Liverpool put in on the night. There have been some poor performances this season, and somehow that wasn’t one of the worst of them. A large helping of sloppiness and giving away gifts, granted, but conceding five was against the run of play.

“I think Carlo thinks the tie is over, and I think it is as well in this moment. But in three weeks…,” said Jürgen Klopp in the aftermath.

Well here we are, three weeks on and, not helped by the Bournemouth game, feeling like getting through to the next round of the Champions League would require a small miracle.

Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp applauds the supporters after the FA Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Liverpool FC at the Vitality Stadium

It’s time for the team to believe they are miracle workers.

Many of them have been before, with Alisson Becker, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson all playing in the 4-0 win against Barcelona. Joel Matip started that night, but I expect Ibrahima Konate to retain his place on Wednesday night.

The difficulty for the manager when it comes to team selection is what he does in midfield. He rewarded Harvey Elliott’s good performances with another start at the weekend, only to take him off and replace him with Diogo Jota at half time.

On the flipside, Stefan Bajcetic showed rare signs of inexperience and struggled in the first leg against Real Madrid, and his injury now means it’s likely that Elliott stays in position. With our captain out, James Milner will likely be trusted to be the leader, with Fabinho completing the midfield.

Up until the weekend, there were real signs of the trio Darwin Nunez, Cody Gakpo, and Mo Salah starting to click and work as a unit. That didn’t translate into goals against Bournemouth, yet I expect the manager to stick with what is tried and tested this season.

The performance of a lifetime is required — and who knows what Liverpool will turn up? I’m convinced the best version can still beat any team in the world 3-0.

If they prove me right, you might not hear from me again for a while.

Predicted 11: Alisson; Trent, Konate, Van Dijk, Robertson; Elliott, Fabinho, Milner; Salah, Gakpo, Nunez

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