2:45pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 1
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Newcastle (a); 2-1 Swansea (h); 0-0 Hull (h)
Real: 4-0 Granada (a); 4-1 Cornelia (a); 3-1 Barcelona (h)
Previous CL matches:
Liverpool: 0-3 Real (h); 0-1 Basel (a); 2-1 Ludogorets (h)
Real: 3-0 Liverpool (a); 2-1 Ludogorets (a); 5-1 Basel (h)
Liverpool: Balotelli, Gerrard 1
Real: Benzema 4; Ronaldo 3; Bale, James 1
Referee: Viktor Kassai (HUN)
Guess at a line-up:
Manquillo Skrtel Lovren Moreno
Lallana Sterling Coutinho
Screw it. You're going to the Santiago Bernabeu to face the best side in the world. You're going to be penned back. You're going to play for the counter-attack, at best, and hope that your defense doesn't do anything stupid for a change. Your attack has been beyond insipid, especially when starting Balotelli (or Lambert, for that matter) as a lone striker, and your defense hasn't been that much better.
So why not try that "Sterling-as-false-nine" strategy mooted by This is Anfield and others in the run-up to the reverse fixture? What do you have to lose?
There's no possible way Liverpool's attack could be worse than against Hull or Newcastle. That was about as bad as it gets. Liverpool tried the diamond in the reverse fixture, with Balotelli and Sterling up front, and it looked like it might work for about 20 minutes until Real blew Liverpool out of the water. I doubt Liverpool would have that much joy – which wasn't even that much joy – in Madrid, where they'll be even more susceptible to Real Madrid's fire power.
I'd also suggest using Markovic rather than Lallana or maybe Coutinho, simply because he's supposed to be a more direct, faster player better suited for this style, but he hasn't shown that yet for Liverpool, probably more because of Liverpool's team-wide failings rather than his own flaws. Also, maybe bring Lucas – who played well against Swansea, even if it was in the league cup – back into the side, most likely for Allen.
Aside from replacing Johnson with Manquillo (please!), there aren't many possible changes in defense. Sakho's still injured, and Toure's not seen as an alternative to Lovren or Skrtel, even if Toure-Lovren (like Lucas) did fairly well against Swansea.
Three at the back, which we kind of sort of saw at Newcastle, might not be the worst idea in the world, as long as the midfield isn't in the same staid shape, Balotelli has some support up top, and Glen Johnson's not involved. Maybe something like Manquillo/Toure, Skrtel, Lovren; Henderson, Allen/Lucas, Gerrard, Moreno; Coutinho, Sterling; Balotelli. Henderson seems a better option than Sterling as wing back, both defensively and to get Sterling closer to goal, while Balotelli would need as much support as you feel comfortable providing when at Real Madrid. But Balotelli's still not suited for a counter-attacking style, which Liverpool will have to play, and Liverpool didn't exactly set the world afire playing a similar-ish style at Newcastle, even if Newcastle and Real Madrid are entirely different propositions.
And Real Madrid should be even stronger than they were at Anfield, both because they'll be at home and because Ramos and possibly Bale will be available. If AS – pretty much Real Madrid's in-house media – is to be believed, Ramos for Pepe will be the only change, with Bale to be used off the bench if he's fit. Jese, Coentrão, and Carvajal are still injured, while Khedira and Illaramendi – who both featured as substitutes two weeks ago – are doubtful.
That said, I wouldn't be surprised to see Liverpool attempt to cram square pegs into round holes again, because that's what's happened since Sturridge was injured. I'm still pretty sure Rodgers is smarter than we are, but it's been baffling to see Liverpool stick with the "if at first you don't succeed, keep doing similar things" method.
I don't expect much from tomorrow's match – and you shouldn't as well – no matter how depressing that state of affairs is. You know what we've seen from Liverpool so far this season, you know what Real Madrid's capable of. But Liverpool still can't repeat this season's numerous mistakes while hoping to get some sort of result tomorrow, because Real Madrid will punish them in ways that Newcastle, Hull, Basel, etc can only dream of.