Time to expect the Spanish Inquisition!

Given the European histories of Real Madrid and Liverpool it’s a major surprise that the two sides have only crossed swords once in a major competitive European tie. Our triumph in the 1981 European Cup final, thanks to an Alan Kennedy goal, seems like an age ago yet when you read the numerous articles about the game, such as this one (click here) printed in Monday’s Guardian it brings it all back.

Then of course we would win Championships for fun however, we go into tonight’s game having arguably blown our best chance of the title for a long time, the next twelve games (or less) will decide. It’s disappointing as one had hoped that we would make the most of the break between the Champions League group games and the knock out stages and put together a good run to consolidate the league position….er hem just like The Mancs have done! However, we now find ourselves in a worse position than the one we were in when we walked off the pitch at the Philips Stadion having secured top spot in the group.

Sunday, and other games played before, certainly seems to lend more credibility to the argument that our style of play is more suited to Europe than the league. Is it any coincidence that at Anfield where we have had to take to initiative we’ve struggled? No doubt tonight we will be under the cosh at some stage and have to hold, stifle, spoil and suppress and then, as we’ve done so successfully before, hit teams with a sucker punch. It is a generalisation and there are exceptions but this seems to suit us more?

Inevitably the two ties have prompted much discussion over Rafa’s future especially as he has yet to sign his new contract. However, is it worth worrying about? Win or lose Rafa will still be target at the Bernabéu and ultimately, contract or no contract, if he wants to go he’ll go regardless of what happens tonight or in two weeks time? The whole issue has been turned into an intriguing side show but ultimately its about two football matches, in Madrid and Liverpool, and progress to the last eight of the Champions League, nothing more?

Real Madrid clearly haven’t read the book called “How to behave in the build up to a big game”. Van der Vaart reckons we’ll be sacred of them. Lassana Diarra has talked of kicking Mascherano around the park and Ramos has questioned Rafa’s judgment over the sale of Robbie Keane. Even their president, Boluda has said Real will win 3-0 today and then 2-1 at Anfield All we need is Raul to poke his head over the parapet and, in true Monty Python style, shout to Torres’ “your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries.”

Normally this sort of nonsense would be incentive enough for us to, as it were, take great pleasure in putting Real in their place, however, I can’t help wondering how much Sunday will have affected the players psychologically. As I write this I still can’t help thinking about the league and whether we’ve blown it. At present it seems that, like last season, and the season before, and one before that, Europe is our only chance, again! Come on I must snap out of it! One should always feel confident about our chances in Europe regardless of the circumstances? Remember the victories against Barcelona at the Nou Camp two years ago and Inter last season were on the back of defeats against Newcastle and Barnsley!

Team wise I suspect Rafa would rather be facing the version of Real that existed when the draw was made in December. Since then they’ve gone on a nine game unbeaten run and have closed to gap on Barcelona in La Liga. They scored six last weekend. This is complicated by the Steven Gerrard issue. Will he play or not? If he does he is bound to be a little rusty so perhaps a more important issue is the return of Alonso from domestic suspension? I’m also assuming Dossena and Lucas will make way and that Kuyt will move out wide if Gerrard returns?

Prediction? I don’t think there will be lots of goals. 0-0, 1-1 or 1-0 either way. None of these results would be a disaster. I guess the pressure is on Madrid tonight to perform and who knows it is just like us to confound those who seem keen to write us off and pull off a major victory. We’ve done it before and we can easily do it again. Above let’s hope we get a performance that will cheer us up!

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