Can Real Madrid prevent another Anfield miracle? The Champions League in Opta numbers

By Sports Desk April 14, 2021

Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund are preparing for home quarter-final legs knowing only victories will give them a chance of reaching the Champions League last four.

Jurgen Klopp's side were beaten 3-1 by Real Madrid in the Spanish capital last week, the scoreline matching that of the 2018 final, when Zinedine Zidane won the trophy for the third year running.

Of course, the Reds have history of famous Anfield comebacks, most notably two years ago when Barcelona were stunned on Merseyside after winning the semi-final first leg 3-0.

Dortmund are also in need of a spirited display. Marco Reus' away goal gave them a foothold in the tie against Manchester City, but a late winner from Phil Foden at the Etihad Stadium means the Premier League leaders have the advantage.

Still, if Dortmund repeat the result of the last time they hosted City in this competition, they will be going through...

 

Liverpool v Real Madrid (1-3 on aggregate): History on Zidane's side

Liverpool's unforgettable 4-0 win over Barcelona was one of two instances out of a possible 11 where they have progressed in a knockout tie after losing the first leg by two or more goals.

They beat Madrid by the same scoreline in March 2009 at Anfield, but Los Blancos' most recent visit to Merseyside ended in a 3-0 win in October 2014. They are now on a run of four consecutive wins over Liverpool.

Given Madrid have scored in each of their previous 23 Champions League knockout games, and the fact they have won 15 of the past 16 ties where they won the first leg by at least two goals, they would appear to be in a very strong position.

If Liverpool are to produce another turnaround, Mohamed Salah will almost certainly be key. His goal in the first leg means he has scored in each of his previous four appearances in the competition, and he could become only the second Liverpool player – after Steven Gerrard in 2007-08 – to do so in five.

Luka Modric is also chasing a small slice of history. The 2018 Ballon d'Or winner has provided an assist in three Champions League games in a row; since at least 2003-04, no Madrid player has ever managed to set up a goal in four consecutive games in this competition.

Borussia Dortmund v Manchester City (1-2 on aggregate): Haaland the main threat to Guardiola's record

Pep Guardiola lost three of his first five meetings with Borussia Dortmund but is unbeaten in his most recent seven, while City have only failed to progress twice in 15 European knockout ties after winning the first leg.

However, Guardiola endured the most recent of those eliminations, with Monaco upsetting City in his first season in charge in 2016-17. In fact, in Champions League history, the team to win the first leg 2-1 at home has been eliminated (15 times) more often than they have progressed (12).

It really could be a game of fine margins. If Dortmund repeat the scoreline from their only previous home game against City in December 2012 (1-0), that will be enough to send them through. However, City have kept clean sheets in four consecutive away games in the competition; another on Wednesday will guarantee their semi-final spot and see them become the first side to record shutouts in five games in a row since Manchester United a decade ago.

Inevitably, all eyes will be on Erling Haaland. The Norway star has only failed to score in three of his 15 Champions League appearances and has never drawn a blank at home for Dortmund, hitting seven in just four games.

Haaland has been tipped to replace Sergio Aguero at City next season, but this could be a chance for the Argentina striker to underline his legacy: a goal here will take him to 37 in the competition, the most of any player for a Premier League club. Aguero likes Bundesliga opposition, too: 11 of his 36 goals have come against sides from Germany, more than he has managed against teams from any other nation.

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    Tuchel, who guided Chelsea to Champions League success last season, scooped the Best Men's Coach award, while Hayes was named Best Women's Coach.

    Hayes' team won the Women's FA Cup and Premier League in 2020-21, while also finishing as runners-up in the Women's Champions League to Barcelona, who Putellas plays for.

    Mendy, meanwhile, won the Best Men's Goalkeeper award. However, he did not make the Men's XI, with Italy and Paris Saint-Germain shot-stopper Gianluigi Donnarumma preferred.

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    The Denmark national team won the Fair Play Award for their actions in helping to save Christian Eriksen's life after the midfielder collapsed on the pitch in Copenhagen at Euro 2020.

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    FIFA Best Awards 2021 winners:

    Robert Lewandowski (Best Men's Player)
    Thomas Tuchel (Best Men's Coach)
    Edouard Mendy (Best Men's Goalkeeper)
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    The irony of Everton sacking Rafael Benitez on the day Carlo Ancelotti won the first trophy of his second Real Madrid stint was not lost on the Goodison Park faithful.

    Ancelotti stunned Everton in June by leaving to return to Madrid. While there can be no comparison between Los Blancos when it comes to allure, it cut deep that a manager who seemed committed to a long-term project on Merseyside, had left at the first opportunity.

    Not that Ancelotti's 18 months at Everton had been a roaring success. His final game was a 5-0 drubbing at Manchester City – the heaviest defeat of the Italian's managerial career, in his 1,167th match.

    That result condemned Everton to a 10th-placed finish. Just City and Manchester United won more away games last term in the Premier League, yet the Toffees suffered nine home defeats, with only the three relegated sides losing more on their own turf.

    But there was a feeling that Everton might have enough to push on under Ancelotti, should reinforcements arrive.

    Instead, it was former Liverpool boss Benitez, who had replaced Ancelotti for an ill-fated spell at Madrid in 2015, who arrived at Goodison.

    An unpopular pick among the fanbase, the Spaniard was always starting from behind the eight-ball.

    As was inevitable, the experiment failed. Benitez was sacked on Sunday after defeat at lowly Norwich City with Everton lingering six points above the bottom three after a run of one win in 13 league games (the club's joint-worst Premier League run) and facing the prospect of hiring a sixth permanent manager since 2016-17.

    False promises

    From Benitez's first news conference, it was clear that Everton, lavish spenders in recent years, were going to be cutting their cloth in line with tight financial limitations.

    "You have to work in the context of having a director of football, the board, and financial restrictions," he said after becoming only the second manager to take over Everton and Liverpool. "Talk the talk and walk the walk? I prefer to walk the walk."

    Only £1.7million was spent, but Everton started the league campaign brightly. Indeed, ahead of a September 13 game with Burnley, they had scored seven times, as many as they had in their last 10 games last term.

    After a 1-1 draw with United on October 2, Everton had 14 points from their seven Premier League games, the most since they had gone on to secure a fourth-place finish in the competition in 2004-05 (16). 

    Was that optimism built on solid foundations, though?

    Benitez's system was based on counter-attacking, with Everton happy to surrender possession. Only once before October had they had more than 50 per cent of the ball (51.71 v Burnley).

    It is a trend that has continued, with Everton – who have had more possession than only three top-flight teams across the season – only seeing more of the ball than their opponents on three further occasions. In each of those games, they lost.

    However, to be a counter-attacking team you must be solid, and Everton are not. They have shipped 34 goals, with only four teams having weaker defences, while 11 goals have been conceded from set-pieces, the second-worst figure in the league (Ancelotti's team only allowed 10 from dead-ball situations in 2020-21).

    But since Everton's woeful run started with a 1-0 defeat to West Ham on October 17, they have taken the lead just once – in a 5-2 home defeat to Watford. It is hard to sit back and play on the break if you are constantly chasing a game.

    In total, the Toffees have spent 36 per cent of games losing this season (when the ball has been in play), and only 12 per cent of the time ahead. West Ham (12) are the sole team to have gained more points from a losing position than Everton (11), so at least Benitez's men showed resolve on occasion.

    From October 17, Everton rank 18th for goals (11), 16th for shots on target (46/139), 12th for touches in the opposition box (259), 15th for chances created (93) and have the third-worst defence (27 goals conceded). They have an expected goals against (xGA) of 20.6 in that timeframe, the fourth-worst in the division. Their position is in no way false.

    Everton did play forward under Benitez (41.6 per cent of their passes were in an attacking direction, up from 32.9 per cent last season) but on only 86 occasions have they strung together a move of 10 passes or more, which ranks them 18th in the league, while their 490 passes/crosses is the fifth-lowest total.

    The bright sparks in that run have come from moments of inspiration. Demarai Gray's stunning winner against Arsenal or Richarlison's overhead kick at Norwich. Gray has been a standout performer, scoring five league goals from an xG of only 2.7, but it felt like there has been too much onus on the winger in recent weeks.

    Though injuries to Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison, Yerry Mina and Abdoulaye Doucoure must be taken into account, Benitez's mantra became "I know what the fans want", but he appeared to be talking the talk rather than walking the walk. 

    Falling outs

    With Everton craving stability and unity, it is odd that owner Farhad Moshiri (more on him later) turned to Benitez, who was never the right pick to unite the fanbase or stabilise the club.

    He has fallen out with owners, sporting directors and high-profile players at previous clubs and, indeed, his time at Everton proved no different.

    Director of football Marcel Brands, who signed a contract extension in April, was moved on when Everton fans protested over the running of the club back in December, following a 4-1 defeat to Liverpool. 

    Evertonians' worst nightmare had played out, their rivals singing Benitez's name at Goodison after a humiliating defeat. It was the first time the Reds scored four goals in an away league derby since a 5-0 win in 1982, and Brands paid the price. His recruitment department followed, with director of medical services Dan Donachie having already left.

    Everton offered their full backing to Benitez and five days later, claimed a vital win over Arsenal. But a cloud hung over that victory.

    Since his arrival at Everton, Lucas Digne was second only to Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold for chances created by a Premier League defender (211). The France international had spoken openly of having been asked to play a more defensive role under Benitez, though behind the scenes matters appeared to boil over in a reported training-ground row.

    Digne was dropped and did not return bar, for reasons known only to Benitez himself, to take a seat on the bench in a 3-2 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion. The full-back received applause from the crowd when he warmed up, but did not come on despite Everton needing an equaliser late on in a game in which they only made two changes.

    Last week, Digne was sold to Aston Villa. The sale eases the financial issues but leaves Everton without their third-most creative player (22 key passes) in the league this term. Indeed, only Andros Townsend (2.13) has crafted more opportunities for them this season than Digne (1.69) per 90 minutes.

    With Digne and James Rodriguez, who left for Qatar in September, gone and Gylfi Sigurdsson not involved, Everton are without all three of their leading creators from 2020-21.

    Moshiri mayhem

    Benitez leaves with a 26.3 win percentage from 19 league games. Only Mike Walker performed worse in the Premier League era. His dismissal should have come sooner, it seemed pointless delaying the inevitable.

    But for his faults, he is not the root cause of Everton's issues and owner Moshiri and chairman Bill Kenwright must look in the mirror.

    Since Moshiri took over in 2016, Everton have recorded 1.37 points per game, ranking them 10th in the league, but a vast amount of investment has been made. So, what next?

    Roberto Martinez, who was sacked in 2016, is reportedly a leading candidate. The Belgium boss won 21 Premier League games in his first season in charge at Everton, guiding them to a record points total of 72, but he won just 22 games combined across the next two years.

    Lucien Favre has also been mooted. He averaged 2.08 points per game at Borussia Dortmund, a figure bettered by only Thomas Tuchel (2.09) and new boss Marco Rose (2.11), while the Swiss led the club to their third-best Bundesliga points tally in 2017-18. He could provide experience and a modern approach.

    Graham Potter seems to have ruled himself out. Wayne Rooney is doing terrific work at Derby County, might he be an option?

    For now though, Everton's immediate focus must be on avoiding a relegation scrap. 

    Assistant Duncan Ferguson, who remained unbeaten in the league in his spell in charge prior to Ancelotti's arrival, seems a logical pick to take over on a temporary basis, with Villa visiting Goodison on Saturday, to perhaps provide some of the spark missing during Benitez's doomed tenure and buy Everton time to make the right choice.

    With just 19 points from the first half of the season, their lowest tally at the halfway stage of a season since 2005-06 (17), Everton cannot afford to get this appointment wrong, too.

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