Champions League

Eyes on Reds, Real strikers

2014-10-21 08:36
Cristiano Ronaldo (Supplied)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Supplied)

London - Liverpool and Real Madrid meet in a heavyweight Champions League match on Wednesday with their star strikers going through contrasting fortunes in front of goal.

Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo is two goals away from the Champions League group-stage scoring record of 71 goals held by Raul Gonzalez, another attacking great who wore the white shirt of the Spanish giants.

Ronaldo has scored in both of Madrid's wins so far in Group B and has established the best-ever scoring start to a Spanish league season with 15 goals through the first eight rounds.

By contrast, Mario Balotelli has netted just once in nine games in all competitions for Liverpool since his move from AC Milan in August, with the Italy striker's overall contribution to the team also being widely criticized.

Liverpool have a win and a loss from their first two games but are a club that thrives on big European nights at Anfield — and it doesn't come any bigger than the visit of the reigning 10-time champions.

If Ronaldo is to match — or surpass — Raul's haul of Champions League goals on Wednesday, he'll have to end his scoring drought at Anfield.

In five matches there while playing for Manchester United, Ronaldo never found the net. He scored two goals in nine games against Liverpool during his six-year spell at United from 2003-09.

The Portugal forward is in prime shape to continue his amazing spree, though, with Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti saying: "It is impossible to do more than what he is doing."

Liverpool's defense has kept just one clean sheet in 11 matches this season.

Another member of Madrid's star-studded attack, Gareth Bale, is likely to miss the match because of a muscle injury that meant he was an unused substitute in the team's 5-0 win over Levante in the Spanish league on Saturday.

The winger also is expected to be a doubt for next weekend's "clasico" against Barcelona with the injury, which Madrid described as "a lesion in the right piriformis muscle" in his buttocks.

If Bale is absent, Francisco "Isco" Alarcon could earn a start behind Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.

Madrid is one of three teams on a maximum six points, after beating Basel 5-1 and Ludogorets 2-1.

With Daniel Sturridge having missed five weeks with a hamstring injury and potentially out for another month with a calf problem, the scoring burden at Liverpool is falling to Balotelli.

And he's not delivering.

His only goal in nearly two months at Liverpool was in the 2-1 win over Ludogorets, a lovely control and finish that was Balotelli at his best.

Unfortunately those moments have been too fleeting. Missing an open goal from eight meters out against Queens Park Rangers on Sunday summed up the start to his career at Liverpool, where fans are bemoaning the departure of the free-scoring Luis Suarez to Barcelona.

With Suarez and Sturridge up front last season, Liverpool had the liveliest strikeforce in England.

Liverpool and Madrid have met three times in competitive play — and Liverpool has won every time.

Their most famous clash was in the 1981 European Cup final in Paris, with Liverpool winning 1-0 thanks to Alan Kennedy's 81st-minute goal.

Their other meetings came in the last 16 of the Champions League in 2009. Liverpool won 5-0 on aggregate over two legs — the 4-0 result in the return match was Madrid's heaviest away defeat in Europe.

The two teams have won Europe's biggest club prize 15 times between them. The last of Liverpool's five titles came in 2005 against AC Milan, which was coached at the time by Ancelotti.

Matches against Real and Liverpool gave Ludogorets Razgrad a tough introduction to life in Europe's elite.

And a pair of 2-1 losses showed the Bulgarian wasn't fazed in the company of two of the continent's biggest clubs.

The next challenge? Getting a win. And three points against Basel would taste extra sweet.

Ludogorets is aiming for revenge after losing to the Swiss team in last season's Champions League qualification playoff, 6-2 on aggregate.

Ludogorets coach Georgi Dermendzhiev is expected to pick an unchanged team from the match against Real although he could be forced to replace midfielder Hristo Zlatinski, who was involved in a car accident during the weekend.

Zlatinski did not suffer any serious injuries.               

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