Andy Robertson believes Liverpool need to cope better with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric if they are to stand any chance of overturning their 3-1 Champions League quarter-final deficit to Real Madrid on Wednesday.
Liverpool were considered fortunate to avoid suffering a worse defeat at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano last week, as Madrid appeared the far more accomplished of the two teams.
Kroos completed more passes (68) than anyone else on the pitch, though Liverpool enjoyed a slightly larger share of the ball (54.4 per cent). Despite this, Jurgen Klopp’s men managed just one shot on target to Madrid’s seven.
The issue, seemingly, was that Madrid used the ball better and focused much of their play down the left, with Vinicius Junior operating in the spaces vacated by Trent Alexander-Arnold. In fact, 44.3 per cent of their forays forward came down that side of the pitch.
Kroos was deployed on the left of Madrid’s midfield three, allowing him to work closer to the area Los Blancos appeared to target – as such, the fact his four key passes was double the amount of anyone else on the field proves Zinedine Zidane’s set-up worked like a charm.
Robertson, though, is convinced Liverpool could have done more without the ball, a suggestion supported by Fabinho being the only one of the Reds’ four central midfielders involved (Naby Keita, Thiago Alcantara and Georginio Wijnaldum the others) to make more than one tackle (three).
“Real Madrid are one of the best at controlling games. When they’re in winning positions, they’ve got the likes of [Luka] Modric and Kroos that can just stand on the ball for what feels like 10 minutes and you can’t get it off them,” Robertson told Liverpool’s official website.
“But we need to put these players under pressure, we need to put them all under pressure, we need to make their life a bit more uncomfortable than we did last week. It felt as if we gave all of them too much time on the ball, really, so we need to make it uncomfortable for them.
“If we lose the ball, we need to get it back quickly and our pressing game needs to be top level, and that’s the basis for all our good games. When you look at all the big games we’ve played and all the good games we’ve played, it’s been down to the pressing being so good. So, we need to try to create that.
“It doesn’t just happen, we need to make it happen. We need the hard work and we need everyone willing to do it. The lads are always willing to do it, so I’ve got no doubt about that, but it’s just about us trying to get close to the ball.
“We know that when we’ve got it we can hurt teams, but when we don’t have it we need to get it back quickly and we need to close the spaces, which we probably weren’t good enough at last week. We can learn our lesson from that and hopefully we can put in a better performance.”
Despite their injuries and subsequent frequent personnel changes, Liverpool have continued to be effective with their pressing this season, with their PPDA (opposition passes allowed per defensive action) of 10.6 slightly higher than the 10.3 they managed last term in the Premier League.
Only Chelsea (10) and Leeds United (9.2) have better such numbers than the Reds domestically, yet against Madrid their PPDA dropped significantly to 14.8, suggesting they were guilty of perhaps showing Zidane’s men too much respect.