Klopp makes front three change as midfielder gets rare Liverpool start in CL showdown

Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota Liverpool March 2021

Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita made only his second Champions League start of the season as one of three changes for the quarter-final first leg away to Real Madrid.

Manager Jurgen Klopp opted for more legs in midfield, with Keita replacing Thiago Alcantara and Georginio Wijnaldum coming in for James Milner. The extra pace up front also saw the in-form Diogo Jota came in for the goal-shy Roberto Firmino.

Liverpool’s side contained only five players – Andy Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Wijnaldum, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah – who last faced Real in the 2018 Champions League final defeat.

Real’s problems in defence, something Liverpool are more than familiar with, meant Eder Militao and Nacho were partnered together in the centre of the back four.

Due to those injuries to the likes of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, Zinedine Zidane’s team had only four survivors from Kiev three years ago, their midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro, and striker Karim Benzema.

Adrian blasts Thiago treatment

Meanwhile, Liverpool goalkeeper Adrian believes his teammate Thiago Alcantara has been the subject of “absurd” criticism since he joined the club in the summer.

There was much anticipation for Thiago’s arrival when Liverpool agreed to sign the midfielder from Bayern Munich. He had just won the Champions League with the Bundesliga giants to add to his extensive medal collection. However, he has struggled to prove his worth since moving to Merseyside.

Thiago is yet to provide a goal or assist for Liverpool and missed a chunk of the season through injury. He has begun to find some form recently but still looks like he hasn’t got up to speed in Jurgen Klopp’s system yet.

Thiago Alcantara TEAMtalk

A report last month highlighted one possible explanation for Thiago’s struggles – the lack of a holding midfielder alongside him. Indeed, his slight upturn in form has coincided with Fabinho moving back into midfield.

But whatever the reason for his struggles, teammate and Spanish compatriot believes criticism of the former Barcelona star has gone too far.

“Of course,” Adrian told Marca. “Thiago is receiving absurd criticism.

“He has more than demonstrated what a great player he is and he will also prove it at Liverpool.

“He comes from a different league, where he plays at a different pace, he had several injuries, COVID-19… That makes it difficult to adapt and, on top of that, the team has not been at his level.”