Real Madrid Vs. Liverpool Is Already Make Or Break

It may be a month away, yet Real Madrid’s two-legged tussle with Liverpool in the Champions League last 16 has all the hallmarks of the crucial hurdle in both clubs’ seasons and one that will set a precedent for the rest of their 2023.

Form-wise, Real has gone from a typical winning machine to a side with vulnerabilities that Liverpool will aim to expose—characterized by disappointment in the Spanish Super Cup final against Barcelona and struggles against the likes of Villarreal in La Liga.

Unfortunately for the Reds, this campaign has also been far from perfect, and a massive come-down from its largely impeccable standards; to the point coach Jürgen Klopp has considered returning to basics. Squeezing into the Premier League top four places and snatching an unlikely trophy is the best it can achieve.

Given these fragilities, the fixture—between the teams from last year’s Champions League final—is a perfect opportunity to hit refresh, potentially rescue their seasons, and silence the doubters. It could be a do-or-die occasion, and there’s much more to analyze.

Psychologically, this game couldn’t be more pivotal. Real is used to sparking into life during the knockout rounds and will not fear anyone. But an aggregate win over Liverpool—a sixth consecutive net victory over the opposition—would lay an ideal path to a 15th title. Paris Saint-Germain or Bayern Munich will fall in the last 16, while only Manchester City and Napoli look realistically capable of scuppering coach Carlo Ancelotti’s plans thereon. Advancing would lift the confidence required to go all the way.

For Liverpool, Klopp’s best sides shine brightest with self-belief and momentum, leading to long winning streaks and numerous league points throughout his stay on Merseyside. These are things his stars have missed lately. While it may only be two ties, ousting Real would knock down an ominous mental obstacle, considering its poor recent record against the perennial European champion, and reconfigure the mindset entirely.

To some extent, the result will equally affect events in the transfer market. When Real and Liverpool meet on February 21, the January window will be a distant memory. Both clubs’ summer plans will already be in motion, though, and could still hinge on this duel. No doubt, Jude Bellingham—craved by both—will be watching, never mind what transpires with his current team Borussia Dortmund in the next phase of the competition. The sought-after Englishman will be weighing up his options if he hasn’t done so by then.

Beyond him, the contest’s outcome brings wider speculation. Should Real’s youngsters shine, it will spark conversation about Real’s genuine need for glitzy signings period, given the growing prominence of Eduardo Camavinga, Aurélien Tchouameni, Federico Valverde, and others coming through. Bellingham would cost a lot—possibly well over €100 million ($108 million), the baseline to wrestle for the midfielder.

However, losing would drive greater demand for these bona fide stars, especially Kylian Mbappé, who can genuinely add something fresh to the front line. But the PSG forward is also wildly expensive, and striker Karim Benzema’s goals have yet to dry up in a white shirt. Would an early European exit be enough to shift its stance one way or another entirely? Sure, it would.

Regarding Liverpool’s stance, defeat would further outline its need for a complete maestro in center field. And it would also suggest Liverpool needs significant financial backing—whether from Qatar or elsewhere—to keep up with the best.

As it stands, Liverpool doesn’t look fit to pass the test with its current picks alone, even though club history tells us it can clamber out from the shadows and produce outstanding performances on highly anticipated European nights. While the Liverpool brand will always be enough to attract interest, this encounter remains central to its overall progression.

Financially, there are further incentives for each participant. Diario AS says the outright Champions League winner will receive almost €85 million ($92 million), apart from Bayern, which would pocket the entire amount after a flawless group stage. That is huge for both teams, and especially Liverpool, striving to be in the money again next season and eyeing European glory as the way to do so.

In response to the negativity surrounding the Santiago Bernabéu and the incessant Spanish media, which is reliably quick to pounce on any Real hiccups, Ancelotti says this is “the beginning of an era” for Real. A win against its English counterpart vindicates him, whereas a defeat means there is no trophy guarantee—unthinkable considering the level Real has set.

Unlike Real, a wholesale rebuild is on the horizon for Liverpool, especially with another loss against the Spaniards. Attracting the best reinforcements becomes easier with success in Europe, underlining how vital this clash is.

Losing won’t necessarily dictate the clubs’ long-term fortunes, but it may render this season hugely disappointing. Playing in a tournament where both make their name, a much-needed win can flip any negative narratives upside down.