MADRID (AP) — Having lost 3-0 at home to defending champion Real Madrid, Liverpool needs to rediscover last season’s flair and rhythm to keep alive hopes of rising above third place in Group B of the Champions League.
Most of all, coach Brendan Rodgers’ team needs to score goals when it travels to meet a supremely confident Madrid in Spain.
Also, FC Basel hosts Lodogorets Razgrad.
Here are some things to look out for in Tuesday’s matches:
GOING FOR GOAL
Cristiano Ronaldo needs to score two goals to take over as the Champions League’s all-time leading goal scorer. The Portugal forward’s opener in the 3-0 win at Anfield was his first at the Liverpool stadium and his 70th in the competition, one fewer than the record tally of 71 set by Madrid legend Raul Gonzalez.
Madrid’s confidence could not be greater and a win will seal its passage to the last 16 with two games to spare.
Madrid took over at the top of La Liga for the first time this season with Saturday’s 4-0 win at Granada, increasing its goal total to 46 in 11 games. “We’re in incredible form,” said midfielder Luka Modric. His partnership with Germany midfielder Toni Kroos has been a key to Madrid’s success following the departures of Xabi Alonso and Angel Di Maria.
BALE IS BACK
Gareth Bale has returned to full training with Madrid’s squad and given coach Carlo Ancelotti an important additional attacking option. After four games sidelined through injury, the 25-year-old Wales forward showed his relief when he tweeted: “Feels good to be at the top of the table and back in training with the boys.”
Bale missed the win at Anfield two weeks ago, the Clasico victory against Barcelona and the wins against Levante and Granada. Ancelotti has to decide if he will recall the Welshman to the starting line-up or retain his replacement Francisco “Isco” Alarcon, who has won over fans at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium with his work-rate.
BASEL’S BEST DIAZ
Chile midfielder Marcelo Diaz may return to Champions League duty for Basel when they host Ludogorets Razgrad.
Diaz was Basel’s outstanding representative at the World Cup where he impressed for Chile, but he was suspended for the earlier group matches when the Swiss team lost at Madrid and Ludogorets and beat Liverpool at home.
He was banned after being sent off in extra time of Basel’s 5-0 loss at Valencia in the Europa League quarterfinals, second leg in April.
Diaz played in all four of Chile’s matches at the World Cup, including a penalty shootout loss to host Brazil in the Round of 16 after a 1-1 draw.
Basel could turn to Diaz as another World Cup player, Ivory Coast’s Geoffroy Serey Die, is suspended.
The Bulgarian champion has similar problems. Defender Yordan Minev, who scored the stoppage-time winning goal in Sofia, will miss Tuesday’s match for receiving yellow cards in all three group games.
LIVERPOOL’S DAUNTING WEEK
While Ronaldo scored in his 12th straight game for Madrid in its win against Granada, Liverpool coach Rodgers was bemoaning his side’s lack of attacking impetus in its 1-0 loss at Newcastle.
“For the team to have confidence, it’s important that you look like you can score,” Rodgers said. “But at the moment it’s not quite happening.”
Last season, Liverpool scored 101 league goals.
For a coach who describes himself as “creative and attacking”, the current drought comes at a bad time as Liverpool follow their trip to Spain with a home match against the Premier League leaders Chelsea on Saturday.
PRESSURE ON BALOTELLI
With striker Daniel Sturridge still missing through injury, Rodgers will again turn to misfiring Italian Mario Balotelli or may replace him with Rickie Lambert.
The Santiago Bernabeu stadium could be just the stage to spur Balotelli, who has gone eight league games without a goal.
Balotelli ignited a spirited fightback by Liverpool against Swansea in the League Cup. Criticized for a string of below-par appearances, Balotelli came off the substitutes’ bench to score an 86th-minute equalizer before Dejan Lovren headed the winner. “Finally!” Balotelli tweeted after scoring his first goal in six weeks and only his second for Liverpool since joining from AC Milan in August.
Associated Press writers Graham Dunbar and Jack Beznats contributed to this preview.