Real Madrid v Liverpool. Two giants of European football go at it hammer and tong tonight in what promises to be a spectacular contest. Unfortunately however, this isn’t the late 1970’s, so not only can we not wear flares on a regular basis, but this game is now a bit of a mismatch. While Real Madrid are currently dominating domestically and abroad, Liverpool are struggling, coming off the back of a home draw with Hull and defeat away to Newcastle. What that equates to is a super-skinny price of 1/4 around the home side. And backing those kind of odds isn’t going to make you rich in a hurry.
Luckily however there is value to be had, if you dig a little deeper into the numbers courtesy of Whoscored.com. While the world’s media and Brendan Rodgers focus on Cristiano Ronaldo – and for good reason – there may be reason to focus your attentions on a slightly different character. That man is Glen Johnson.
It would be more than polite to say that Glen Johnson isn’t a fans favourite at Anfield currently, and it would be downright rude (but fairly accurate) to prefer a traffic cone to play at right-back this evening rather than the Englishman. After all, the traffic cone would probably have a better positional awareness. Glen Johnson is 50/1 to score first, however tipping that kind of punt would be nothing short of ludicrous. Rather, the 9/1 for him to be the first man to pick up a yellow card, or the 17/10 about him being booked at anytime is far more realistic.
Real Madrid’s squad is jam-packed with quality, but their left-hand side can be particularly deadly. Brazilian full-back Marcello will have the luxury of either Isco or the returning Gareth Bale in front of him, and that left side is a worrying prospect for Liverpool’s right-back.
Isco has racked up the most dribbles for Real Madrid in this season’s Champions League with 13 – and incidentally 85 per cent of them have been successful. Ronaldo has dribbled the ball 11 times, and he is closely followed by Bale (10) and Marcello (7). Three of the top four ranking Madrid players in Champions League dribbles play on the left, and that lends itself to suggest that they’ll draw their fair share of fouls on that side of the pitch.
In terms of influence in Europe, Isco and Marcello also top the table in terms of passes per game. Isco has racked up 77 per match, while Marcello has 67.7 per game to his name. In comparison Toni Kroos has an average of 61.7, while CR7 is down on 39.7 as opponents limit his time on the ball. In Liverpool’s clash with Madrid at Anfield two weeks ago, 11 of Madrid’s 13 crosses came from the left.
What you have is a tricky left-wing who will see plenty of the ball, and that combination should leave Glen Johnson in a cold sweat.
So you'll be up against Glen Johnson tonight… pic.twitter.com/BJGgMBXAaw
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) October 22, 2014
In La Liga, 36 per cent of Madrid’s play goes down the left hand side (compared to 30 per cent through the centre and 34 per cent on the right). In home games in the league that number rises again to 38 per cent emphasising the influence of Madrid’s left-sided players. Unsurprisingly Los Blancos have averaged 57 per cent possession in their home league games this season, so Liverpool are going to have to deal with long periods off the ball.
The cherry, on top of the icing, on top of this Glen Johnson clusterf*** cake, is the man in black. Viktor Kassai is the man with the whistle and in his last eight games has dished out 37 yellow cards and two reds. He’s only been in charge of one Champions League game this season (the qualifier between Celtic and Maribor) and he kept his average up by flashing seven yellow cards in that match as well.
A referee that takes more numbers than Channing Tatum at a singles night, a left-wing with more tricks up their sleeve than Paul Daniels, and a right-back who is prone to being as defensively astute as a lost goat. It’s a deadly cocktail.