European giants Real Madrid and Liverpool are just 24 hours away from kicking off one of the highly-anticipated clashes in the UEFA Champions League so far. The Blancos and the Reds famously battled in Kyiv three seasons ago in the UCL final, where Gareth Bale came off the bench to inspire Zinedine Zidane's men to a 3-1 win with a breathtaking cameo.
However, the two sides' fortunes have changed dramatically since the last time they faced each other. For starters, Loris Karius — the man who cost Liverpool the game with two moments of madness in Kyiv — is nowhere near the first XI and has been replaced by one of the world's best keepers, Alisson Becker. The Brazilian was instrumental in helping Liverpool reach the final in 2019 and win their sixth European crown.
After failures in the UEFA Europa League and League Cup final, Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool were still waiting for their first significant piece of silverware when they last faced Real Madrid. However, they are set to face Zidane's men as the reigning champions of the Premier League this time around.
On the other hand, Los Blancos have not had the best of times since their famous 13th UCL title. Superstar forward Cristiano Ronaldo left the club almost immediately after winning in Kyiv, and Zidane followed suit soon after. Julen Lopetegui and Santi Solari were both sacked as head coaches, which paved the way for Zidane to return and guide Real Madrid to their second LaLiga Santander title in four years. However, they faced two exits at the UCL round of 16 in two years.
The English and Spanish champions have one thing in common this year as both have been hit with a raft of serious injuries. Superstar defenders Sergio Ramos and Virgil van Dijk — widely regarded as two of the best defenders in Europe — are both set to miss the blockbuster clash.
Real Madrid have been hit with a total of 47 injuries so far, the highest figure for any side in European football. Liverpool have seen starting defenders Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez both ruled out for the season, with the likes of Joel Matip, Roberto Firmino, Diogo Jota, and several other key players sidelined for long periods.
As they gear up to face each other at the Alfredo Di Stefano, here, we take a look at the best possible combined XI between the Blancos and the Reds. Only players who are fit for the game will be eligible for the list, leading to the likes of Ramos and Van Dijk being excluded.
Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois
In one of the more difficult choices to make across the pitch, Real Madrid star Thibaut Courtois edges the goalkeeper spot for the combined XI. The towering Belgian had a difficult start to life in the Spanish capital but went on to establish himself as one of the best keepers in the world.
The 2019/20 Zamora Trophy winner has been the backbone of Real Madrid's stellar defence last year and this year as well. Courtois has conceded just 23 goals in 29 appearances for Zidane's side in LaLiga, boasting a save percentage of 79.5 in the league with 12 clean sheets.
Alisson has been in superb form this year as well, conceding 26 goals in 25 games in the league with a save percentage of 72.5. He's even had a better record than Courtois in the UEFA Champions League. However, Alisson's injuries, coupled with the fact that he's made the joint-most number of errors leading to goals in the league this year, gives Courtois the edge in goal.
The Brazilian is certainly the better sweeper keeper, but the Belgian is the more assured shot-stopper as he ranks in the 94th percentile in Europe for save percentage and goals conceded.