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Page last updated at 07:54 GMT, Monday, 9 March 2009

Euro success magnifies Liverpool dilemma

By Mandeep Sanghera

Steve McManaman (left) with the Champions League trophy he helped Real Madrid win in 2000
McManaman (left) with the Champions League trophy he helped Real win in 2000

Steve McManaman helped Real Madrid win two European Cups during his time at the Bernabeu and strutted his stuff with the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos, Raul and Fernando Hierro.

They are great names for a club with a great past but the present, as McManaman tells BBC Sport, is a different story, with Real arriving on Merseyside to try to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie against Liverpool.

Although they are record nine-time winners of the European Cup, Real have not progressed beyond the last 16 in the competition in four seasons and McManaman thinks that run will continue after Tuesday's second leg at Anfield.

It's getting results over a 38-game in the Premier League where Liverpool have faltered

Steve McManaman
"Real are a different team now with different individuals and I can't see them turning around the tie," said the 37-year-old, who won the competition with the Spaniards in 2000 and 2002.

"Liverpool are favourites to go through.

"If anything there might be a slightly different task now for Liverpool as a 0-0 result will see them through but they have to be positive rather than trying to play out for the draw because when you start doing that people get nervous.

"Real will have to go out and try to outgun Liverpool and that will play right into their hands.

"There will be acres of space for Liverpool and they will create chances and, at set-pieces, Real are certainly vulnerable."

He added: "Liverpool will still have to be wary of Arjen Robben, Raul and Gonzalo Higuain. Guti is also back. He picks out a good pass up front and can thread balls through.

BENITEZ RECORD - LEAGUE v EUROPE
2004/2005
Premier League - 5th
Champions League - Winners
2005/2006
Premier League - 3rd
Champions League - Last 16
2006/2007
Premier League - 3rd
Champions League - Losing finalists
2007/2008
Premier League - 4th
Champions League - Semi-finals

"You have to be aware of Real's attacking prowess but on a special European night the atmosphere will be incredible and I can't see anything but a Liverpool victory."

McManaman started and scored in his first final against Valencia in Paris, while he came on as a 61st-minute substitute for Figo in the second as Real beat Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden.

A cult Los Blancos hero compared to the Galatico status of his more revered team-mates, McManamanwas held in affection on the Anfield terraces where he was dubbed "Shaggy" for his wavy locks and slight frame.

But the confidence he has in Liverpool achieving further European success does not apply to the club's challenge for a first Premier League title since 1989-1990.

"In knockout games home and away, Liverpool know how to get results but it's sustaining that and getting them over 38 games in the Premier League where they have faltered," he said.

"Manchester United might be big favourites to win almost everything this season but you wouldn't relish playing Liverpool in a knockout situation.

Steve McManaman (right) with Zinedine Zidane (left) and Ronaldo (centre) during his time with the duo at Real Madrid
McManaman with Zidane and Ronaldo in their time at Real Madrid
"They know how to grind teams down and stifle them and make it a battle.

"It's the tactical nous of manager Rafael Benitez. He sets the team up in a particular way and it gets results.

"It's not as creative as Manchester United but defensively they have a certain way of playing and they can get results. They mean business in Europe."

But what helps Liverpool in Europe appears to be their downfall in the top flight as they have struggled to break down defensive-minded opponents and drawn six out of 14 league games at home this season.

"Domestically, it's a long season and when teams come to Anfield and just sit and stifle Liverpool, then they need the creativity to break them down," explained McManaman.

"You can win by the odd goal home and away in Europe, whereas in the Premier League you have to go out and beat teams, especially at home, when sometimes it's hardest.

"At the minute, Manchester United have that edge. They have that little bit more creativity.

"Liverpool may have two or three players who can open up defences where Manchester United have three, four, five and then some on the bench just in case.

606: DEBATE
"Liverpool need a proper right midfielder, another creative left winger and to clear out a few people.

"But they also need to bring in a few quality creative players.

"Unfortunately, the rest of Europe is looking for these players as well and they cost an arm and a leg, so it's easier said than done."

Striker Robbie Keane was supposed to add some flair to the Anfield attack when he signed last summer but he returned to Tottenham in the January transfer window after failing to impress Benitez.

"I would rather have had him in my squad than not," said McManaman. "If Liverpool had sold him and brought in another player I could have understood it.

"For three or four months I would have kept him, seen what happens and sold him at the end of the season if that was the way it was going to go."

The ongoing boardroom politics also seem to be blocking the club's progress and, until that is solved, doubts will remain over the ability of the Reds to break Manchester United's stranglehold and compete on and off the pitch.

McManaman concluded: "The sooner Liverpool are sorted out with a new stadium and going forward in that direction there will always be question marks about them."

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see also
Liverpool v Real Madrid
09 Mar 09 |  Europe
Real Madrid 0-1 Liverpool
25 Feb 09 |  Europe
Parry to leave post at Liverpool
27 Feb 09 |  Liverpool
Benitez calms Anfield exit talk
26 Feb 09 |  Europe


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