In pictures: Real Madrid v Liverpool
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Had Real Madrid been knocked out of the Champions League by Liverpool on Wednesday night, that could have been the end of Carlo Ancelotti’s second stint as manager. It’s been a disappointing season for Los Blancos so far, with Barcelona taking charge of La Liga while also beating them in the Copa del Rey. Following a 1-0 victory at the Bernabeu courtesy of a goal from Karim Benzema, however, their manager can breathe one almighty sigh of relief.
Real Madrid were impressive last season as they won a La Liga and Champions League double under Ancelotti.
This term, however, the Italian has found life in the dugout far tougher – mirroring his second season in charge of the club the first time around.
Real were blown away by Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup back in January, losing 3-1 on a night where Gavi, Robert Lewandowski and Pedri all netted for their fierce rivals.
Barcelona have also taken charge of the Copa del Rey tie between the two teams, too, winning 1-0 at the Bernabeu earlier this month courtesy of a Eder Militao own goal.
And Real trail their fierce rivals by nine points at the top of the La Liga table.
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At any other club, Ancelotti’s position would be considered safe given everything his side achieved last term.
But this is a Real side managed by a trigger-happy Florentino Perez who never needs an excuse to wield the axe.
Barcelona should win La Liga, while few would bet against them proceeding in the Copa del Rey as well.
And that means the Champions League is more-important for Los Blancos than ever before given it represents their best chance of silverware.
Had Liverpool knocked Real out, Ancelotti’s job would have been on the line.
The Spanish press would have gone for him aggressively, as they so often do when a manager of the side fails to live up to the dizzyingly high expectations.
Fortunately for Ancelotti, that was never going to happen.
Real cruised through the contest, despite Liverpool putting out a strong side featuring the likes of Cody Gakpo, Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota and Darwin Nunez.
Vinicius Jr was lively in attack, posing the Reds all sorts of problems with his speed and trickery.
And Karim Benzema and Federico Valverde both spurned glorious chances to extend their 5-2 aggregate lead, too, before the former struck in the 78th minute.
Real aren’t favourites to win the crown this time around.
Napoli look the best team in Europe right now and booked their own place in the last eight with a straightforward victory over Eintracht Frankfurt in Italy.
Manchester City, with a formidable goalscoring weapon like Erling Haaland, are up there too.
And Bayern Munich can never be ruled out, even if they’ve been weakened since the summer departure of Lewandowski.
Real and this competition have history, however.
Ancelotti will be hoping that works in his side’s favour as he looks to defy the odds for a second season in a row.
Few genuinely expected the La Liga giants to reign supreme in Europe last term, especially when they were trailing to the likes of City, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea.
But both they and Ancelotti can’t be ruled out of this particular race.
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