Real Madrid's unpredictability their most dangerous characteristic for opponents Liverpool
Something happened on Sunday night at the Camp Nou that should truly scare Liverpool. It wasn't the fact that their Champions League final opponents stood toe-to-toe with Barcelona in such a fashion or the haranguing of the referee that influenced proceedings. In fact, this particular something has been happening for the last couple of months. It has been propelled by injuries and inconsistency and helped by Zinedine Zidane's inventiveness.
But the fact is, Real Madrid have no team or template for opponents to plan against. They are becoming increasingly difficult to play because they can defend against you depending on how you attack and attack against you depending on how you plan to defend them. There is no dogma when it comes to how Real Madrid see football and they can beat you whatever way it takes.
Last summer, Real Madrid set out to add depth to their squad. They failed, largely, with the players they brought in: Marcos Llorente, Dani Ceballos, Borja Mayoral and Jesus Vallejo making very little impact this season. But the versatility of many of the players already on their team and the emergence of some of their squad players as reliable starters have given rise to an unpredictable Real Madrid.
The debate remains over whether it's better to play Real Madrid over two legs or in a one-off 90-minute showdown. By and large, a team as volatile as Liverpool might like the one-off; capable of mesmerising fans with the speed and clarity of their attack as easily as they can confuse them with their mindless lapses in defence. But a one-off means you're going in blind with no advantage whatsoever and little wiggle room to get it right if you do happen to misjudge the situation.
The more variables you control or have at your disposal, the more chance you have of twisting the match in your turn. And as of now, Real Madrid have only six definite starters with the rest changing at a moment's notice. They are Keylor Navas, Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. The rest are variables that Zinedine Zidane is in control of. Jugren Klopp might as well be throwing darts with his baseball cap pulled over his eyes.
Of the rest: Dani Carvajal and Cristiano Ronaldo could be out injured and Mateo Kovacic and Casemiro are becoming increasingly interchangeable. And you'd need a PhD in logic to try to make sense of what combination of Lucas Vazquez, Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema will start. All of this is compounded by the fact that Ronaldo is potentially out. It's like preparing for a test in a random subject that you will be informed of on the day.
Last night, after Ronaldo went off injured at half-time after Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo were given a rare start together, it was hard to see where Real Madrid would find inspiration up front.
Asensio, Benzema and Bale is not a common attacking combination for Zidane. In fact, they hadn't played significant time on the field together since the Las Palmas game at the end of March, which happened to be the Welshman's best performance of the year. When Bale slammed the ball into the net on a no-look pass from Asensio, we got our answer. That was before Vazquez came on for Nacho but spent his time camped out as an attacking right midfielder, spreading the pitch even further with Benzema popping up all over the field. Kovacic came on too, replacing Kroos, as he added a further crease in the landscape of Madrid's midfield. The strength in depth is absurd, the options at Zidane's disposal astonishing.
One of the main critiques thrown Zidane's way is that he doesn't have a tactical system. And that critique is on the money; because he has many systems and he has the players to implement each and every variation. It's chaos and Real Madrid thrive in chaotic systems.
If Klopp's blend of football is rock and roll then Zidane's is a fusion between techno and opera. It might not be as good as his earlier material and can sometimes seem experimental. It's mostly weird and not for everyone. It's hard to figure out and at times there's no real rhythm. But if you go to a gig, you'll leave happy.
Real Madrid's mental strength and unwillingness to lie down on the field has been applauded. But the strength from their fringe players, who might otherwise consider themselves stars, to keep fighting for time in order to make a difference at a big moment might just separate them when push comes to shove.
Barcelona had to adjust time and time again on Sunday night to repel the strange counter-attacking, pressing hybrid that Zidane has introduced. And you suspect that Klopp will be having nightmares over Real Madrid's team selection ahead of their showdown in Kiev in a few weeks' time. He just better hope one of those darts hits the target.
Robbie is based in Madrid and is one of ESPN FC's Real Madrid bloggers. Twitter: @robbiejdunne