MADRID – Rafa Benitez, who steered Liverpool to win the UEFA Champions League title back in 2005, told EFE in an interview that his former club is “somewhat of a favorite” for the final, although Tottenham Hotspur is “a solid team” and will be “a very difficult rival.”
Benitez, Newcastle United’s head coach, emerged victorious in one of the most exciting Champions League finals in the recent memory when his team rallied from a 3-0 deficit against AC Milan to draw level at 3-3 and then won on a penalty shootout, something Liverpool fans remember and cheer him for when meeting him in Madrid.
Speaking to EFE in the Spanish capital ahead of the final at the Wanda Metropolitano, Benitez gave his analysis of both finalists.
The former Real Madrid coach highlighted the career of Liverpool’s coach Jürgen Klopp, who is gearing up for his third Champions League final in the hunt for his maiden title, as well as the role of coach Mauricio Pochettino for Tottenham’s run at the tournament.
How do you analyze the final? Is Liverpool the favorite?
I think that Liverpool is somewhat of a favorite, it has last year’s experience, it’s a great team and has done a very good job in the Premier League.
But I like Tottenham a lot, it’s a solid team, it has balance, strong defense, speed and skill in the attack. So if Pochettino handles the situations as he has been doing in the Champions and in the league, it will be a very difficult rival for Liverpool.
Do you expect a conservative approach by both teams or an open, fast game as they are used to?
I think at the beginning Liverpool will start pressing and (the lines of) Tottenham (will be) more close and little by little the match will be open as we saw with Arsenal and Chelsea (in the Europa League final), once the first goal was scored, the match was open and there were more chances on both goals.
Does Liverpool’s coach deserve to win a Champions League title after losing two finals?
I think he has played a great tournament, for having lost a final last year a lot of people think that now it’s his turn, but probably Pochettino will be thinking the same, it’s the first time they’ve reach (the final) and they deserve a something more.
Jürgen is a great coach, he has done a good job, he has a great team and all the odds are in his favor to win the title.
What do you expect from the Liverpool attacking trio of Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, Senegal’s Sadio Mane and Brazil’s Roberto Firmino, should they recover and start the game?
It is going to be fundamental, they score the majority of the goals, but being a final, and having certain equality it could be that (Virgil) Van Dijk makes the difference on a corner.
But I insist that Tottenham, with three weeks with Pochettino to analyze errors and work, could have the advantage. We’ll see what happens.
Pochettino who led the team to the final without signing any players this season…
It is true that they have not signed players, but they had a great team. It is a team that has been made up of very good young players; a lot of them are in the England national team. They have experience, they have been with the same coach and they are going to be a dangerous team because of that.
You led Liverpool to pull off the so-called Miracle of Istanbul, in which the team rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win on a penalty shootout, what do you still remember about that 2005 final?
Nearly everything, because it was very well lived with 75,000 fans in the city… It was unforgettable. A huge number of fans are in Madrid, they call my attention and chant my name.
They have asked me about the semifinal comeback against Barcelona, but I think that that final was the most emotional match and will be the most emotional final in history because of how it went, with fans singing, the 3-0, the penalty shootout, it is difficult to beat that.