By Richard Martin
MADRID (Reuters) – Rafael Benitez masterminded one of the greatest Champions League comebacks and he had some advice to Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur if things start to go wrong in Saturday’s final in Madrid: keep calm and make tactical tweaks.
Liverpool came back from a 3-0 defeat to Barcelona in the semi-finals with an outstanding 4-0 second-leg win, while Tottenham overturned a three-goal deficit against Ajax Amsterdam by scoring three times in the space of 40 minutes.
Benitez, now Newcastle United’s coach, was behind one of the most memorable turnarounds in a final when his Liverpool side clawed their way back from 3-0 down to AC Milan at halftime in the 2005 final to draw 3-3 before winning on penalties.
“The first thing was to keep everybody calm, to be sure they were relaxed and had the belief and confidence, after that it was to try to do what we had to do in terms of positions,” Benitez told Reuters in an interview organised by Hotels.com.
“We had Kaka (of Milan) between the lines who was quite dangerous so we needed to manage that situation with Dietmar Hamann and then we had more control in the middle. Then it was up to them, they were so strong, so good and they did the rest.”
Benitez’s side’s revival ended a 21-year wait for Liverpool to win Europe’s biggest prize but the five times European champions have lost their last two appearances in the continent’s showpiece game, falling 2-1 to Milan in 2007 and suffering a 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid in 2018.
But after a barnstorming season which saw them pick up a club record 97 points to finish second behind Manchester City in the Premier League, Juergen Klopp’s side go into Saturday’s game at the Wanda Metropolitano as clear favourites.
Benitez praised the German coach for instilling his recognisable, high-pressing style of play on Liverpool which he said was in tune with the 18-times English champions’ attacking traditions.
“Since he was at Borussia Dortmund I have seen his sides always pushing, always being aggressive and being on top of their opponents all the time, I’ve always seen him keeping the team going until the end,” said the Spaniard.
“Liverpool has always been a team which likes to be on top of other teams, whether they have the ball or not. When I was there we were pushing opponents all the time and now they’re doing the same.”
But he said Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino deserved equal credit for propelling the team to their first ever Champions League final and envisages a close-fought battle in the all-English showdown.
“Tottenham didn’t used to be at this level so (getting to the final)is a fantastic achievement and they have nothing to lose,” added the Spaniard.
“Everyone is expecting Liverpool to be stronger and to win but for me Tottenham will have this confidence knowing that what they have already achieved is amazing and if they can carry on and continue winning it will be fantastic.
“They will feel the pressure as they are in the final, obviously, but they will approach the final without the same pressure as Liverpool players maybe as everyone expects them to win.”
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis)