With this year’s Champions League final held in Istanbul and Liverpool facing similar limitations, Rafa Benitez believes his former side can repeat the heroics of 2005.
Benitez famously led the Reds to No. 5 in Istanbul, 16 years ago, with a side that, while featuring a number of top-class players, is far from the most distinguished of the club’s recent history.
This time around, Jurgen Klopp – while insisting the focus also remains on the Premier League – will be going all out to win the Champions League in order to clinch a place in next season’s tournament.
But similar to Rafa’s side of 2005, the quality at Klopp’s disposal is depleted, and though a knockout tie may favour Liverpool, a host of absences makes a quarter-final against Real Madrid a tough task.
But speaking to the Mail, Benitez argued that Liverpool have “the potential and the manager” to go all the way again, and while Man City are “still favourites,” the Reds “can compete.”
“People talk about Istanbul, like we were lucky. But we were not lucky to win the Champions League because we played against Juventus that was a top side and they played 5-3-2,” he said.
“Tactically we had to adapt to a very difficult opponent and then, because we did well, the confidence was growing and growing.
“And we played Chelsea. At this time it was the best team, maybe in Europe, for sure in England, [but] our team had so much confidence that tactically we could manage. We were a team with belief.
“I think Liverpool can do the same and go to the final obviously.”
Benitez’s suggestion, therefore, is that the tactical acumen of Klopp and his staff can navigate the injury problems and take the fight to sides like Real and possible semi-final opponents Porto and Chelsea.
However, he added that, when it comes to the upcoming quarter-final, it “depends on the moment,” with the emotion of the tie and the circumstances within each squad likely affecting the contest.
“I think Man City for me are still favourites to win,” he stressed.
“Liverpool and Real Madrid, it depends on the moment. Liverpool, they have the quality, structure and players coming back from injuries.
“They can compete against Real Madrid, no doubt.”
It would be fitting if, with the final held in Istanbul again, Liverpool were able to win the Champions League for a seventh time this season – which would see Klopp surpass Benitez and Joe Fagan with a second European Cup.
Only Bob Paisley has won more than one for the Reds, and having already secured a long-awaited Premier League title, this would be the icing on the cake of a legendary reign.