Liverpool prepares for another huge night in their rich-history
As Liverpool prepares for their Champions League final encounter with Real Madrid, we spoke to one of our writers, Reds fan and season ticket holder, Dan Rawlinson.
Not many people tipped Liverpool to reach this season’s Champions League final. Now that you have reached the final how does it feel compared to 2005 and 2007?
The more I think about it, the more similarities I see between this seasons campaign and that of, particularly, 2005. As you say, not many people fancied Liverpool to go deep in the competition this season as they didn’t back then. The calibre of players in the squad, for example, Gini Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson and Dejan Lovren may well be considered solid players to have in the squad but pale in comparison to the world-renowned quality of Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern Munich. Don’t forget Djimi Traore started the final back in Istanbul. I think it’s this underdog status and everyone doubting the players that provide the key motivation and driving force behind these campaigns. The final is being played in an unusual location once more too, we’ve met an English side in the knockout stages, stuttered a little in the group stage leading to genuine thoughts we may not progress. The more you look for them the more comparisons you can draw. The big difference this year from ’05 and ’07 has been that front three. We’re just so dangerous going forward this season that no side can afford to let their concentration slip. That potency has made more pundits, journalists and coaches of other sides stand up and take notice of us. We’re not quite floating under the radar like we may have done in our previous two campaigns.
The big difference this year from ’05 and ’07 has been that front three.
What do you think was the single most important moment about Liverpool’s road-to-Kiev?
Anfield. Not a doubt about it in my mind. Teams would rather play the second legs of knockout stage games but we have strangely benefitted from being drawn at home first in the Quarter and Semifinals. The entire build-up to the City game was dominated by talk of the atmosphere created at Anfield and whether it would affect the City players. This talk missed the point entirely. It’s not what it does to the opposition, more what it does for the Liverpool side. I was at that game and it was absolutely deafening from 7:30 right through to 15 minutes after the final whistle. It fed the home players and they delivered one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from a Liverpool side in 25 years. Unlike 2005 with Gerrard’s late goal against Olympiakos there hasn’t really been a single moment, but if I was forced to pick something I’d say keeping the clean sheet in that first leg versus City. As we saw with Roma and Barcelona that away goal was vital. Not many sides have forced a blank from City and I believe it was that which was key to our progression.
How do you think Trent Alexander-Arnold will cope with the pressure of the game?
I won’t lie, I was very worried when he lined up against Leroy Sane in that quarter-final first leg. In the weeks preceding that game, we’d seen him targeted by Zaha of Palace and Rashford of Man United. His positioning was a bit all over the place and he was punished repeatedly and it looked to affect his game. From the first minute, City showed a clear plan to target him with that diagonal ball but he stood up to it brilliantly and has only kicked on from there. He was excellent against City in both legs and closed the season fantastically. He fully deserves his place in Gareth Southgate’s England squad. He’s still young and I doubt the pressure of this game will affect him, I think he will just revel in the occasion. Well, hopefully anyway!
Jordan Henderson often gets criticised by neutral supporters. Do you think that the criticism is justified?
I’m firmly against the criticism he receives from his own fans, never mind from neutrals. I just don’t get it. Does he have his bad games, sure, who doesn’t? But for the most part, Liverpool is a far better and more balanced side with him in it than we are without him. This season alone Henderson has completed more passes than any other Liverpool player, more balls into the final third than any other Liverpool player (which can silence those ‘he only passes backwards and sidewards’ critics), and he lies second on the club statistics list for tackles and interceptions. Two separate Liverpool managers and two different England managers have seen him as good enough to be made the captain of their sides and I’d consider they know better than us. Perhaps he’s been a victim of the mediocrity of both England and Liverpool under his leadership but that isn’t solely his fault. It was always going to be a hiding to nothing followed the legend Steven Gerrard as captain of LFC but the stick Hendo receives isn’t just unfair, it’s disrespectful.
How would you compare Jürgen Klopp to Rafa Benitez, is there a comparison to be made?
There’s a comparison in that they are both adored by the fans and they’ve reached the final of the Champions League, that’s about where it ends for me. Benitez was a thinker who focused on keeping it nice and tight in the away legs of the knockout stages before sneaking through with an odd goal at home. It was a tactic that worked brilliantly for him and he had the personnel to pull it off. Klopp is all about the ‘heavy metal football’. Benitez was allegedly quite distant from his players and treated them as employers and that’s about it, Steven Gerrard even remarks in his book that he was desperate the play well enough to get a ‘Well played Steven’ out of Rafa. Today the players love to play for Klopp, he treats them like a father and gives them all the ‘Klopp hug’ after games. They both have pros and cons but they both undeniably had a specific style they employed and it worked for them. I can’t complain really.
Mo Salah has a had a fantastic season. Do you think that Liverpool can retain his services beyond the Champions League final?
Absolutely! He’s stated his happiness here and I don’t believe he has any intention of moving yet. The important one is next season. To keep hold of, not just him but all our front three, we need to mount a credible title challenge and go deep in at least one cup whilst reaching the latter stages of the Champions League. Klopp has proven he can persuade top players to join his project over other top sides (see Oxlade Chamberlain and Van Dijk), he just needs to deliver an end result before we end up in a never-ending loop of being a few players short, losing a few, and then starting all over again.
How do you think Liverpool will deal with Cristiano Ronaldo?
To be honest, we haven’t made special plans for any individual player in the Champions League this season and we’re in the final. I don’t see that changing, even for a player as special as Ronaldo. We’re not a team versatile enough to be making changes to our set up depending on opponents. We have the one way of playing and that’s to try and blow them out of the water. I wonder how Madrid will deal with Salah, Mane and Firmino?
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