Rafael Benitez has given his opinion about which team will come out victorious from the Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid on Saturday in Paris. The Spanish coach was in charge of both clubs in the past. With Liverpool, he managed to win the European Cup in 2005, but at Real Madrid he failed to live up to expectations. In an interview for MARCA, Benitez discussed his favourites to win the trophy, Liverpool's flaws and Real Madrid's advantage ahead of the final.
Who do you think will have possession in the final?
"I see, going through the data, that Liverpool are slight favourites, with one condition: they are playing against a club, Real Madrid, who are used to playing finals. Liverpool have 61 percent of possession in their matches and Real Madrid between 55 percent and 60 percent. Liverpool's figures, in recent years, have gone up in terms of possession because they have better players and control more of the games. Real Madrid, however, now counter attack more, with Vinicius or Rodrygo. I think they have 25 percent counter attacks to Liverpool's 19 percent. Klopp is doing a very good job and Liverpool have improved a lot. Both of those things."
Do you see any flaws in this Liverpool team?
"They know how to keep the ball in the opposition half, they are good on the counter, they are very good at set pieces, and they also defend and press with intensity. They have few weaknesses. We all know they have two very attacking full-backs. [Andrew] Robertson is number one in high intensity running in the Premier League and [Trent] Alexander-Arnold puts in more crosses than anyone else. Where Real Madrid can be strong is hitting on the counter with Vinicius running behind the back of the full-backs. I'm sure both [Jurgen] Klopp and [Carlo] Ancelotti know this. The other problem for Liverpool would be if Fabinho or Thiago [Alcantara] don't play. Fabinho is the one who recovers the most balls. And Thiago is the one who provides the final pass. Without them, they lose something."
Compare this Liverpool team with the one that went to the Champions final in Kyiv in 2018.
"This is a team used to playing more finals and winning some of them. They have more experience, obviously. And then, Alisson has improved a lot the defence. He gives more security to the defence."
You arrived at Real Madrid in 2015/16. And you signed...
"We signed three [players]. Casemiro, who was on loan at Porto, was one. They asked me at the club if we would bring him back and I said 'of course'. Now he has improved on the ball and gives freedom to [Luka] Modric and [Toni] Kroos. Then we signed Lucas Vazquez and [Mateo] Kovacic. What happens is that people don't remember."
Sometimes it seems that you have to hide that you are a Real Madrid fan. And that's because you started very young in the academy, already as a player.
"From the age of 13 until I was a coach it was almost 20 years at Real Madrid. I was champion in Spain with the club's U18. I still have the image of Luis de Carlos giving us the cup. I'm surprised by some of the opinions that came out later, but that's OK. It's true that now I'm more identified with Liverpool, but I was treated very well here."
Can you publicly say who you want to win on Saturday?
"I'm fond of both of them. Whoever plays better should win. It would be good for football. I repeat: if we go by the numbers, I see Liverpool as slight favourites. But Real Madrid in finals are Real Madrid, and they have rested longer. In that, they have the advantage."
In terms of lines, do you see Real Madrid superior in any of them?
"Alisson is very good, but Thibaut Courtois is very good. From there, it's pretty evenly matched, although the possible absence of Fabinho and Thiago [if they're out injured] will hurt Klopp. Physically, Liverpool's defence is very imposing, and that's a challenge for Real Madrid. And at corners, they'll get the better of you."
In other words, you can't fight against Liverpool's intensity.
"Yes, with quality and organisation. If you come out of the first line of pressure, you have more space, but it's not easy to do it."
Do you feel sorry for the way Gareth Bale, who you defended a lot, has ended up?
"Gareth is a great player and it's not good that, like [Eden] Hazard, they don't end up succeeding. Hazard is a good lad, a great player, and let's hope that his injuries are over and he can come back well."
How have you viewed the Kylian Mbappe issue?
"He is a player with a valid contract who decides to stay at his club, even if, from January 1, you can talk to others. But if he does not formally commit himself, we must respect his decision. That's how I see it."
Has coaching Everton taken its toll on you in the city?
"I took charge of Everton because I had a lot of Blues friends who wanted an experienced coach to put right a lot of the things they knew weren't, and aren't, right in there. Liverpool fans understand it was a professional and personal decision because of my affection for the city. Most understood that. It wasn't as if I had signed for [Manchester] United, for example. But the Everton project stayed there. There was no investment and we had a lot of injuries. We lost the backbone of the team and some crucial points. Still, we were six points clear of relegation with two games in hand."
And you're not ever going back to Liverpool?
"Jurgen Klopp is doing a great job. When he finishes, here they are already talking about Steven Gerrard, a symbol at the club. I mean, it's not so easy to say I'm coming back. We'll see what the future holds."
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