Real Madrid-Liverpool Champions League final too close to call – Rafa Benitez

With the UCL final on the horizon, the FC panel assess Gareth Bale’s recent form and debate whether it merits a place in Zinedine Zidane’s XI.

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez told Marca the Champions League final will pit Real Madrid’s experience against Liverpool’s advantage in intensity.

Benitez had a turbulent six months in charge at Madrid during the 2015-16 season, having previously won the Champions League in 2005 while managing at Anfield from 2004 to 2010.

He said Madrid had come through awkward moments to get to the final on May 26 in Kiev, Ukraine, while Liverpool’s ability to blitz opponents was shown in their semifinal against Roma.

“It will be a very interesting final,” Benitez said. “Watching Madrid against Juventus and Bayern [Munich], you a realise they have experience and quality, know how to manage difficult situations in games. … That is a plus.

“Liverpool, by contrast, have a lot of intensity, quality, rhythm. … The rhythm in the Premier League is above other leagues, and you saw that against Roma.”

Benitez, then, doesn’t see a clear winner ahead of the game.

“Both could win,” he said. “The first goal will determine how the game develops. … I have a lot of respect for both sides. May the best team win.”

Benitez was fired by Madrid president Florentino Perez in January 2016 having had a difficult relationship with some players. Zinedine Zidane replaced him and immediately guided the team to the Champions League title, and they then won the Champions League and La Liga double in 2016-17.

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez
Rafa Benitez managed both Liverpool and Real Madrid, this season’s Champions League finalists.

“In my final stage at Madrid, those who understand and analyse a little what goes on around the club know why what happened happened,” Benitez said. “It was not as bad as people think, as things were done very seriously and professionally. In any case, I have many years of good memories at Madrid.”

Meanwhile, Vicente Del Bosque, who won the Champions League at Madrid in 2000 and 2002, told El Pais that the key to the current side’s success is the midfield management of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric.

“They have two in centre of the field, Kroos and Modric, who are perfect,” Del Bosque said. “They are the ones who hold things together. They have two excellent full-backs. And up front: Cristiano [Ronaldo], [Gareth] Bale, [Karim] Benzema, Lucas [Vazquez], [Marco] Asensio.”

Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan