The former Real Madrid manager has dismissed any notion that the Liverpool side he led to lift the 2005 UEFA Champions League was better than the team that won the title last June.
Rafa Benitez, who only vacated his position as Newcastle manager a couple of weeks ago, has revealed that the current champions of Europe are already ‘stronger’ than the Liverpool team that famously triumphed over AC Milan in the Miracle of Istanbul. That unforgettable game is still regarded as one of the greatest finals in the history of the tournament.
Favourites Milan raced to a 3-0 lead before halftime but the Reds launched an unlikely second half comeback and scored three goals in a dramatic six-minute spell to level the scores at 3–3, with goals from Steven Gerrard, Vladimír Šmicer and Xabi Alonso. Liverpool went on to win their fifth European Cup on penalties.
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It was far less dramatic however when Jurgen Klopp’s men claimed the title for the sixth time by defeating Tottenham 2–0, with a penalty which was converted after 106 seconds by Mohamed Salah and a strike by substitute Divock Origi after 87 minutes.
Nevertheless, Benitez is not under any illusion as to which of the two winning teams was stronger when asked during a Q&A with The Athletic and monitored by Soccernet.ng to compare the two sides.
Rafa Benitez said: ‘I’m really proud of what we achieved in 2005, but I have to say that the 2019 team is stronger already.
‘The team that we had, what we had at this time was great team effort and a lot of character, as well as commitment on the pitch. This team have the intensity and the quality that can make the difference in games.’
Benitez also explained what he told his players when they were 3-0 down at half-time against Milan.
He added: ‘The message was clear: Give them some hope, some confidence, tell them that if we score one goal we will be back in the game, and change the tactics to three at the back and two holding midfielders, to control Kaka between the lines with Hamann and Alonso.
‘After we were lucky enough to score goals in a short period and that was a plus for everyone because we grew in confidence, little by little.’