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Rafael Benítez on Liverpool vs Real Madrid and gearing up for a UEFA Champions League final

The former Liverpool and Real Madrid coach talks UEFA.com through the 2022 final contenders, Istanbul memories and how to prepare for a UEFA Champions League final.

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard and manager Rafael Benítez after the 2005 UEFA Champions League final
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard and manager Rafael Benítez after the 2005 UEFA Champions League final Getty Images

As the UEFA Champions League final approaches, memories are flooding back for former Liverpool and Real Madrid boss Rafael Benítez.

The Spanish coach led the Reds to glory in the 2005 final (before defeat to AC Milan in 2007) and enjoyed further continental success when he won the 2012/13 UEFA Europa League as Chelsea boss.

Benítez gives UEFA.com his assessment of the finalists and explains what it feels like to coach at the very highest level.

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'Real's calmness, Liverpool's intensity'

"A player can change a game with individual talent, and Real Madrid have shown that with the way they've got to the final, with [Karim] Benzema chipping in at key moments.

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"Real Madrid are well drilled and have quality. [Carlo] Ancelotti has given them confidence and calmness. Liverpool’s defence needs to be wary of Benzema's quality, Vinícius [Junior]'s pace and Rodrygo's eye for goal.

"Likewise, Real Madrid’s backline won’t get a moment's peace. [Jürgen] Klopp wants his side to be intense and he does this by having a competitive squad. To do that, you need players on the bench who make life difficult for those who are starting.

"In the past, when you spoke about Liverpool’s attackers it used to be just [Mohamed] Salah, [Sadio] Mané and [Roberto] Firmino, but now you have to add [Diogo] Jota, [Luis] Díaz and [Divock] Origi to that list.

"Liverpool have quality and intensity, and they tend to have more of the ball than their opponents. They create attacks rather than waiting to hit on the break.

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"It will be interesting to see how a team like Madrid, who are used to having the majority of possession in the Liga, deal with a side who press so aggressively to recover the ball."

'Winning mentality takes years to develop'

"I spent years at the Real Madrid academy as a player and a coach, and you get used to winning. That is a genuine winning mentality and it takes years to develop. Coming second is a crisis, so [finals] are seen as a challenge, a motivation. You need to show confidence so everyone can give the best version of themselves.

"Luckily when [the 2005 final in] Istanbul came around I’d already had experience of winning titles with Valencia and that experience is important.

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"Istanbul was unforgettable because, after a long absence, Liverpool returned to the most important club competition final. It is probably the best, most emotional final the Champions League has ever seen."

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Preparing for a Champions League final 

"We prepared professionally and methodically for both Istanbul and [the 2007 final in] Athens.

"For Athens we were even on top of what kind of temperature we could expect on the day of the final and we had a training camp in Spain to adapt as much as we could. In general terms, you try and keep everything the same or as similar as you can, so that the players can keep their routines.

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"In the weeks before a final, everything is a bit easier in terms of the day-to-day stuff because everyone is really focused on the job at hand. Training is easier because nobody gets distracted. The main challenge is ensuring the side grows in confidence, and talking to the players and staff so that the message remains consistent.

"Prepping a league campaign is a game-to-game scenario but you can't lose focus of what’s on the horizon. You know, and the players know, there's room for error.

"In knockout football, there's none. Your line-up, your set-ups, your gameplan and your substitutions all have to be correct. In key moments of the game, decisions based on your abilities and experience can make the difference."

My advice to first-timers in the final

“What would I say to players experiencing a big final for the first time?

"For any player, but especially the youngsters, I’d tell them to be themselves. If they are playing, it’s because they’ve shown that they deserve to.

"They should play their game, follow the gameplan, but play with confidence in themselves. Don’t let a mistake get on top of you; keep trying."

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