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Rafa’s Reds V Klopp’s Conquerors: Comparing ’19 Liverpool To Istanbul XI

It is 14 years to the day since Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool side came back from 3-0 down to defeat AC Milan on penalties to win the Champions League in Istanbul.

The historic victory was Liverpool’s last Champions League triumph as they beat the odds to shock one of the finest Milan teams of this generation to secure their fifth European crown.

Fast forward to 2019 and the Reds are just a week away from another shot at glory as they take on Tottenham in the Champions League final in Madrid.

On the anniversary of Istanbul and with just seven days until Madrid, we decided to take a look at Liverpool’s squad then, vs Liverpool’s squad now.



There’s no doubt that the addition of Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson in the summer has made a massive difference to Liverpool’s defence since his arrival from Roma.

Alisson kept 21 clean sheets in the Premier League as Liverpool narrowly missed out on a domestic title, while the Brazilian has been excellent in Europe too, with his crucial save against Napoli springing to mind.

Liverpool’s stopper in Istanbul though, Jerzy Dudek was absolutely crucial to their victory as he saved from both Andrea Pirlo and Andriy Shevchenko as he channelled his inner Bruce Grobbelaar in the shootout.

This is certainly a tight call given Dudek’s legendary status, but Alisson just edges it.



Both Liverpool sides generally went for four at the back and even though Joe Gomez is fit again we expect Joel Matip to start alongside the usual three of Virgil Van Dijk in the middle and Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold out wide.

Liverpool’s defence this season has been a massive part of what’s made them so dangerous and Klopp’s work to improve it since his arrival has been excellent.

Virgil Van Dijk has been masterful at the back winning the PFA player of the season while in the full-back areas both Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson have been magnificent attacking outlets, with 23 assists between them in the league.

Joel Matip has also grown into his role alongside Van Dijk in Gomez’s absence.

In 2005 Liverpool lined up with Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia in the middle with Steve Finnan and Djimi Traore as full-backs, although they did change to 3-5-2 in the second period.

Many people forget that the Reds’ run to the final was built off of their solid defence as they only conceded six goals throughout the competition, however, they looked less than stellar in Istanbul conceding three times before half-time.

Liverpool’s central defence this campaign is arguably a lot stronger than 14 years ago, with Virgil Van Dijk the standout, although Jamie Carragher will go down as one of their finest ever players, with Hyypia no slouch either.

In the full-back department, Robertson and Alexander-Arnold is certainly an improvement on Finnan and Traore.



In 2005 Liverpool started with a midfield four but thanks to an injury to Harry Kewell and the fact that they were down 3-0 at half-time, Benitez opted to switch to a five, which consisted of Vladimir Smicer and Jon Arne Riise on the flanks, Dietmar Hamann and Xabi Alonso holding with Steven Gerrard as an attacking midfielder.

Klopp’s side will almost certainly go with three in midfield with Naby Keita injured and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain still lacking match fitness and unlikely to start.

It’s expected that Liverpool will start Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Fabinho in the centre against Spurs, although Gini Wijnaldum’s goalscoring exploits against Barcelona may mean he is rewarded with a start.

Given 2019 Liverpool’s scary quality up top, the midfield trio above is a perfect balance of work rate, energy and crisp passing required for Klopp’s side.

There’s no doubt though that in 2005, Benitez’ side had immense quality, with Xabi Alonso one of European football finest midfielders and Steven Gerrard in his brilliant prime at the time.

It’s arguably the hardest position to compare given the difference in formation, and in whatever trio of Milner, Wijnaldum, Fabinho and Henderson he decides to choose, Klopp’s side have a very strong midfield, but Alonso and Gerrard were world class in 2005 and so just about edge it.



The biggest gulf in quality between 2005 Liverpool and 2019 Liverpool is unquestionably in attack.

In Istanbul, Liverpool started with Milan Baros up front on his own with Harry Kewell playing just off the Czech striker however injury and a change in formation meant that Spaniard Luis Garcia joined their number five in attack for the second 45.

Baros only managed two goals in the competition that season, and 11 in total during the campaign while Garcia grabbed five goals in Europe and 13 in all competitions.

Compare that to Klopp’s current attacking trio of Sadio Mane, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino who have managed 68 goals in all competitions between them this season, and 16 in the Champions League.

Garcia and Baros no doubt proved their worth, but in Mane, Salah and Firmino, Klopp’s side have a special attacking trio at their disposal.



Under Rafa Benitez, Liverpool had real quality throughout their starting XI with the likes of Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher all exceptional, but Klopp’s 2019 charges are just that much stronger than their counterparts of 14 years ago.

The all-important question is though, can this Liverpool side emulate Benitez’s Istanbul heroes and claim the Champions League title once again on June 1st?


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Author: Oisin McQueirns

Oisin McQueirns is a digital journalist at Pundit Arena. Massive fan of Leeds United, Ric Flair and Trusting The Process. Contact him here [email protected]