Liverpool and Real Madrid legend Steve McManaman has been giving his thoughts on two of his former clubs ahead of Saturday’s much-anticipated Champions League final in Paris.
Jurgen Klopp travels with his players to the French capital, where recently-crowned La Liga champions Real Madrid lie in wait. The pre-match narrative has been fuelled by Mohamed Salah’s seemingly incessant desire for revenge, but this is a fixture that needs no added subtext.
Liverpool vs Real Madrid in isolation offers fans a tantalisingly, lip-licking clash of titans — and the Stade de France is braced for an exhibition of world-class talent going at it hammer and tong. It’s a European sequel doused in anticipation, excitement and elite quality.
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But, most of that quality, according to McManaman — who turned out 364 times for Liverpool and made 158 appearances for Real Madrid during his playing days — is currently on Merseyside, with the former winger believing Klopp has the edge over Carlo Ancelotti when it comes to individual talent.
In a recent interview with Betway, McManaman was asked to put together his combined XI from both finalists ahead of Saturday, and it’s safe to say he made some interesting choices, not least snubbing Toni Kroos and David Alaba, while the likes of Thiago, Casemiro and Vinicius Junior also didn’t get a look in.
Starting with the backline in a 4-3-3, McManaman said: “Thibaut Courtois had his critics in his first season, but he’s been really good this season. Unfortunately, I’m going to go for Alisson Becker.
“I’m going for Trent Alexander-Arnold [at right-back], Virgil van Dijk [at centre-back], then Ibrahima Konate or Joel Matip [alongside him].
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“David Alaba’s had a good first season I must admit, but he’s played in a number of positions so that just takes it away.
“Left-back, Andy Robertson.”
On the midfield: “Luka Modric, the first Real Madrid player I’ve got into my team. In defensive midfield, Fabinho and then alongside him Jordan Henderson, the skipper, Mr. Reliable. We don’t need Thiago if we have Modric in.”
On the frontline: “And then I will go with Sadio Mane, Karim Benzema and Salah.
“Salah started this season really, really well. The number of goals he scored put him ahead of everybody.
“Vinicius Junior is very unlucky to miss out, but he’s up against Mane, who is in great form at the minute, having just won the Africa Cup of Nations and put Senegal through to the World Cup.
“Salah had a really good first four or five months, and I think Mane has really picked up the baton recently, so I think he deserves to be in my team.
“Karim’s had the best season he’s ever had. He’s just in that moment at the minute where everything he touches turns to gold.
“Two Real Madrid players, nine Liverpool players. That’s how I feel at the moment.”
Steve McManaman’s combined Liverpool-Real Madrid XI: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Konate, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Modric, Henderson; Salah, Benzema, Mane.
McManaman explains why Zidane “struggled” at the start of his Real Madrid career
McManaman also went on to discuss the memory of Zinedine Zidane’s iconic volley in the 2002 Champions League final, which ultimately proved the match-winner in Real Madrid’s 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen. To this day it is still widely regarded as the greatest goal in the competition’s history.
However, things were not always top-drawer ‘worldies’ and dominating European finals for the French immortal, who initially took time to settle in at the Bernabeu following his Galactico-inspired move from Juventus.
“I think it’s fair to say that his first six months was difficult,” McManaman said.
“We all knew he was an incredible footballer, having won the Ballon d’Or and World Cup in 1998.
“So we know what we were bringing to the club. It was just a question of where he would play.
“And that was the hard part for him. He played in numerous positions; on the left, central, behind the forward.
“And I think he struggled, really, to settle initially.”
He continued: “And then once the Champions League came around he really started to find his footing, culminating in that incredible goal he scored against Bayer Leverkusen in the final.
“I remember it because it came out of nothing, really. I think the average player would have controlled it, but he decided to hit it with his weaker foot, and caught it really nicely.
“But it wasn’t a surprise. When you look around the dressing room at your teammates, you know what they can and can’t do.
“Zidane was one who could hit it from a great height because he’d done it many times before. And he was ever so graceful, so it was not a surprise that it went flying into the net.”