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football | Wednesday, May 25, 2022 7:43 PM (Revised at: Friday, May 27, 2022 9:55 AM)

Talking Football With....José Enrique: Liverpool to Win Champions League

Talking Football With....José Enrique: Liverpool to Win Champions League
PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

In the lead up to the 2022 Champions League Final on Saturday, we talk football with former Liverpool left back José Enrique.


Liverpool missed out on the EPL trophy this weekend, but now they have the chance for another big one in the Champions League against Real Madrid. What are your thoughts on this game? What will be the key matchup in the final? Who are you looking for to be the difference-maker? 

“For Liverpool, believe that the players and the manager have been in pain for a few days. But they are used to playing every two or three days, and these things happen and it has happened to them before. They can recover from it.“

“When they lost against Real Madrid in the final it was like: ‘Oh my God, they don’t know how to play a final!’ People were criticising them. The year after, it happened (Liverpool won the Champions League against Tottenham Hotspur).”

“What this team has done this year is incredible and I believe they will be really set on winning the Champions League.”

“Obviously it would be a massive achievement by this team to do that if they win the Champions League.”  

If we look at the game on Saturday, what are your thoughts on this game? What will be the key matchups in the final and who are you looking for both teams to potentially be the difference-maker? 

“Well for me, Real Madrid obviously has a great team overall. That’s why they won La Liga and why they are in the final of the Champions League.” 

“Vinicius Junior and Benzema on the counter-attack and, I’m not sure who they will play on the right, Rodrygo or Valverde. Rodrygo of course is very fast but I think maybe Ancelotti will want to play Valverde there because Robertson is an attacking threat as well.” 

“So, that’s what Liverpool have to be careful of, but I believe Liverpool are not going to change the way they play and I don’t believe they should. They’ve never done it against anybody.”

“They have to go for it. I really believe Liverpool is going to win. In my opinion, I believe we have a better team than Real Madrid, overall.”

“The way Ancelotti set up his team is actually damaging for the way Liverpool plays. With Vinicius Junior there on the left, Trent is very offensive, so normally there’s always a lot of space there and he is really, really fast.”

“So, we’ll see what happens, but I really believe that Liverpool has a better team”

“Sometimes people don’t really realize how good Vinicius Junior is on the counterattack but sometimes, and it’s not a mistake of the of the right-back or the centre-back that doesn’t cover him, because sometimes on the second ball the team aren’t ready for it, and the team has an easy pass with the ball to the wingers.” 

“Liverpool are going to have to be wary of that one. When they lose the ball, make sure they try to get it back as soon as possible and don’t give them (Real Madrid) the option to give the ball to Vinicius or Benzema into space, because that is where they are dangerous.” 

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Liverpool is arguably a more complete team than Real Madrid this time out, as compared to 2018. That being said, are there any areas or aspects where you can see Real Madrid being better than Liverpool?

“Even if I look at the goalkeeper, obviously Courtois is a great goalkeeper, I would take Allison. But, obviously, Courtois is a world-class goalkeeper, as well. So, nothing to say there, both teams are great.”

“Defensive wise, I don’t think that you can compare. I think I would choose the whole defence of Liverpool.” 

“Then in midfield with all the injuries of Liverpool, combined with the fact that they have Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos who have been playing for so many years, they have won many Champions Leagues together. So in the middle is where you are questioning a little bit more who is stronger.”

“But I mean the front three, they are great as well. You know, Vinicius and Benzema, but again if Salah has his day and you have Luis Diaz, the man who is on fire. Mane as a striker, and Mane is a striker and it is actually his best position for me right now. He’s been playing fantastic there.”

“Overall I really believe Liverpool is a better team, but you have to remember that most of these players, they have won maybe three or four Champions Leagues together already and there is a reason for that. Liverpool have to be careful, Real Madrid really know how to play on the biggest stage. But the Liverpool that they are going to face now, is not the Liverpool that they faced four years ago.”

“They hadn’t won anything under Klopp yet back then and now they have done. They won every single thing possible. So, it’s gonna be a completely different game in my opinion.”        

Looks like Thiago Alcantara will be missing the final. How big of a blow is that for the Reds, especially when you couple that with Fabinho’s fitness issues?

“I think both are key for the team.”

“I’d be more worried about Fabinho. If Thiago is not available you have to play Milner, so this is probably where you are weaker. If you can’t play Fabinho and you play Henderson and Keita you still have an amazing and strong midfield.

“I believe that what Thiago brings to the team, no one else brings to the team. That’s the reality. No one else is an incredible number 8. It’s a big blow, it’s a massive blow for one of their key players.” 

“Real Madrid are going to try to play counter-attacking football because it was the way they have been playing the whole season. Thiago is the kind of player that can break that.”

“But definitely it would be a massive blow. It’s like if you take Modric from Real Madrid. You know, it’s kind of a miss, but Liverpool won the Champions League without Thiago, so we have to remember that. So they can do it, but it’s true that it would be a massive miss with him and Fabinho as well. Fabinho is key for this team.”           

In light of Thiago’s injury, what would be the ideal midfield three for the final? Anyone who can fill in that Thiago role of dictating the tempo of the game? Any suggestions on how Liverpool can win the midfield battle against the likes of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro?

“I’m not sure what actually Klopp will do there. Obviously, it depends on Fabinho’s fitness as well. If Fabinho is fit, the midfield will be Fabinho, Hendo and Keita. That would be my midfield.” 

“Keita would be playing in Thiago’s position. Keita is not Thiago but he has quality and ability. The problem with Keita is you don’t know which Keita will turn up. He can have the best game of his life as he does sometimes, but sometimes he underperforms as well. So, it’s a 50/50. If he actually has the game we know he can, he has the ability to really play in that role and do really well. So that would be my three.” 

“Without Fabinho, obviously you have to play Hendo as a holding midfield, then it would be Keita as well and the other one is a hard choice because you are missing two key players. Klopp played Milner there when Thiago got injured. Milner can’t give you what Thiago and Keita can, but in a final, I would play Milner. Alternatively you have Curtis Jones, you have Harvey Elliot, they are amazing but I believe in this kind of game you need experience.”

“That would be my two midfielders depending on if Thiago is missing or if Fabinho and Thiago are missing. So it would be Hendo, Keita and Milner if both of them are missing.”

An interesting battle on the pitch would be Vinicius Jr against Trent Alexander-Arnold. The Brazilian winger can be devastating on the counterattack and has improved his output a lot this season. How do you think Alexander-Arnold can contain Vinicius?

“In my opinion, I don’t think we should change the plan. The only thing, in the end, people sometimes realise is that this is a team sport. Trent, what he gives to the team’s offence is incredible and I don’t think his replacement is going make much difference in the counter-attacking anyway because Vinicius is so fast. He’s much faster than him, that’s the reality. So his pace is going to kill you anyway.”

“Liverpool’s game is all about the second balls. When you lose the ball try to get it back and of course it is going to happen that sometimes, Vinicius is going to get in behind and all of them have the cover, or the holding midfield (the number six in the centre). I think Matip is great, he’s one of the best defenders in the league for me, but Konate maybe with that pace and strength that he has, with the speed he has, maybe is a better option for this match.”

“As soon as they get the ball, that’s what they are going to look for. Try to get Vinicius, Benzema in the box. That’s going to be the play. I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that, that’s the reality and that’s what Liverpool have to be careful about. If they lose the ball, try to get it back, it’s not going to happen every time and when it doesn’t happen, make sure that Konate or Matip or whoever is there in the holding midfield, if it’s Fabinho or Hendo, whoever it is, make sure they cover that side because Real Madrid is going to try to split that side.”

“I think that’s the only way to try and stop that. I think that it is the only way to try to stop that attack because Vinicius is so fast. He’s improved his finishing like you said the goals and the numbers are incredible, he has improved a lot. Everyone was killing him before because of the numbers he was making, people sometimes don’t realise that he was 18, 19 when he arrived in Madrid.” 

If we look at Real Madrid’s Champions League run so far. They managed to get results behind against PSG, Chelsea, City, all these big opponents. What do you think about their season so far in the Champions League?

“People talk about “luck” because of the way it happened, when it happens three times, you know, and it happened in the league before many, many times, it’s not luck. They know, that’s why I said to you, there are players there with so much experience in winning trophies.

“The thought process is clear, “okay, we are losing, we are going down at the moment, but let’s try to get it back”. When they score the fans know to get on side with them and they know how to play under this kind of pressure. Obviously, it’s not lucky for me what they’ve done. Some kind of luck has to come with it, that’s the reality because the goal of Rodrygo, he even say that he didn’t even look at the ball he just jumped and hit the ball, you know, and he was lucky that Asensio actually flicked it before the defender touched it and it came to his head and without even looking he scored.”

“It’s a bit of luck, yeah. But they are not scared. Even if they are down. You have to be careful, but it’s Real Madrid and that they have 13 Champions Leagues, it’s for a reason.”            

“So, obviously Liverpool have to be careful with that, but as I say, the Liverpool they are facing is not the Liverpool they faced a few years ago and that’s the reality. So, I believe that Liverpool is prepared and really, really want to go for this game, so I believe it’s going to be a very, very nice game to watch.”    

Mohamed 'Mo' Salah of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Liverpool

PRiME Media Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Do you think Mohammed Salah is extra motivated for this game, compared to other big games? 

“100% he is going to be extra motivated. If he’s not there is something wrong with him! 100% he’s going to be motivated for that and he put these kind of Tweets out and did that interview after the Villareal game. He’s obviously thinking about what happened to him in the final. I think Ramos didn’t know what he was going to injure him, but of course he went to him and was aggressive. That’s the reality in my opinion and that’s changed the game completely.”

“I think it would have been another outcome of that game if Salah was on the pitch the whole game. He would want to win this final more than ever because he needs that final and he knows that the way he was performing if he was in that final Liverpool had a big chance of winning.”

“It would be something inside of him that will push him forward. It’s the kind of thing that maybe to another player it would be a lot of pressure, but I think he actually loves that, he actually loves people looking at him and putting pressure on him.” 

“To be honest with you, if Liverpool win the final and he scores, he will probably win the Ballon d’Or this year, and if Benzema scores and Real Madrid win the final, Benzema will probably win the Ballon d’Or.”

“So it’s a lot for Salah, but I think, like he’s done many, many times he’s going to step up and I understand his feelings for what happened in the previous final against Madrid.”

What is going to be the final score of the game?

“I think there are going to be goals for both sides, the way they both play, and so it is going to be good for the fans. It’s going to be an entertaining game, heart-attacking game, because there are going to be goals from both sides.”

“I think that Liverpool are going to win. I will always support Liverpool in these kinds of games and I think the score will be 3:2, something like that for Liverpool. I hope there will be fewer goals, and Liverpool will win because it is less hard when you are watching the game!”

“But for the fans, I believe it is going to be, because both teams, even if Real Madrid play counter-attacking football, at the same time, when they counter-attack, they leave a lot of space if they get the ball back. So, there are going to be a lot of attacking options for both teams. And I think it is going to be very nice. Obviously, the expectations are very high because both teams play with some incredible players.”

“So, that is why I think that with Liverpool obviously leaving a lot of space behind, and Real Madrid when they are counter-attacking they will leave space, there will be a lot of goals. That is why I go, 3:2. Hopefully, I am wrong and Liverpool beat them 5:0, but I believe it is going to be maybe 3:2, something like that for Liverpool.”

Let’s also talk a bit about Newcastle. How impressive was Eddie Howe and how can the board back him for the coming seasons?

“Yesterday they gave the manager of the season to Klopp, I really believe Eddie could have won it. What he has done in Newcastle has been great. Of course people will criticise and say he had millions to spend in January, whilst of course that helped and probably allowed them to stay up, the run of games that they won, how they made St. James Park a fortress. To have to go there and try to get anything from them has been so hard, so for me, he has been incredible.”

“Obviously, they spent money on players. That’s what you expect from these owners. But United also spent so much money on players, and they are still not the best. So, spending money on players doesn’t guarantee success. I remember the situation in January they were in. More or less, everyone in this country, in the UK, thought they were relegated because they were really far from getting out of the relegation zone. I think since January they finished second or third in the league, something like that. So, the job of Eddie since January in the team has been incredible.”

Do you think Bruno Guimaraes is a shout for one of the signings of the 2021-22 season?

“Hundred per cent, it would be between him and Luis Diaz. I think Luis Diaz has been incredible for Liverpool. Bruno, he didn’t start playing from the start, but I believe he lived up to what Eddie wanted, I think he could play in any team.”

“I believe he could play in Liverpool, I believe he could play in Manchester City, as well. I believe he could play in any kind of team like that. Newcastle now is not a selling club and he’s not for sale, and I am happy for them. He’s definitely up there with Luis Diaz for the signing of the season. He has been incredible, and with the quality he brings to the midfield, I believe he is the best player they have in the Newcastle squad.”

Should Newcastle cash in on Allan Saint-Maximin?

“It depends.”

“To be honest, it’s going to be more of a decision of Eddie (Howe) in there.”

“For me, he’s a wonderful player. I love his 1v1s. I love his kind of wingers that go and try to take on the full-back.”

“Maybe the club is looking for other kind of wingers. I’m not sure what they’re thinking as well. Depends on the money that can come in for him.”

“I’m sure that fans don’t want to sell him and Eddie plays him a lot so I don’t think he will be for sale.”

“I don’t think he will be up for sale for Newcastle. I will be very surprised if they sell him because he is a very, very good player as well.”

“I don’t think they should sell him, in my opinion.”

Some of the names being linked to a move to Newcastle are Jesse Lingard, James Tarkowski, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Dean Henderson and also Raphinha. Which one of them could take Newcastle to the next level? And which signing is needed to strengthen the club?

“To be honest they need to strengthen more or less every area.” 

“Obviously Matt Targett is on loan so they probably should buy him. He’s performed really, really well and he’s done really, really well under Eddie.”

“I’m not sure if they would buy him. I think he’s a £15 million option to buy him from the club.”

“Then a goalkeeper. If they want to sign Henderson from Manchester United, I really, really like him. The goalkeeper at Newcastle at the moment (Martin Dubravka) is doing really well and has done well but I think when you go for this kind of goalkeeper (Henderson) it can take you to another level. I think he’s really, really good and I like him.”

“I’m not sure about Jesse Lingard. He’s gone a season without playing. He’s a good player and he did well at West Ham when he was there. I think he can do well, he’s a player with a lot of qualities.”

“I’m not sure if Eddie will look for someone like this.”

“Raphinha is a player that they could look at.”

“They should improve the whole team because they have to improve the squad as well. They need to improve every area, in my opinion, because some of these players they’re going to sign are going to be substitutes and that’s very important.”

“It’s good because if someone gets an injury, you can actually play him.”

“That’s what Newcastle will look at – centre back, full back, they need to look at a full back on the left side.”

“On the right side, obviously (Kieran) Trippier has injuries but he’s going to be back but you need someone else there.”

“Key players: I believe they should bring in a world-class striker. Even if they have Callum Wilson and Chris Wood.”

“It depends on Eddie on what he sees every day in training.”

“Raphinha is a quality player. I believe he would bring a lot, but it will be hard to compete with Barcelona”

“Jesse Lingard, I like him but his off-the-field is what I don’t like too much, so I’m not sure about that. But definitely, quality-wise, he’s a very good player.”

“Tarkowski, a centre-back, on a free, he’ll be a very good signing. Wages wise, they’ll pay him well. Aston Villa, want him as well so I’m not sure what will happen there.”

“I feel sorry for Stevie but the reality is, if I have Aston Villa and Newcastle, I’ll go to Newcastle with the players that they have and the club that they have. I think it’s massive. If he has both options, definitely I’d go to Newcastle.”

“He’s a very good centre-back, and it’s on a free, then obviously you’ll have to pay him salary-wise, more.”

“He would be a great signing. They need a centre-back who’s experienced in the Premier League. He’s the perfect centre-back for Newcastle. Perfect.”

“They’re going to spend, they’re going to go crazy. They’re going to go for players like Trippier, this kind of quality of player who played for big clubs, or go for quality players playing in smaller clubs like Raphinha at Leeds.”

“With them, it’s possible to buy anyone really. It depends on what the targets are in terms of players. Because I really believe many players, for the salaries that they’re going to get and the project that Newcastle are trying to build, many players will want to join Newcastle in the Premier League right now.”

“The target in the season would be to try to finish in the top eight, that’s the reality. Try to get Conference League or Europa League, that will be the target of Newcastle, I believe and they need signings for it.”

“It’s not easy to find a striker, I’ll be honest.”

“Obviously Wilson, I really like Wilson, the problem with him has been that he was injured for most of the second half of the season.”

“But when he’s back, he’s scoring goals with this team. So imagine if he has even better players around him, he would score more goals.”

“Chris Wood gives you another kind of player. Old Number 9, big guy, he’s more for crosses.”

“They were talking about (Dominic) Calvert-Lewin. I really, really like Calvert-Lewin.”

“Same thing again, he had big problems with injuries this season so I’m not sure if Newcastle will sign him but obviously Eddie knows him well.”

“Eddie, if he can sign players that are already in the Premier League or the Championship, it is what he has done in the past.”

“Calvert-Lewin, he will be a great signing for them, if he can stay fit. I believe he can be a great signing.”

“I was actually talking about this on Instagram and Newcastle supporters said ‘we have Chris Wood and Callum Wilson already, I don’t think he can add anything to that.’ I think he can. 

“As the transfer window goes on, there are options that weren’t there before. A striker that you’re thinking of now, maybe he’s not available because the club doesn’t want to sell him. But then further in the transfer window, he’s actually the option because they want to sell him to sign two or more three players.”

“It is very difficult to talk about who would be the perfect striker for Newcastle. Right now, Calvert-Lewin is a top choice but maybe further down the transfer window, they have better options from some of the big clubs that do not want those players.”

Do you think Aleksandr Mitrovic could be a target for Newcastle?

“For me, I love him (Aleksandar Mitrovic). I always loved this player. Even before he did his numbers in the Championship.”

“I love players with character and energy. He’s a kind of a striker that fights anybody, he doesn’t care. He’s a typical Number 9 that wants to score and score more goals. I love the fighting spirit that he has.”

“He’s always a player I loved. I’m not saying this because of the numbers he did in the Championship last season that was actually a record.”

“He could definitely be a target for Newcastle. I really, really like him.”

Should Newcastle sign a couple of forwards in the summer, where does that leave Callum Wilson, in your opinion? Do you think he can contribute to the side if ‘bigger’ names are signed and get more playing time than him?

“I think Callum Wilson, if he can stay fit, definitely is a player for Newcastle right now. He’s a player that always scores wherever he’s playing. Eddie knows him very, very well from Bournemouth.”

“Look, as soon as he was back from his injury, look how many goals he scored.”

“He will always give you goals. And that’s what you want from a striker. Goals.”

“The only thing I’m thinking of if you want to sign maybe a world-class player, and Eddie normally plays with one up front, I’m not sure if he would change to two.”

“Depends, if he changes to two, I doubt it but maybe he changes to two, obviously you can keep Chris Wood.”

“If you sign a world-class forward, maybe he’ll keep Chris, as he signed him and at the same time, Callum Wilson is not fit all the time, so maybe he just needs one striker like Mitrovic or Calvert-Lewin, and you keep the other two as well.”

“Because Callum has not been fit, more or less, all the time. So you cannot rely on him as the starter.”

“Callum Wilson, definitely if he can stay fit, I don’t think Newcastle should offload him because I really believe when he’s fit, he’s a very, very good striker.”

Liverpool is pushing hard to get French midfielder Aurelien Tchouameini. Think he could be a solid addition to the squad? Real Madrid is also gunning for him. 

“Real Madrid has a lot of options in the midfield, albeit they are getting older some of them. Like Modric for example. But then you have Camavinga, Valverde and Ceballos as well. So they have a lot of options. “

“The problem is the price. They are asking between £80 and £100 million or something like that. If that’s the price they are asking for, one hundred per cent Liverpool is not happening for £80m or £100m for a player. If it’s £50m then maybe. If it’s £80m-£100 as they are talking about, then it’s definitely not a Liverpool kind of signing in my opinion. I would be very surprised.” 

“If I were Liverpool, someone I would go all-in for is Jude Bellingham, if I were Liverpool.” 

What kind of players should Liverpool get, in your opinion, to get that edge over Man City? What do you think they’re missing?

“Jude Bellingham is the type of player they could look for. I’m not surprised honestly, with him being 18 and with what this guy can do as well. He is a world-class number 8 and that’s what Liverpool needs.”

“For me, the position that Liverpool need is definitely a backup for the right-back, even if Joe Gomez can play there. Joe Gomez, they are probably going to renew his contract, but he is a centre-back. So you need someone like (Konstantinos) Tsimikas on the right side. Someone that is not going to be a starting player, but that can push him (Trent Alexander-Arnold). Sometimes you can see that Trent (Alexander-Arnold) knows that he is going to be starting always so he relaxes a bit. It would be good if he has a backup option there that can push him. A young player, obviously, but someone that can push him. I definitely would be signing one there.”

“Also a starting number 8 in my opinion, because you cannot rely on Thiago and (Naby) Keita, because they are unlucky with injuries. Henderson is getting older as well. So definitely a starting number 8. The best option for me would be Jude Bellingham. But I’m not sure he would be possible this summer because they (Dortmund) sold Haaland already. I’m not sure they would be happy to sell Bellingham. But if I were Liverpool, I would go all in. Next summer you won’t be the only one who is looking to sign him. Maybe other teams are coming for him as well, and that is a problem. Maybe the others will offer him more in salaries, such as Manchester City or Real Madrid or teams like that. If they come in, they pay bigger salaries than Liverpool. That’s a reality.”

“Then the other position that will need strengthening, is definitely a backup for Salah. I don’t think Salah has a proper backup in that position. Mané has played there in the past, but you can see he doesn’t feel comfortable. (Diogo) Jota played there in the past. He doesn’t feel comfortable either. Jota and Mané felt more comfortable on the left side or as a striker. Not on the right. So for example Raphina for Leeds would be an incredible option for Liverpool. I’m not sure who they are looking for, but Salah needs it as well. For example at this time around, when he hasn’t been as good, with the AFCON and getting eliminated from the World Cup, the contract situation, he has not been as good. Then you could have a player, like Raphina, coming in and pushing him. It happened with Luis Díaz. Jota fell asleep a little bit and Luis Díaz came in, and Jota has been on the bench. And he was incredible before. It’s what keeps you going as a player.”

“These would be my three priorities. Backup for the right-back, backup for right-wing and a starting number 8. With those three positions, Liverpool will be fighting for everything again.”

“Manchester City will obviously be the biggest threat again. They signed Haaland, and will probably sign a big number 6 or number 8 again because Fernandinho is leaving. It is going to be very difficult to fight them. Chelsea looks like they are going to go big in the summer transfer window as well.”

What do you think will happen with the Mohammed Salah contract?

“In my opinion, both sides are being too ‘proud’. Liverpool are saying ‘these are the terms I can give you, and that’s all’, and Mohammed Salah is going ‘Okay, this is the terms I want, and that’s all. I deserve it’.”

“I believe both of them have to come down a little bit and maybe get in a middle position where Salah is not 100% happy and the club is not 100% happy, but it’s a middle point for both of them.”

“I believe if Salah leaves it would be horrible for the club and for himself.”

“I don’t think he’ll be happier elsewhere than he is at Liverpool. I’m not saying this because I played for Liverpool and support Liverpool. Where would he go and be as loved as he is at Liverpool? You are fighting for every single title.”

“Where are you going to go? Real Madrid for example, if you go there, as soon you maybe don’t start well, the media they are going to kill you in the press. You are going to have to win the love of the fans, whereas here he is probably the most loved player on the pitch.”

“What do you want to do? Be a legend at this club and maybe retire here, or go somewhere else and prove yourself again? For me, it would be a massive mistake for Salah to go, but at the same time, it would be a massive mistake for Liverpool to let him go, in my opinion.”


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