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Benitez: Liverpool better now than 2005 champions

Ronaldo still has a spring in his step at 33, says he has the biological age of 23

Gulf News

Liverpool: Former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez believes the current side’s devastating attacking trio marks them out as a superior unit to the one he guided to a famous 2005 Champions League triumph in Istanbul.

Forwards Mohammad Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have plundered 29 goals between them in Europe’s elite club competition this season heading into Saturday’s final against Real Madrid in Kiev.

“We achieved what we achieved, they talk about the ‘Miracle of Istanbul’ but this team is better,” Benitez, who led the team to a fifth European crown in Turkey when they rallied from 3-0 down at halftime to win on penalties, said.

That Liverpool squad was hardly short of quality with the likes of Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Dietmar Hamann pulling the strings in midfield, but Benitez said Juergen Klopp’s side had more players capable of settling a contest on their own.

“We had Stevie, of course, also some players with experience and quality... we had players who worked very hard, we had a good balance,” Newcastle United boss Benitez, who also had a stint at Real Madrid, added.

“This team also has good balance, but the front three can make a difference on their own. We had one player who maybe could make a difference on his own, and here they have three.

“If we talk about the money spent, my budget was £20 million [Dh98.67 million]. The value of this team is so much higher,” the Spaniard added.

Liverpool are looking to deny holders Real a 13th title and a third in a row in the competition. Saturday’s clash at Kiev’s Olympic Stadium is a repeat of the 1981 final, when Liverpool prevailed 1-0 in Paris.

Meanwhile, Real forward Cristiano Ronaldo has no plans to slow down and feels a decade younger than his 33 years, the Portuguese has declared.

“Right now I have a biological age of 23,” the five-times World Player of the Year said in an interview with Spanish television programme El Chiringuito broadcast on Wednesday.

“I’ve still got a long time left, I can keep playing until I’m 41. I’m feeling good, happy, I can’t complain. We are playing another final on Saturday and the fans are behind Cristiano.”

Ronaldo is top scorer in the Champions League for a remarkable sixth year in a row, with 15 goals in 12 games in this season’s competition. If he hits the net against Liverpool on Saturday in Kiev, he will become the first ever player to score in four European Cup finals.

The Portuguese has had to take extra responsibility in attack this season for Madrid as Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale have struggled for form at various stages of the season.

Ronaldo, however, did not appear enthusiastic about press speculation linking Paris St-Germain forward Neymar with a move to Real and gave his backing to his current team mates.

“I’ve been here for eight years and people always say 50 players are coming here but in the end no one comes. In September people think lots of players are going to come but the ones who take us to finals are always the same ones,” he said.

“The best players are already at Madrid. Bale, Benzema, (Lucas) Vazquez, (Marco) Asensio. They are all here.”

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