Liverpool have a third crack at winning their sixth Champions League trophy on Saturday evening – but how does this year’s team compare to that which last won the competition in 2005?
The players involved in that memorable Istanbul final will forever be remembered as Reds legends for their incredible comeback that night, but Jurgen Klopp appears to have built an even better squad, capable of challenging for major honours year after year.
We’ve compared the starting XI from Istanbul to the team expected to take to the field in Madrid to see where the Reds have improved and where that 2005 side was simply incomparable.
Jerzy Dudek – Alisson
Dudek was an excellent goalkeeper and one of Liverpool’s heroes in 2005, saving two penalties in the shootout, but he was replaced as No.1 by Pepe Reina the following season.
In fact, he played only 24 more games in the remaining six seasons of his career after Istanbul, spending two years as back-up at Anfield before taking up the same role at Real Madrid.
In Alisson, the modern-day Liverpool have a keeper they’re unlikely to be replacing anytime soon. Joining the Reds for a world-record fee in 2018, he won the Premier League Golden Glove in his first season and, only 28, is already considered one of the best on the planet in his position.
Steve Finnan – Trent Alexander-Arnold
Finnan was probably the most underrated member of the Liverpool 2005 team, at least by those outside of Merseyside, but he was one of its most crucial cogs.
Remarkably, he played in every division from the Conference to the Premier League during his career, not to mention in the UEFA Cup, Champions League and World Cup, but you only had to watch him once to understand how he had worked his way through the leagues.
The absolute model of consistency, he was equally adept at both defending and attacking, but his greatest strength was simply in never letting his standards drop. Despite his advancing years, most would agree it was a mistake for Rafa Benitez to replace him with Álvaro Arbeloa, and there’s a strong argument to say Liverpool haven’t had a better right-back since.
Until, of course, Alexander-Arnold broke into the team. Like Finnan, he’s strong in both areas of the game, but going forward he’s not just decent, he’s unbelievable. He got 12 (twelve) assists in the Premier League in 2018-19 FFS. OK, he’s only 20 and maybe we’re getting carried away because he’s English, but it seems realistic at this point to say he could be one of the world’s best right-backs for a decade or more. Bloody hell.
Jamie Carragher – Joel Matip
Another player who perhaps quite didn’t get the credit he deserved outside of Liverpool, Carragher holds the club record for the most appearances in continental competition with 150. You don’t do that just by being a good lad from Bootle.
He actually came through the ranks as a midfielder and played at both right-back and left-back under Gerard Houllier, somewhat flying in the face of anyone who remembers him as nothing more than a stopper, but his best performances undoubtedly came at centre-half, in particular alongside Sami Hyypia and none more so than in that run to Istanbul in 2005.
Like Carragher, Matip is the less heralded partner of Liverpool’s centre-backs, and like Carragher 14 years ago he’s in probably the best form of his Reds career going into the final. Also like Carragher, he has had to fight for his place in the team, but it remains to be seen if, like Carragher, he can hold onto it long-term once Dejan Lovren and, in particular, Joe Gomez are back fit.
Sami Hyypia – Virgil van Dijk
This is where recency bias could be dangerous because, make no mistake about it, Hyypia was f*cking ace. And, not that it matters for the purposes of this comparison, but he cost £2.6million.
Two point six million. And he stayed for 10 years, made 464 appearances and won 10 trophies. Steven Gerrard says “he should be regarded as one of the greats of this club”.
But, wow, what a player Van Dijk is. Hyypia was consistently one of the best players at Liverpool, sure, but Van Dijk is quite possibly the best player in the entire world in his position. He cost a little more, sure, but in this crazy world he somehow seems cheap at £75million.
If there’s a flaw in his game, we’re yet to spot it.
Djimi Traore – Andrew Robertson
Ah, Djimi. Outside of Liverpool he’s remembered best for his comedy own goal against Burnley, and the fact he has a Champions League winner’s medal will forever be a source of amusement for a lot of people.
And, yeah, he definitely had his moments, but he wasn’t a bad player, and his goalline clearance to deny Andriy Shevchenko in Istanbul was one of the game’s key moments.
But he was no Robertson. Signed from Hull City of all places, he didn’t immediately make that step up in standard at Anfield, but he hasn’t let them drop once since the second he got there. Like Alexander-Arnold on the opposite flank, he’s a great defender, but it’s going forward where he stands above most others, laying on 11 goals in the Premier League in 2018-19. That’s 23 between two full-backs. Madness.
Xabi Alonso – Fabinho
Moving into midfield, the 2005 team perhaps highlights where Liverpool will need to improve in the coming years if they’re to build on this success under Klopp.
And remember, this Liverpool might be missing Naby Keita, but the 2005 side started with Dietmar Hamann on the bench. Also Igor Bišćan, but we’ll ignore that.
Anyway, Alonso. What a player he was. It will never, ever not be absolute madness that Benitez wanted to replace him with Gareth Barry. And we think Barry was class. But, crikey, he was no Alonso. We’re pretty sure he didn’t misplace a pass in his entire career; the only times the ball didn’t end up with a team-mate were because they weren’t on his level.
Oh, and the gaffer met him in a bar in Liverpool once (Lago, if you’re wondering) and says he was exactly as nice as you’d imagine. So yeah, we love him.
And don’t get us wrong, Fabinho’s good, too, but there’s simply no comparison so we’re not even going to bother making one.
Steven Gerrard – Jordan Henderson
In his autobiography, Gerrard said he thought Roy Hodgson made a mistake in asking Henderson to sit alongside him in deep midfield and that he’d have been happy to do it himself.
“I would have liked us to have taken the shackles off Jordan and let him power forward while I held the formation together as the lone pivot,” he wrote.
And yep, we agree, Henderson’s great. And similar to Gerrard in a lot of ways actually – he’s a great long passer, he can dictate the tempo of a game, he’s unbelievably energetic, and he can be a nasty bastard when he needs to be. And he’s really come into his own this season.
But he’s still not Steven Gerrard.
Harry Kewell – Gigi Wijnaldum
This isn’t a like-for-like comparison – Kewell played at No.10 in 2005 – but he lasted only 23 minutes anyway, withdrawn with a groin injury. And there’s the story of his Liverpool career: a good player who couldn’t stay fit at Anfield. He was a good player, Kewell, but it just didn’t quite happen for him.
And the fact his team-mates rallied to win in his absence came as absolutely zero consolation. “On a personal level, that was a nightmare, a horrible night,” he’s since said.
“You try to be happy for the team, but as soon as you go back to the hotel, that’s it. There’s nothing.”
Wijnaldum, conversely, was a much less celebrated arrival when signing from Newcastle in 2016 but has vastly exceeded most people’s expectations in the three seasons since, undergoing a transformation from goalscoring but flawed midfielder into one who can do the lot – including, of course, still score goals, as Barcelona found out in the semi-final.
We love him. And if Klopp decides to go with James Milner instead, well, we love him even more.
Luis García – Mohamed Salah
Ah, Luis García. He was cool, he was wicked. He was just one of those players everyone liked: he wasn’t world-class, but he did world-class things. And even when he wasn’t doing world-class things, he was trying to.
And as well as just being a load of fun to watch, he also had a handy knack of scoring really important goals. Particularly handy ones in the 2004-05 Champions League campaign, including, of course, that one against Chelsea.
But Garcia says his Liverpool was “incomparable” to this one, and it’s unlikely he’d disagree that he wasn’t on the same level as Salah has been in his two seasons at Anfield.
He scored 22 goals in the Premier League in 2018-19 – the joint highest in the league – yet somehow had to put up with accusations of being a one-season wonder. Imagine being so good that people think you’ve been sh*t when you’ve top scored in the league. And played most of your games on the right. Yeah, he’s decent.
John Arne Riise – Sadio Mané
Another not ideal comparison, Riise was a lot of fun thundering up and down the left wing. And he had an absolute thunderbastard of a shot.
That goal against Everton when he ran from the halfway line was pretty bloody good too. But whether judging him as a left-back or left midfielder as he was in Istanbul, nobody would pick him ahead of Mané.
And that’s no slight on Riise. He was great, but Mané’s even better, even quicker, even more likeable. He shared the Golden Boot with Salah in 18-19, rinsed a load of defenders along the way and, perhaps best of all, continued to copy his team-mates’ celebrations when they scored.
“I think he sometimes is not aware of how good he is,” Klopp has said about him. Well we are.
Milan Baros – Roberto Firmino
Baros was good, but it’ll still never cease to surprise us that he was nominated for the Ballon d’Or in 2004.
To be fair, he top scored at the Euros that summer. But that was on the back of two goals all season for Liverpool. Not exactly Ballon d’Or worthy.
He had a better 2004-05, scoring nine times in the Premier League and a couple of times on the way to Istanbul, but he made only two substitute appearances in the entirety of the following season.
Somehow, we can’t see Firmino suffering the same fate. Not the most prolific of goalscorers himself, his value to the team is such that he is expected to be thrown straight in against Spurs for his first start since April 21.