Whatever Benfica did, it certainly helped
Benfica played a part in Liverpool’s Champions League triumph in 2019 by replicating the play style of the Reds’ opponents, Tottenham Hotspur.
Jurgen Klopp’s men secured a 2-0 victory over Spurs to win the Champions League final thanks to goals from Mohamed Salah and Divock Origi.
Given the three week break between the end of the domestic season and the start of the final – which took place at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano on 1 June 2019 – the Reds were keen to keep fresh and sharp before the showpiece event.
Benfica fly to Marbella
Understandably, Klopp and Liverpool wanted to play a friendly match against a side who would also take on the role of Tottenham, which would help the Merseyside outfit prepare tactically for the final.
With the Premier League side based in Marbella prior to the final, the all-important task was given to Benfica’s B side, who travelled to Spain to face-off against Liverpool.
It came after the Benfica’s technical director Pedro Marques received a call from Julian Ward – the man who will replace Michael Edwards as Liverpool’s new sporting director at the end of the current season.
As reported by Goal, Marques revealed that he couldn’t tell the players where they were going or who they were playing against – which he kept a secret until they arrived in Marbella.
Upon arrival in Marbella, Marques, B-team boss Renato Pavia and his staff met with the Reds’ assistant manager Pep Ljinders and video analysts Greg Mathieson and Mark Leyland.
“We went through the gameplan of Liverpool, and how they felt Tottenham would play,” Marques said.
“We went through how we could set up like them, in terms of shape, a few pressing patterns and some attacking plays.
“But they also asked us to play freely outside of those specific situations. They wanted it to be a proper game.”
In 2019, before the Champions League final, SL Benfica B were invited to train and play against Liverpool due to the tactical similarities they shared with Tottenham.
Tomorrow, a few of these players will be playing against them again! ?pic.twitter.com/NbZpHd5mct
— Benfica Youth (@SLBenficaYouth) April 4, 2022
The game, which took place on a Saturday evening to mirror the kick-off time for the final, saw Liverpool win 2-0 with Sadio Mane scoring one of the goals.
Benfica’s players impressed in their roles, with Brazilian forward Vinicius Jau – now playing for Avai – imitating Christian Eriksen, while Guinea-Bissau born striker Jose Gomes played the role of Spurs frontman Harry Kane.
‘It was a privilege’ – Marques
Marques added: “It was a privilege. We all understood that we were there on a mission, but we knew we had to enjoy it as well.
“It was a great experience. I knew a few people from Liverpool, like Pep and [physio] Lee Nobes, so we were able to mingle. And the Liverpool players were top-notch.
“They mixed with our boys and gave them some shirts and boots, things like that. They were brilliant.
“What we said to the boys was ‘enjoy it, but learn as well’, look at all these top players. How do they arrive at training? How do they tie their boots, put their shinpads on, warm up? All those little things, soak it up.”
Benfica’s players flew back to Portugal after the match and supported Liverpool as they became European champions for the sixth time.
Three years on, it’s a different story
Now, three years after the Portuguese side played a small part in the Reds’ success, the two clubs will face-off with a spot in the final four of the Champions League up for grabs.
Liverpool travel to Benfica’s Estadio da Luz on Tuesday night for the first-leg of the tie, before Nélson Veríssimo’s men travel to Anfield the following Wednesday.
While Klopp’s side are favourite to progress, Benfica are in fine form and upset the odds after knocking out Ajax in the Round of 16.
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