The former FC Goa midfielder also revealed his Champions League team of the tournament.
The 2021/22 Champions League final is all set to take place in Paris on Saturday, May 29. Real Madrid faces Liverpool for the honour of becoming the best team in Europe. It’ll be a repeat of the 2017/18 final in which Los Blancos reigned supreme and a lot is at the stake in this one.
Former Barcelona and Levante midfielder Jofre Mateu talked with the media to discuss the upcoming big game.
Thoughts on the game
Giving his thoughts on how he feels the game will go, Jofre Mateu said: “It’ll be very open. There are no clear favourites for me. We can discuss the season, but Liverpool showed in the last 3-4 months that they are the fittest club in Europe. But losing the Premier League in the last game and some injury issues can cause problems. Real Madrid aren’t extraordinary in football but has always reacted well in the Champions League circumstances.
“The key thing, for me, is about which team will react better to the things that happened during the games. Real Madrid has shown they can react to problems, but I’m not sure about Liverpool. We have to see the plans of Klopp and Liverpool, as they have to look out for the Real Madrid reaction. Because if Liverpool has to react, I feel like Real Madrid will be the champions,” he added.
Thiago’s potential absence & Real Madrid’s rested squad being an advantage
With Thiago Alcantara likely to miss the final because of injury, Jofre feels he’ll be a major absence for the Reds. Jofre Mateu explained: “It’ll be a huge absence for them. Liverpool have a very strong squad and have other players who can perform really well, but Thiago is a very important player because of the tempo. We’ve seen Liverpool with the high pressing and speed, and Thiago is the one to calm things down when they recover the ball. I don’t see anyone doing the same. They don’t have someone who won’t run all the time, who thinks lets stop the ball and let’s make the opposition runs. Real Madrid likes to suffer a lot when they don’t have the ball and without Thiago, there will be problems. But I’m pretty sure (Jurgen) Klopp will have a plan.”
When asked about whether Real Madrid can be at an advantage after having been able to give rest to many key players in recent weeks before heading into the game, Jofre said: “It’s always better when you reach the most important games with the good feelings and high fitness levels. But in the final, there are many aspects which you can’t ever control beforehand. If you remember the last final (2017/18), everyone expected Liverpool to win and Mo Salah was injured and everything changes. In these matches, there are many situations you can’t control and the team which is more prepared to focus on whatever happens.
“Real Madrid have shown they are better in this part, but let’s see if Liverpool can react in that way. With the talent of the pitch, it won’t be decided on one or two aspects. I feel like Real Madrid are very well prepared and Liverpool are more about following the plan. Let’s see if the plan is more close to Klopp’s idea or if Real Madrid can put some different aspects where they can be more comfortable,” he added.
Can this be more open than the 2017/18 final?
Speaking if he believes this final will be more closely fought than the 2017/18 one, Jofre Mateu added: “Yes I think the last one was very close too even with Salah’s problem. But now Real Madrid has (Karim) Benzema who is in a different situation than he was in the final. He is currently in the best moment of his career. Vinicius has grown a lot. Liverpool will have some absences, let’s see about (Virgil) Van Dijk, Salah will be there. There will be more diversity with Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz, which means Liverpool can manage different situations or different ways to attack because of their bench. It’ll be a very close game. I don’t see a difference between Liverpool’s current form, which is the best, but Real Madrid’s feeling in the UCL – about how afraid Liverpool are of their reaction – so let’s see about that.”
X-factors for both teams and Klopp’s strategy
Jofre Mateu also revealed which players he believes can be the X-factor for their teams. He explained: “If Thiago isn’t there, because he was an X-factor, the men who are in his position for me will be important. For Me, Salah can play a big part because of the revenge aspect. The goalkeepers will both be key, Van Dijk will be important and Karim Benzema too. Rodrygo will probably start from the bench, I can see (Federico) Valverde in the first XI. Real Madrid always have a good squad, but Benzema is the man. If he’s connected, it’s one time, if he’s not, it’ll be a different team. For Real Madrid, it’s mostly dependent on Benzema, but for Liverpool, Alisson, Van Dijk and the forwards – especially Salah – will be important.”
When asked about whether Jurgen Klopp should make changes to his strategy to counter the threat of Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr, the Spaniard said: “If you ask me, my answer will be no. If you reach the final playing one style and then you try to change in that game, I feel the team will be disconnected from the essence. It depends on the team you are facing in every match, there are very small changes because Liverpool are playing with high pressing, with a lot of speed for 90 minutes and are very tough for the adversary because of their rhythm.
“They have players who can get into the game who can change things. They have players in both wings with Robertson and Trent, who can make an impact. I don’t think Klopp will change a lot, because it’s not his essence. When you reach in one way, it’s better not to change. It’s key to control the transitions with Vinicius and Benzema, especially when Trent isn’t in that position, but if they press as Liverpool press, Real Madrid will suffer for sure,” he added.
Team of the Tournament and Liverpool’s possible weaknesses
Jofre also revealed his own Team for the 2021/22 Champions League edition. He said: “We’ll probably need a lot of time. (Thibaut) Courtois, Trent (Alexander-Arnold), (Raul) Albiol, (Virgil) Van Dijk, (Andrew) Robertson, Casemiro, (Naby) Keita, (Mason) Mount, (Karim) Benzema, (Mohamed) Salah and (Sadio) Mane. I feel like I’m missing a lot, but this is my first-minute impression for me.”
Finally, speaking about any weaknesses of Liverpool that Real Madrid can exploit, Jofre said: “If it’s something they aren’t doing that well and if I’m Ancelotti to look for it, it’s the situations down the wings because of Robertson and Trent being so high. It’ll probably be Vinicius and Rodrygo in the transitions. Another potential weakness is that they never stop, if they want to make the match very long, they can suffer because of the loss of stamina. Their rhythm is very high in the team, so if the match is open in the 70-80 minutes, Liverpool aren’t the best to face that because they can get very tired,” he finished with.