'I'm glad I'm not facing Zidane on the pitch'

Jürgen Klopp is grateful he has to defeat Zinedine Zidane from the dugout rather than on the pitch when Liverpool face Real Madrid in the Champions League final on Saturday night.

The Reds boss considers his opposite number one of the five greatest players of all time – and the Frenchman has carried that immense quality into his managerial pursuits.

Under Zidane, the Spanish giants won back-to-back European Cups in 2016 and 2017, the first side to do so since AC Milan almost three decades ago, and have reached a third successive final this season.

Liverpool will be standing in their way in Kiev, where Klopp’s respect and appreciation for his peer will be temporarily replaced by a competitive edge befitting the occasion.

“We’ve played plenty of really big games and we’ve won many of them. It’s obvious that it’s possible to win important trophies at this club,” he told UEFA.

“It’s not easy, but it’s possible. And it’s cool playing against Real Madrid. They’re the defending champions, and they’ve won back-to-back titles in this competition. They’ve done really well under Zinedine Zidane.

“He’s one of the top 10… top five players of all time. And now he’s the coach of Real Madrid, a hugely experienced team on the pitch. That’ll be a nice challenge.

“I’m glad we’re not playing against each other! Me against him, marking him or whatever… I’m very glad I can send my players onto the pitch.

“He’s an extraordinary character in the football world. I appreciate him. I admired him as a player and respect him as a colleague. It’s incredible what he’s been doing with [Real] Madrid. It’s really, really extraordinary.

“That’s why I’m obviously looking forward to it. But we’re not going there to grab some jerseys. I’m not going there to shake his hand, which of course will happen anyway. However, he’s a great footballing legend.”

Real have won eight of their 12 matches in the competition this term, eliminating the 2017-18 champions of France, Italy and Germany en route to their fourth final in five years.

It’s understandable, then, that when asked to pick out the key strength of the La Liga outfit, Klopp argues the breadth of talent is what makes Zidane’s men the world-class side they are.

“That’s pretty hard to say because the team is very strong in every aspect,” begins the German’s response to the question.

“I’d say, in general, every team can play football, but this mixture of qualities and a winning mentality is extraordinary. It’s extraordinary. They’re very cool.

“[Sergio] Ramos sort of organises the entire defence. Then, depending on how they play, Casemiro, [Toni] Kroos and [Luka] Modric as midfielders bring together everything you want to see in football, which is once again mentality, power, genius in one-on-one situations and passing.

“They have a well-composed team. Then there are the very young wingers like [Lucas] Vazquez and [Marco] Asensio. We don’t need to mention Cristiano Ronaldo.

“[Karim] Benzema, I know, when you’re playing next to Ronaldo and don’t always fulfil expectations, you’re criticised. But for years now, he’s been there, scoring goals with his foot or head in decisive matches, which isn’t that easy.

“Isco or [Gareth] Bale… well, they’re all good footballers. I haven’t mentioned the full-backs and [Raphael] Varane yet. They have in Marcelo the best offensive left-back in the world. There’s no doubt about that. He had a great predecessor in Roberto Carlos.

“It’s a long time ago, but I watched him play as well. However, Marcelo certainly isn’t really worse than him. On the right, they have [Dani] Carvajal or Vazquez, who has already played this position, or Nacho, who is more defensively oriented. [Keylor] Navas in goal…

“They’re a great team, but a good thing about football is that this isn’t that important.”

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