Mohamed Salah has no doubt who he wants Liverpool to face in the Champions League final.
Speaking after Liverpool clinched their place in the showpiece occasion at the Stade de France later this month, the Egyptian star did not have to think twice when asked whether he would rather face Manchester City or Real Madrid. City lead Madrid 4-3 ahead of Wednesday’s semifinal second leg in the Spanish capital.
« I want to play Madrid, » he told BT Sport after Liverpool sealed a 5-2 aggregate semifinal win over Villarreal in Spain on Tuesday. « I have to be honest. City is a really tough team, we play against them a few times this season. But if you ask me personally I would prefer Madrid. »
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While Liverpool are once again going head-to-head with Manchester City for the Premier League title, Salah has very personal history with Madrid on the biggest stage. Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1 in the 2018 Champions League final after Salah was forced off in the first half with a shoulder injury sustained after being dragged to the ground by then-Madrid captain Sergio Ramos.
« We lost in the final so I want to play against them, hopefully win it from them as well, » Salah added.
Liverpool, who remain on course for a unique quadruple this season, have now reached three Champions League finals in the past five seasons, having bounced back from that Madrid defeat in 2018 to win the trophy the following season.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, meanwhile, said reaching his fourth Champions League final as a coach felt almost like a new experience.
« It feels like the first in 20 [years], » Klopp, who led Borussia Dortmund to the final of the competition in 2013, told BT Sport. « It’s outstanding, because we obviously made it a little tricky for ourselves, but we knew these kind of things could happen. »
Liverpool, leading 2-0 from the first leg in England last week, were rocked by two first-half goals from the Spanish side before three second-half strikes secured their progress.
Klopp’s side were shocked by Villarreal’s aggressive man marking in the first half, which took them out of their own pressing game, and the coach conceded that he struggled to find highlights from the opening 45 minutes to show his players.
« We knew what was wrong because it was obvious, but we didn’t have a situation to show them where we got it right, » Klopp said.
« I said [to my staff]’find one where we do it well and we can show it,’ and we come in and they said, ‘no, we don’t have it.' »
The introduction of Colombian winger Luis Diaz at the break seemed to liven up Liverpool’s attack as Fabinho, Diaz and Sadio Mane scored the goals that got them into the final.
« Obviously Luis, what a player he is, but it’s not about who came on, it was about how we started to play, » Klopp said.
Unlike Salah, the 54-year-old coach said he had no preference for who his team would face in the final on May 28, saying « whoever it will be, it will be massive. »
For opposite number Unai Emery, it was the end of an epic Champions League campaign for Villarreal, who knocked out Juventus and Bayern Munich en route to the semifinals.
« Tonight we showed everybody we are a good team as well, we can have chances … but the difference in two matches, in the first leg and the second leg was their excellence, » the Spaniard told BT Sport.
Information from Reuters was used in this report.