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Liverpool will be under no illusions as to the magnitude of the task facing them in their Champions League quarter-final against Manchester City – but one former Red is backing them to find a way into the next round – and beyond.
Fernando Morientes, a three-time winner of the competition with Real Madrid, says Jürgen Klopp’s side – still the only team to beat City in the league this season – can go the distance, having been impressed by their European campaign so far.
Liverpool have reached the last eight without tasting defeat, and, two madcap games against Sevilla aside, have been largely untroubled. The Reds racked up 23 goals in Group E and made short work of Porto in the round of 16, their attacking legion effectively killing the tie within half an hour at the Dragão.
City represent a far tougher challenge, but Morientes is positive about his former side’s chances ahead of Wednesday’s first leg at Anfield. “I think Liverpool are one of the favourites to get to the semi-finals, or even reach the final,” he tells Yahoo Sport.
“Jürgen Klopp is building something step by step, and I think it’s bearing fruit. In the Premier League, they’re very close to securing qualification [for next season’s Champions League], which I think is their objective, and in the Champions League they have been perfect.
“They’re in a great moment and [in the first leg] against Porto, they showed they have players in really good form. There’s Firmino and Salah, who is scoring so many goals. They’re having a fantastic season and there’s no reason they can’t get to the final.”
Morientes knows a thing or two about Champions League finals, of course. The 41-year-old appeared in four of them (three for Madrid, one for Monaco) and would have had a fourth winner’s medal in his collection were it not for one brief substitute appearance at the start of the 2004/05 season.
The striker started that campaign at Real before moving to Liverpool, and was forced to watch the Reds’ historic Champions League run from the stands because he was cup-tied. The experience clearly still grates today, although Morientes insists he was still able to enjoy the celebrations at the time.
“It was a big blow,” continues Morientes, speaking to Yahoo Sport on the UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour presented by Heineken®. “I think [someone] should have looked at the case, because I had only played 20, 25 minutes for Real Madrid, and that meant I couldn’t play for Liverpool in that famous final in Istanbul. Every player wants to play in big games; you want to be able to help in the biggest competitions.
“[But] I celebrated it in the same way, like any other player… in the changing room, on the bus, with all the people. It was a very special moment – very similar to 1998 with Real Madrid, when it had been so long since the last [European Cup] win.
“Liverpool fans live football in a very passionate way, so it was an unforgettable moment for everyone there. It’s one of the stories I will tell my children and grandchildren about: not everyone has the fortune to wear that shirt and I have very beautiful memories of that.”
Overall, though, Morientes’ time on Merseyside was decidedly mixed. Signed by Rafa Benítez for €9.3million, the Spaniard struggled to adapt to the pace of the English football, contributing just eight league goals in 18 months before joining Valencia in May 2006.
He left with an FA Cup success on his CV, and “very beautiful memories” of wearing the red jersey, but he now admits that he was always facing an uphill battle to live up to his name at Anfield.
“I have good and bad memories,” he adds, a hint of wistfulness in his voice. “I think going to Liverpool was the right choice; it’s one of the most historic clubs in world football and I wanted to experience that. My only problem was that I did not properly analyse the situation first, and see that the team was not set up for a pure centre forward like me.
“I was a finisher, who liked to be in the area, so I needed players to get the ball into me. My best numbers always came when I was playing with wingers. At Liverpool there weren’t really any proper wide players, [so] it was very difficult for me.
“That meant that I didn’t find my place during my two years there, and wanted to leave. It’s a shame it didn’t work out better then it did. We won the FA Cup and the Champions League, but on a personal level I left with a bad taste in my mouth, thinking I could have done much more.”
Over the past 11 years, the UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour presented by Heineken® has visited 26 countries across the Americas, Africa and Asia, letting hundreds of thousands of fans who can normally only watch the competition on television, get close to the trophy and share the drama with some of the most iconic players of the game.