Rafa Benítez Reveals How He Masterminded Liverpool's Istanbul Miracle

Steven Gerrard, Rafael Benitez
AC Milan v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Final | Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

Former Liverpool manager Rafa Benítez has revealed how a split-second decision to change formation helped mastermind the Reds' iconic comeback in the Champions League final in 2005.

Benítez's side fell 3-0 down to a dominant AC Milan side during the first half of the game in Istanbul, but goals from Steven Gerrard, Vladimír Šmicer and Xabi Alonso had Liverpool level just 15 minutes after the break, and the Reds went on to win the game on penalties.

Speaking to the Liverpool Echo, the Spaniard confessed that his side were tactically outplayed in the first 45 minutes, so he spent his half-time team talk reassuring his players that they could still get a result.

"Everybody was excited," Benítez said. "It was an opportunity. A final. So we wanted to win and tell them how hard we had worked to be there. That was the message.

"Tactically, we wanted to start with more offensive players on the pitch to have the opportunity to create more chances. Steven Gerrard was in the middle with Luis García, [Harry] Kewell, John Arne Riise and Milan Baroš. We wanted to score goals.

"It was not your dream start. Again, you have to stick with your plan, later on we needed to find solutions, to try and react. But at this time it was just a question of carrying on with confidence in the hard work that you had done to prepare for the game. I had to analyse the game and give my players the support they needed."

Gennaro Gattuso, John Arne Riise
UEFA Champions League Final - AC Milan v Liverpool | Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Having started with more of a 4-4-1-1 formation, Liverpool changed to a three-at-the-back setup at the break, but Benítez had to alter his plans after advice from a physio.

"As every Liverpool fan will know, I replaced [Djimi] Traoré to play with three at the back and Hamann in the middle," Benítez said. "But at the end of the team talk, Dave Galley, our head physio, told me that Steve Finnan would not be able to cope with the 45 minutes of the second half.

"With the substitution of Vladimír Šmicer for Harry Kewell already done, we couldn’t afford to play all the second half without the possibility of changing something if it was needed. And at that moment, a change was needed!

"So, quickly I changed him for Traoré, with the same system, but different players to have another possible substitution and it worked out well in the end."

Liverpool's England's captain and midfie
Liverpool's England's captain and midfie | TARIK TINAZAY/Getty Images

The formation change helped Liverpool overwhelm Milan after the break, and Benítez admitted that the biggest catalyst for that momentum shift was Gerrard, who dragged the Reds to glory with an outstanding showing.

"Stevie showed in this game what he was capable of as he did in the following years of his career," the boss said. "He could play well in any position but behind the striker he was lethal.

"His timing, his power, his vision for the assists and accuracy for finishing was fantastic. Also, as a right winger and as a right full-back, if it was necessary. He made all the difference."

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