Graeme Souness believes the three European Cup-winning sides he played in at Liverpool would have beaten Jurgen Klopp’s current Reds side – but he admits it’d be a lot easier with a 1980s referee in charge.
Liverpool were a dominant force in European football in the late 1970s and early 80s, as they won Europe’s premier competition on four occasions, with Souness playing a central role in three of those successes.
Ahead of Liverpool’s effort to win Europe’s biggest prize for a sixth occasion in Saturday’s Champions League final against Tottenham in Madrid, we sat down with Virgin Media Sport analyst Souness in Dublin and asked whether his side would have what it takes to beat Klopp’s modern-day heroes.
“I would have fancied us to beat this team, but it depends on what rules you play by,” says Souness.
“Man City turn up today for a game against Cardiff and from the first minute, it’s a football match. With tackling a dying art form and referees ordered to clamp down on it, Cardiff taking on City in a passing game and trying to get the better of them, no chance, it’s never going to work.
“In our day whenever you went anywhere, we knew after 25, 30, 45 minutes that we’d have to fight this lot and the referee allowed that, but the referee that doesn’t allow that anymore.
“We’d have a scrap in the First Division on a Saturday, and on a Wednesday we’d go to Bayern Munich and play football so we had the ability to do both, but teams don’t need that combative side now.
“I think we would have had good enough players to adapt to the way the game is played now and then I’d think we would beat this Liverpool team, even though I rate them very highly.”
Souness was a European Cup winner with Liverpool in 1978, 1981 and 1984 and when he reflects on the three finals against Club Brugge, Real Madrid and Roma, he admits all three were matches lacking in excitement.
“The three games I played in, none of them were good games,” he says.
“The first one was against Brugge in 1978 at Wembley they didn’t want to take us on. In the end, Kenny Dalglish nicked a goal for us and we won it and that first success in the European Cup is a wonderful feeling.
“The second one against Real Madrid was also a poor game. People have short memories and when they see Spanish football now, they think of quick passing and exciting play, but it was the opposite of that in my days as a player.
“Spanish football used to be ridiculously cynical and that Real Madrid team came after us and wanted to kick us off the park, but we managed to find a way to win, and beating that particular team is always special given their name and stature in the European game.
“The third one was a tactical affair against Roma, but beating them in Rome was a great effort. So three pretty average games, but we got the wins in all of them and that’s all that matters on nights of that magnitude.”
Souness is expecting Liverpool to beat another of his former teams in this season’s Champions League final, but he admits Tottenham have reason to believe it could be their night at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.
“I think Liverpool will win on Saturday simply because they have the better players, but I’m not 100 per cent sure that it’s going to be a convincing win,” he says.
“Spurs have dragged themselves to the final and if I was Liverpool now I would be fearing that their name is on the trophy given that they lost 19 games in all competitions this season.
“I have been at Anfield for their games in the last two years and it was Hugo Lloris’ mistake this year that got Liverpool the three points. Last season, Spurs were arguably the better side in the 2-2 draw.
“Nobody approaches a cup final with any complacency and we always treated them as thinking that the worst thing could happen.
“It’s about not letting the game pass you by and making sure that you do start right. Complacency can never come into play, even if you are the favourites, as Liverpool are now.
“It’s about doing the basics right. This game is not about tactics, it’s about the team that turns up on the day.
“However, I’m trying to attach logic to football here and when you do that you run into trouble. Liverpool will win this game eight times out of ten, but, of course, Tottenham have a chance.”
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By Kevin Palmer