Rafa Benitez’s masterplan for Lionel Messi that helped Liverpool to famous win in 2007

“I respect Barcelona a lot, as they’re a great team with a great player like Lionel Messi. He’s very good but I’ve never been able to enjoy him and I don’t think I ever will. I hope he retires before long. I’m counting down the days.”

These were the words of Alvaro Arbeloa, who spoke to Spanish TV station El Chiringuito about facing the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.

The Spaniard came up against Messi playing for both Liverpool and Real Madrid – often being torn apart by Messi in various El Clasico’s – but once upon a time he got the best of the Argentinian while playing under Rafael Benitez.

Back in 2007, Benitez’s side managed to beat Barcelona on route to the Champions League final in an impressive 2-1 win at the Camp Nou.

Barca managed to beat Liverpool 1-0 in the second leg, but the away goal rule meant that the Premier League side progressed to the quarter final stage.

12 years later, former Liverpool midfielder Bolo Zenden, who featured in that game against Barcelona, has revealed how Benitez’s use of Arbeloa was key.

In an interview with Chronicle Live, he said:

“He (Benitez) was always someone who did his utter best to prepare his team the best he could and he didn’t really care about names. He just put the best possible team on the pitch to win a game. That is one of his strong points.

“Our right-back, Alvaro Arbeloa, always played at right-back but when we faced Barcelona, he put him at left-back. Why would you put your best right-back on the left-hand side?

“Well, it was because Lionel Messi was playing as a right-winger and he came inside with his left foot. I’m talking about some time ago because nowadays you can put Messi anywhere!

“It really helped us to eliminate the danger that came from Messi in those two games. That’s something that he would come up with, figure out or do. That would mean the regular left-back wouldn’t play so what are you doing then? Do you put out the best 11 or do you put out the best 11 that can win the game? That’s how he faced every opponent.”