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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Ian Doyle

EXCLUSIVE: Why Luis Diaz has started so well at Liverpool as huge Real Madrid prediction made

A South American international left winger signing for Liverpool, making an instant impact in the Champions League and helping the Reds all the way to the final in his first season.

Luis Diaz, though, isn't the first such player to travel such a route having arrived at Anfield.

Back in 2006, it was Mark Gonzalez blazing the trail, netting a late winner on his debut at home to Maccabi Haifa in the qualifying round and then among the substitutes for the final defeat against AC Milan in Athens.

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Diaz is expected to start when Liverpool aim for a seventh European Cup against Real Madrid in Paris on Saturday, having already netted in the quarter-final and semi-final wins against Benfica and Villarreal respectively.

And while hugely impressed by the Colombia international since his January arrival from FC Porto, Gonzalez - who played 56 times for Chile - believes the 25-year-old is only just getting started.

"I'm just so happy for him," he says. "It's very difficult for a winger coming into the Premier League, and he is such a talented player.

"He is still young and in the games he has players already, he has shown so much. And he still has so much more to give to the team. I'm happy he's a Liverpool player. Playing at Liverpool there is always pressure, because it is a very big team. But he has enough skills and quality, and in the short time he's been at the club already, he's shown enough.

"Mentally he is more than prepared. Normally a player doesn't show enough in his first games, and you have to wait a year or maybe two for them to be comfortable. But in this case, it's totally different. The players who come to Liverpool are all strong mentally, and that's a good start to have."

Diaz's feat in usurping both Diogo Jota and Sadio Mane from the left wing is particularly appreciated by Gonzalez, who discovered the unique pressure of needing to hit the ground running and the competition for places at Liverpool during his sole season at the club. There is, though, one key difference.

"I turned 22 when I came to Liverpool, I was a young player," he says. "I would have loved to have come to Liverpool at the age of 25 or 26. When I first came to Liverpool, I noticed the step up. But I lived in myself. You feel that pressure, mentally.

"It's difficult. When I was there, there were eight players in the same position and you started thinking 'am I going to play or not? We've got eight players in my position. What should I do? Should I stay and not play, or should I go somewhere else?'

"With pain in my heart, I decided I had to leave Liverpool, but if you need to play sometimes you need another option. Personally, I lived that experience, but Luis Diaz is totally prepared for Liverpool."

Gonzalez was back in a Liverpool shirt last weekend when scoring twice for the Legends team in their 3-1 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford. The 37-year-old has been keeping a close eye on the Reds' progress under Jurgen Klopp and, as a former Albacete, Real Sociedad and Real Betis player, acknowledges how people in Spain will be split over who to support at the weekend.

"I have been watching all the games and I am so happy for them," he says. "Every year, Liverpool are totally different in a good way. They have always been a very big team in the world, but now things are different - every season they seem to keep on improving. They show that every season. This season it's the FA Cup and League Cup and hopefully the Champions League.

"In Spain, there are many people who hate Real Madrid, and it's normal that they will be supporting Liverpool. But sometimes you have other people who will see the final as England against Spain and they'll want Real to win. But around the world I know there are many, many, many Liverpool fans, and that's what makes the Champions League final such a big game."

And Gonzalez is convinced Diaz will have a major bearing on the outcome in the Stade de France on Saturday evening.

"I think he's going to score!" he predicts. "He has been showing lately that he's the kind of player that always has opportunities during a game. I have faith that he can score in the final."

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