Gerrard faces Gattuso in Athens
It's more than another Liverpool-AC Milan Champions League final showdown.
This is also Steven Gerrard vs Gennaro Gattuso. Two years after Liverpool rallied from a 3-0 deficit and beat Milan on penalties in one of the biggest comebacks in the 51-year history of the European Champions Cup, the two clubs face each other again for the same prize.
That means two of the most committed midfielders in the game will come face-to-face again in Athens and it's likely that Gerrard and Gattuso, who still feels the pain of Istanbul 2005, will be clattering each other shins.
"It is a difficult memory to delete and I hope it gives us the strength and energy to give us that little bit extra to beat them," said Gattuso, a stocky, uncompromising, tough-tackling World Cup 2006 winner. "We have had that game in our minds for the last two years and we keep thinking back to it."
It was Gerrard who led the Liverpool rally from a 3-0 deficit at halftime when Milan appeared to be in control and capable of scoring again.
His header was the first of three goals in six minutes as Liverpool wiped out Milan's lead and forced extra time. Liverpool went on to win the trophy 3-2 on penalties to capture its fifth European cup — one less than Milan's six. Now Gerrard hopes to make it six apiece.
"It's a magnificent achievement to get to two finals in three years," Gerrard said. "But we as players don't want to come back from Athens upset and with regrets that we haven't brought this cup home. We want to make the history. We want to be heroes and come home winners."
Milan's experienced lineup with several players well into their 30s is out to make up for finishing behind Inter Milan in the Serie A title race. It is 33 points behind newly crowned champion Inter with a game to go although Milan was penalized eight points for its part in Italian soccer's match fixing scandal last year. Carlo Ancelotti's team brushed aside English champion Manchester United in the semifinals, winning 3-0 in the second leg with Brazilian Kaka in standout form.
Liverpool finished third in the Premier League, 21 points behind United. It left its best form for the Champions League with Gerrard playing a prominent role throughout.
Gattuso will be out to make sure Gerrard doesn't play a big part in Wednesday's final.
"I think Gerrard is a great player," the midfielder said at a news conference arranged during the build-up to the final. "That is my only answer."
That suggests Gattuso will give more of a response when they face off at the Olympic stadium in Athens on Wednesday. Gerrard made several references to Gattuso in his autobiography and describes the abrasive Milan midfielder as "a kitten." The England star accused Gattuso of playing to the fans with an emotional, theatrical style and having a smirk on his face as he left the field at halftime. He was also upset that the Milan players waved to their fans at halftime as they left the field leading 3-0. But Gerrard says he won't be concentrating solely on Gattuso on Wednesday.
"I'm not preparing to play against Gattuso. I'm preparing to play against AC Milan," he said. "He's a fantastic player with lots of experience. He has won the World Cup and I think for many years he has proved he is a top player at the top level. "But I'm not going into this game worrying about Gattuso. I'm worried about AC Milan and how Steven Gerrard's going to play. "If I can get myself right, we'll see if Gattuso can stop me."