New classic possible between Liverpool and Milan
If next Wednesday's Champions League final between Liverpool and AC Milan is even half as dramatic as the one they produced in Istanbul in 2005 then another classic is on the cards.sports Updated: May 18, 2007 11:02 IST
If next Wednesday's Champions League final between Liverpool and AC Milan is even half as dramatic as the one they produced in Istanbul in 2005 then another classic is on the cards.
Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti may be playing down the memory of that shattering defeat on penalties after Milan had led Liverpool 3-0 at halftime, but there is no doubt that it is foremost in his players' minds and avenging that loss would make victory taste even sweeter than usual for Milan.
Liverpool, though, save their best performances for European nights and under coach Rafael Benitez they have confounded the critics by knocking out last season's champions Barcelona and big-spending English rivals Chelsea en route to the final.
Both clubs can boast fantastic European histories and while the outcome is likely to be close, the match is also less likely to be as open as the 2005 game.
Milan are expected to carry the game to Liverpool with the likes of Clarence Seedorf and Gennaro Gattuso involved in an intriguing battle for midfield mastery against Liverpool's Steven Gerrard and any number of players that Benitez opts to play there.
Seedorf and Gattuso will be attempting to give the outstanding Kaka as much service as possible so that the Brazilian can prise open the Liverpool defence, much as he did against Manchester United in the semi-finals.
Liverpool will probably be looking to Peter Crouch and Dirk Kuyt to get the better of Milan's experienced back line which should include Paolo Maldini, who at 38, will be playing in his eighth European final.
Maldini has been having special treatment on an injured knee, but is likely to start the game — although whether he begins this game as he started the 2005 final with a first minute goal is extremely unlikely.
Liverpool will also be inspired by comments made by Ancelotti on Thursday when he said he would rather have played Manchester United in the final than Liverpool.
"Technically Liverpool were the worst of the three English teams in the semi-finals," he said.
"Of the three I would have preferred to play Manchester United. They play and let you play."
On the other hand he also paid respect to Liverpool's never-say-die attitude and the technical brilliance of Benitez, saying: "He is a great coach and organises them well defensively.
"But Liverpool don't have English DNA anymore. With their Spanish coach they are more like a Mediterranean team now."
Benitez, in his usual taciturn way, said that Milan posed more of a threat than two years ago as their players were even better in midfield and defence.
"We experienced how good Milan were in the first half in Istanbul, but we are also progressing and we have more experience than we did two years ago."
Liverpool also play with typical English physicality and in Gerrard have one of the most robust and dynamic players in European football.
He inspired Liverpool's fightback against Milan two years ago and is still the driving force behind his team.
If Milan allow Gerrard any time and space in midfield, Liverpool can dominate that crucial area, but Milan know all about Gerrard and will be determined not to allow him the influence he had in 2005.
The unknown factor is what formation Benitez will go for and he has probably been finalising his thoughts during Liverpool's four-day training break at La Manga in Spain.
He could employ Argentine Javier Mascherano or Welshman Craig Bellamy to do contrasting jobs in midfield. Spaniard Xabi Alonso is another possibility, as is Australian Harry Kewell.
Two years ago Kewell missed a large chunk of the season through injury, regained fitness just before the final and won a place in the starting line-up. It was a gamble that failed as he limped off after only 23 minutes.
He has now recovered and appeared as a substitute in the last two league matches of the season, but whether Benitez takes another gamble on him — or even decides to retain his favoured European option of Dutchman Boudewijn Zenden as an attacking midfield outlet — remains to be seen.
Liverpool: 25-Pepe Reina; 3-Steve Finnan, 5-Daniel Agger, 23-Jamie Carragher, 6-John-Arne Riise; 8-Steven Gerrard, 20-Javier Mascherano, 14-Xabi Alonso, 32-Boudewijn Zenden; 15-Peter Crouch, 18-Dirk Kuyt
AC Milan: 1-Dida; 44-Massimo Oddo, 13-Alessandro Nesta, 3-Paolo Maldini, 18-Marek Jankulosvski; 8-Gennaro Gattuso, 21-Andrea Pirlo, 23-Massimo Ambrosini, 10-Clarence Seedorf; 22-Kaka, 11-Alberto Gilardino.
First Published: May 18, 2007 10:59 IST