Update: Read the Liverpool view on the CL final
The match drove home some key truths for Rafa Benitez, Liverpool and most importantly, their new owners.
One, in Rafael Benitez they have the master tactician, a man born to win cup competitions.
Two, while Liverpool got their tactics spot on, they lacked the sheer quality to beat Milan, and it told in Athens tonight.
Liverpool were better this year than they were 2 years ago, and you can put that down to the experience and quality the squad has developed in the last couple of years. Liverpool were also tactically astute, pushing down the right flank to use Pennant’s pace while packing the midfield with Mascherano, Alonso and Gerrard to ensure that Kaka had no space in the first half (and he barely did, except for one shot and the move that won the free kick).
Gerrard couldn’t put his chance away. Kuyt and Pennant, while good, could have done much better. A Champions League medal hinges on such fine differences, and where Inzaghi kept his nerve, Gerrard didn’t and that’s what it eventually came down to.
What if the game had gone into extra time? Liverpool’s chances of winning would have increased dramatically.
Overall, the other half of the ‘shit on a stick’ duo did its fans proud. They were smart, they gave it their best and in Europe, are the better team than Chelsea or United. And they have only Rafa Benitez to thank for it.
Congratulations to Milan for their win, and to Liverpool for their efforts this season.
As Hicks and Gillett will have seen, this squad still needs a lot of rebuilding.
Liverpool 0-Milan 1 (Inzaghi)
Liverpool 0-2 Milan (Inzaghi)
Liverpool 1-2 Milan (Kuyt)
Milan 1-Dida; 44-Massimo Oddo, 13-Alessandro Nesta, 3-Paolo Maldini, 18-Marek Jankulovski; 8-Gennaro Gattuso, 21-Andrea Pirlo, 23-Massimo Ambrosini, 10-Clarence Seedorf, 22-Kaka; 9-Filippo Inzaghi
Liverpool 25-Pepe Reina; 3-Steve Finnan, 5-Daniel Agger, 23-Jamie Carragher, 6-John-Arne Riise; 16-Jermaine Pennant, 20-Javier Mascherano, 14-Xabi Alonso, 8-Steven Gerrard 32-Boudewijn Zenden; 18-Dirk Kuyt
Referee Herbert Fandel (Germany)
With due respect to Arsenal of last year, Porto and Monaco of 2004 and Liverpool of 2005, this is the first ‘real’ and ‘balanced’ Champions League final we have seen since the Milan – Jueventus final at Old Trafford in the 2002-2003 season.
And as balanced games go, this one is going to be hard, grinding and with few goals.
Rafa Benitez, after a difficult start to the season, has recovered and led Liverpool to a second Champions League final in 3 years. For this alone the accusations of lucky Liverpool should fade away.
Liverpool may lack the consistency to do better than 3rd in the league but like Milan, once they were out of the title race around Christmas they battened down the hatches and focused on the Champions League while Chelsea and Manchester United were hampered by lean squads and the pressures of chasing the league, the FA Cup and the Champions League.
In other words, Liverpool have made their European adventures count, and for that alone they’ve done far better than Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester United (Chelsea have 3 semi-finals in 4 years but haven’t made them count).
AC Milan preview
A lot of talk about the final will surround the 2005 matchup, but this is very different. Milan are older and wiser, and with 3 weeks to prepare themeselves they will not allow their concentration levels to drop like that again. Liverpool are also a better side, so Milan wouldn’t be able to dominate them as easily as they did in the first half in Istanbul.
Without Shevchenko, Milan will most probably play the same team that played against Manchester United with Maldini coming in as long as he’s fit.
Milan will find the 2007 final to be much tougher than the 2005 final – Liverpool will be on their case and after seeing the effects of sitting back for United, they’ll be sure to mix things up with Milan.
Can Milan avenge the 2005 loss? Yes.
Can Liverpool make it six times? Yes.
Will either team win their domestic league next season? Probably not.
It feels like a Milan win but it also felt like a United win on the 2nd so I’m not going with feelings the moment. The head says 1-1 at fulltime, winner in extra time.
Kaka or Crouch. Your guess is as good as mine.