AC Milan despite winning 2-1, did not look their best last night. Content to sit back and play long balls in the hopes of springing Inzaghi, Milan conceded possession to Liverpool far more than they should have. Overall, the game was a scrappy affair with only flashes of quality from either side.
Liverpool’s decision to go 4-4-1-1 made sense in some regards as it bolstered the numbers in midfield and gave them width (at least on the right). What was lacking was a target in the middle for Pennant’s crosses. Gerrard is unaccustomed to that role and snatched wildly at the couple of chances that fell his way. Selecting Zenden as the wide-left player seemed a mistake from the get-go and that soon proved itself true as he struggled against Oddo whether because of an injury or conditioning reasons. For all the acclaim Benitez gets for his “tactical nous”, this one example of him getting things wrong.
Dida – 6
Not tested much but made a couple of key saves when called upon. Was fortunate that no one was on-hand to cash in the spilled rebound of Pennant’s low drive in the first half.
Oddo – 7
Very capable job defensively against both Zenden and Kewell. Made a number of strong supporting runs on the counter-attack.
Nesta – 8
Maldini – 8
Another strong performance from this experienced centre-back pairing. While they were not flawless, their calm presence and excellent positional play kept the Liverpool attack on the fringes until very late.
Jankulovski – 5
One of the poorer showings I’ve seen from him. AC were fortunate to escape the first half without conceding. Pennant had the measure of him and there appeared to be a tactical shift in the second half to push Seedorf back into a more covering role in front of the Czech right-back.
Prilo – 6
With a packed midfield he had little time or space to create but did take the free-kick that led to Inzaghi’s first goal.
Gattuso – 5
For all the hype about him before the match and in general, I don’t find much good to say about his on-field performances. He did a good job hurrying the Liverpool midfield but his passing was errant and he appeared frustrated when he fouled Alonso in the first half.
Ambrosini: 6 – Did he play? OK, it wasn’t that bad but in 4-5 pages of notes I made during the match, his name barely registers. Made little impact on the game despite a good work-rate.
Seedorf – 6.5 – Not as influential on the attacking side of the ball but assisted in breaking up Liverpool’s attacking play down the flank well. Assisted Jankulovski in closing down the right flank runs of Pennant in the second half.
Kaka- 7 Liverpool did well keeping him under wraps for the most part but he was still a key contributor to both goals. Alonso fouled him on the edge of the box to create the free-kick for the first goal and his lovely weighted through-ball set up Inzaghi for the eventual winner.
Typical goal-poacher performance in that he appeared to do “nothing at all”, but still scored two goals. What goes uncredited is his work-rate and willingness to keep making runs at the Liverpool defence no matter how often he is flagged for offside or his teammates passes go astray. His runs off the ball are as important as any other component of the attacking buildup as they shift the defence and open up angles for other players. Playing without a direct supporting striker can be difficult but Inzaghi made the most of the service that did fall his way.
None of Kaladze, Gilardino or Favalli were on on long enough to merit a rating. These substitutions were essentially time-wasting/flow interruption tactics on Milan’s part.
Reina – 6
No real chance on either goal and was tested little beyond that.
Finnan – 6
Solid if unspectacular performance. Made some decent supporting runs on the right-flank but his crosses were ineffective.
Riise – 6
Gave up nothing in his own end and got involved in the attacking third of the field but his left-footed longshots were wild and wasteful.
Agger – 6
Carragher – 6
Not the strongest outing for this pair that were lightly tested. Played a high but flat line against Milan and could have been burned much worse than they were. They did well to shut down Kaka but did not have an answer for Inzaghi’s well-timed runs.
Mascherano – 7.5
Swept up well in front of his defenders and helped keep Pirlo’s influence in the game to a minimum. Sacrificed deep into the second half as Liverpool looked for a breakthrough.
Alonso – 6
A quiet game for Alonso. His passing was slightly erratic but he did fire in a low shot that curled just wide in the first half. Gave away the free-kick that led to the first Milan goal. Probably should have gone off instead of Mascherano.
Pennant – 6.5
His first half performance was up around 8 but he was essentially squeezed out of the game in the second half. He didn’t always come up with the killer final ball but did create a large majority of the quality Liverpool chances.
Zenden – 5
The left-side was the weak spot in the Liverpool attack and Zenden made no positive impact on the match before being replaced. Appeared either lacking in condition or to be bothered by an injury.
Gerrard – 7
Great effort but was wasteful in front of goal. The withdrawn striker role suited him for the most part and with time he could become quite lethal in the role.
Kuyt – 7
Asked to go it alone upfront on his own, he struggled to get involved. Scored a late goal from a flicked-on corner kick.
Kewell – 5
Made no positive impact.
Peter Crouch – 7
The Milan central-defence pair seemed threatened during his few minutes on the pitch. Too bad his appearance did not occur earlier. Liverpool could have used him to get on the end of the crosses Pennant was zipping into the box in the first half.
Alvaro Arbeloa was not on long enough to merit being rated.
Some quick thoughts:
There’s a great post that relates to the Inzaghi “armball” goal over at 101greatgoals.com
Can we please stop referring to Gattuso with the adjective “snarling”? It’s dull and he’s really not that imposing. As a player, he rates high on work-rate but I chalk up a lot of his “success” to his midfield partner for club and country, Andrea Pirlo. Gattuso tackles a lot like Paul Scholes, bravely but clumsily, and his technical skills, by all reports vastly improved since his days at Glasgow Rangers, are average. The calming influence of Pirlo cannot be overestimated on his progress.
Take some time to read John Nicholson’s article on EPLTalk.com that outline his thoughts on changes that should happen with the UEFA Champions League. I agree with his statement that the competition is based on a false premise. While it’s great to see top clubs like Liverpool play AC Milan, only Liverpool could make a claim for a spot having won the FA Cup last season. The smaller European clubs are not getting a fair shot at the massive TV revenue that the competition generates. Some will argue that the TV deals are high because of who is involved. If it continues to be weighted so heavily in favor of the richer leagues, the G14 dream of a super league will have been realized. As much as it is maligned, I actually enjoy the UEFA Cup competition as you get a wider variety of teams involved.