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CL Final Preview

In what should be a thrilling rematch of the 2005 final, AC Milan will look to erase the memory of losing the final after being 3-0 up at the half. Liverpool staged what will forever be one of the most fantastic comebacks in football lore. I recall clearly watching that match with mixed emotions. As a long-time Man United supporter, it’s not natural to cheer on Liverpool but that squad did contain some players that I liked including Milan Baros and Vladimir Smicer. When Smicer scored I was won over for the day and they soon leveled the match en route to the historic penalty shootout and Jerzey Dudek’s heroics. You can relive that match through this excellent highlight package, found of course on YouTube

However, the Liverpool squad has changed significantly since that match and in thinking about the final, I don’t see that tactically there is much to go back and review. AC Milan’s lineup will be quite similar to the 2005 final but they will be very aware not to suffer any lapses of concentration. The 2005 final all went pear-shaped for them in a span of six minutes. Otherwise, I felt AC were the more dominant side through regular time and extra time.

I have to say I agree with new UEFA President Michel Platini’s ideas of revamping the Champions League. In this edition of the final, we are going to watch the third place team from the English Premier League take on the fourth place team from Italy’s Serie A. For my money, AC should not even be in the Champions League after their involvement in the match-fixing scandal that rocked Serie A last summer. Liverpool appeared to focus more on the CL after getting off to an indifferent start in the Premier League and have rested their first XI down the stretch in order to stay fresh for their CL fixtures.

All that said, this is the final we have and on paper it should produce a dramatic match. The big question for Liverpool, as usual, is what lineup they will go with. While it is next to impossible to guess what lineup Rafael Benitez will deploy, there is increasing speculation that Liverpool will line up in a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Steven Gerrard playing just behind striker Dirk Kuyt. Depending which 4 are in midfield, this could be a fruitful gambit. Gerrard produces his best performances when given a freer role in the middle of the park instead of being stuck out on the right as Benitez often prefers. I suspect that, at least to start the match, Liverpool will lineup with two strikers and push Gerrard out to the right. The most probable pairing is Crouch and Kuyt. Crouch has a good scoring record in the CL with 7 goals in 13 apperances.

The other question is whether Liverpool will man-mark Kaka. If it were me, I would. No opposition side has attempted to man-mark him during the CL campaign and he has thus far accounted for 10 goals and 2 assists in 12 appearances. He has easily been the most dangerous player for Milan this season with a further 8 goals and 6 assists in Serie A. Kaka flourishes when given freedom to roam in search of space and likes to run at defenders from varying angles. It is in the attacking third where he really comes alive and limiting his time on the ball is key. I think I would use Mascherano as cover for the back four with special emphasis on marking Kaka and denying him the space he needs to create. It must also be said that the resurgence of Clarence Seedorf was a large factor in Milan’s advancement through the last two rounds of the CL. Steve Finnan will be tested by the Dutchman and his ability to assist counter-attacks may be limited.

It’s not certain whether Gilardino or Inzaghi will be the lone forward for AC but in either circumstance, the Liverpool defenders will need to play a positionally sound game and not get caught flat-footed. Gilardino is the more likely of the two as Carlo Ancelotti has stated that Gilardino’s support work is superior. The most likely central pairing is Carragher and Agger with Finnan and Riise in the full-back slots.

Possible First Elevens:

AC MILAN (4-4-1-1)
44-Oddo, 13-Nesta, 3-Maldini, 18-Jankulosvski
8-Gattuso, 21-Pirlo, 23-Ambrosini, 10-Seedorf

3-Finnan, 5-Agger, 23-Carragher, 6-Riise
8-Gerrard, 20-Mascherano, 14-Alonso, 32-Zenden
15-Crouch, 18-Kuyt

Prediction: I don’t think this will be a six-goal thriller as in 2005. My instincts are saying a 2-1 win for AC Milan but in a one-off match, anything is possible ! Enjoy the match and be sure to check out the EPL Talk Chat room for live updates.

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