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Old 05-23-2007, 12:17 PM   #1
#99
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Default Liverpool v AC Milan - Champions League Final

I know I haven't been active on the board in a while, but I'm really jacked up for the European final, today. Some thoughts that I can't help but post:

As in 2005, Liverpool assume the role of underdog -- something they're quite suited to in European competition. Given the way Milan clinically dismantled Manchester United in the semis, coupled with 'pool's less than inspiring finish to the league (granted, there was nothing left to play for and they were fielding B and C squads), I suppose you cannot fault the oddsmakers. However, the intagibles and mental edge seem to be in the favor of the Merseysiders. Already, Gennaro Gattuso has supplied us with all the locker room ammunition we need. He seems to be quite good at that.

This game will be won in the midfield. Everyone knows it and everyone knows that Milan's midfield is unrivaled for quality. So the question is, how should Liverpool line up against Kaka, Pirlo, Gattuso, and Seedorf? There are two options. A) your Liverpool starting XI should consist of five in the midfield with Steven Gerrard drifting into support of a lone striker. That would mean, however, that Mascherano and Sissoko will be anchoring the center of the pitch together. As we've found out recently, it's a pairing that simply does not work. Their roles are too similar and Mascherano is more of a threat offensively. Which brings us to B) Masch and Xabi Alonso in the center with Gerrard drifting up the right and ideally Pennant on the left. I say "ideally" because I have a sneaking suspicion that Rafa will opt for Zenden instead of Pennant -- a move that could be a costly mistake. Milan thrives through the heart of midfield, so having a quick option like Pennant who is programmed to swing crosses into the box routinely would be a huge weapon. Not to mention Gerrard having room on the right to operate.

Key individual matchup: Kaka vs Mascherano. The Milan forwards, be they Gilardino or Inzaghi, have on occassion turned into ghosts during this European campaign. Part of that is due to poor effort, but more so, they're relying on perhaps the best player in the world today a little too heavily. And Kaka has delivered so far, with an overwhelming majority of AC Milan's goals in Europe. In Javier Mascherano, however, he is presented with a young, quick, incredibly intelligent, and soundly defensive obstacle who has impeccable ability to begin the counter-attack. If Masch can contain (or at the very least limit) Kaka's impact on this match, Liverpool should be expected to win.

Milan's backline, though incredible with the likes of Nesta and Maldini, approaches a collective age in the 130s (not kidding) -- a weakness that could be easily exploited by the work-rate of Dirk Kuyt (whom I am convinced has the heart of a horse that has the heart of two horses) and Crouch's size (another reason to start Pennant on the left wing -- Milan's central defense won't be able to contest the tall one's heading ability).

There's been a lot of discussion in Liverpool circles as to whether or not one recently-healed Harry Kewell should see action on Wednesday, as he is built for this sort of stage. Some even think he should start. To me, that is completely and utterly preposterous. Old 'Arry isn't anywhere near match-fit and two brief cameos against Fulham and Charlton did little to show me otherwise. If Kewell sees any action at all, it should be in the last twenty minutes of the match. But I'm not counting on him to produce. It simply wouldn't be fair to him or the rest of the team.

Honestly, I have a very easy time imagining this match headed to penalties (once again). In the event that occurs, again, advantage Liverpool. Pepe Reina is one of the best and his counterpart, Dida, is... well... on the much lower end of the spectrum.

Hopefully, fingers crossed, at this time tomorrow, I'll be three sheets to the wind, celebrating like a madman that the Reds have won it for a sixth time. But again, it all rests in how effective Mascherano is against Kaka.

YNWA
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