On athens, panathinaikos stadium, AC Milan and Liverpool will lock horns for the 2nd time in 3 years for UEFA champions league, to decide who is the king of europe, who is champion of champions. Gerrard and Maldini will exchange pleasentaries, shake hands, and in back of their mind, Istanbul will loom large. Shevchenko scored the winning penalty when Milan won it in 2003, Sheva missed the last penalty in tie-breaker when Milan lost two years ago. Sheva isnt
there with Milan this year. But the legacy of number 7 will be there. Xavi Alonso, Carragher, Gerrard, will remember that night. Maldini and co. will want to forget and take revenge.
In Liverpool and AC Milan, UCL got two most competent and consistent team in this year's final. Two teams with completely different approaches. Liverpool is a group of "men-at-work" under Rafael Benitez's instruction. Rafa knows the limitation of his players. Doug Kuyt and Bellamy is fast, Peter Crouch is good in air, but they are not Eto'o, Nistelrooi, or Drogba. Thats why you have to provide the ball into their area of strength, they are not going to create chance on their own. Thats why you have gerrard, ager, penant, zenden. They will float the ball across the area, put the ball in the air, and 6'7" Peter Crouch will try to head the ball in. Bellamy and Kuyt will try to outpace other defenders with off-the ball run. Mascherano and Carragher will get behind every ball, stop the oncoming centre-forwards. Chalked out strategy..when you attack them..it seems to you the lanes are open, but when you get there..every where is stop sign.
Liverpool overcame defending champion Barcelona in 2nd round, got off an easy win with PSV in the quarter final, and "luckily" got past chelsea in the semifinal. Yes luckily. Chelsea shud have won that match in the 1st leg itself. But again, if you dont take your opportunities, you will fall behind in this opportunistic world.
On the contrary, Milan had a mixed campaign. They fought hard to get over the match fixing scandal issue, and had the luck of easy group in UCL. They sweat to beat Celtic. But suddenly after that , the campaign and the body language changed. The beat Bayern Munich 4-2 on aggregate, and 2-0 in Munich. Not many team beat Bayern in Allianz Arena. Milan's playing style is total artistry. they pass the ball in small areas, depend on individual brilliance to creat a thru ball or nagging pass. Kaka runs with the ball in a brisk pace, keeping the ball in front of him.
Pirlo is a cool customer..he takes his time, places the ball with a curling velocity in the feet of the destination striker. Seedorf is mixture of both, he can slow it down..he can play a quick one-two, and then he can unleash from the top of the box. Then there is the wall at the defence..Nesta, Ambrosini, Jankulovski, Oddo, and ever young Paolo Maldini. Think about this, Milan's current coach Ancelotti and Maldini played for Italy in 1990 world cup semifinal. Maldini played against Maradona..!!
Coming back to the discussion, Milan's defense is hard nut to crack. They screen the ball so well, never two defenders are on the same line. If you cross the ball in goalmouth, they will head and clear, they will not leave space infront of the penalty box.
The position Milan will struggle is upfront. Goals have been scored by Kaka (10 so far) and Seedorf. Inzaghhi , Gilardino are inconsistent. You cannot count on them. That is why I said in the beginning, the legacy of jersey number 7 will be there. Andriy Shevchenko will not play in Athens on 23rd May. But Mialn wish he could have played for them. Mialn will again need Kaka and Seedorf to score.
Dida and Reyna are also two completely different goal-keepers. Dida has got past his prime, he is susceptable to aerial balls, and Liverpool will put a plenty of balls in the air,no doubt. Reyna is good keeper, but he lacks the agility in one-on-one situation. If Milan can free Kaka or Filippo on one or two thru balls, it will be interesting to see.
All in all, it is clash of two different styles of football, two different modes of football. It will be a fascinating match. May the best team win.