Rafa Benitez has to choose a formation that will allow his team’s strengths to shine, exploit the opposition’s weaknesses and at the same time contain the threats. Which is a difficult balancing act.
One threat that he will have to consider minimising is that from Kaka who is likely to play in that hole behind Milan’s front man in a 4 4 1 1 formation. So Liverpool will have to fill in that area between their defence and their midfield that Kaka will roam in. Mascherano will probably be deployed for this role.
And the next formation related problem that Benitez will have to decide on is how to play up front. Play with two front men in a 4 1 3 2 formation or go like for like.
If Liverpool play with two up front they ran the risk of being outnumbered in the most important area of the pitch. Milan will have four to Liverpool’s three midfielders. Something that Ferguson chose to ignore for the semi final in Milan; eventually to his peril Milan outclass United. Fergie gets the tactics wrong! We think that Benitez has the sense to avoid making the same mistake.
Of course Manchester United were a very tired team as their gruelling tussle with Chelsea for the Premiership was taking its toll. They were also missing some key defenders which accounted for a lot of the errors that were committed in both legs.
On the other hand Benitez has been resting players for some time now safe in the knowledge that a Champions League place was reasonably secure. So have Milan of course, safe in the knowledge that theirs was a punishment year where the Scudetto was, due to past misdemeanours, administratively placed out of reach.
All things being equal Liverpool is the younger team and this might play a more decisive role in the second half and even more so if the game goes into extra time.
Having sorted out the formation then Benitez has to decide on the personnel.
We believe that Crouch should start as Milan’s defenders, especially goalkeeper Dida, are vulnerable to high balls as was so evident in their games against United. Dropping off Crouch will have to be Kuyt who will have to drift between midfield and attack according to needs.
Acropolis in Greek means the area on the edges of town and if the teams cancel themselves out in the centre then it is in the wide areas of the pitch that the outcome of the game may be decided on.
Yet we have not been convinced by Zenden’s performances in the semi final against Chelsea. He worked hard, stretched Chelsea’s defence and tracked back well but he failed in the most important aspect of his position; that of getting the crosses in. And this will be important if Crouch starts.
It looks as though Benitez will want to start with Zenden in the wide midfield position unless he is declared injured by the medical team. We would prefer however that Riise starts there with Arbeloa at left back (we do not consider Kewell as being a viable alternative). He is much better at attacking defenders, getting crosses in and also tracking back to defend.
And since the service to Crouch will be important we would consider ex Arsenal boy Pennant, who impressed in the semi final against Chelsea, to be more appropriate for the wide midfield position on the right. He is one of only a few ex Arsenal players to have prospered after leaving Arsenal. The others include interestingly enough left backs, Silvinho and Van Brockhurst.
The other midfielder will be Gerrard who can play in a similar role in central midfield as initially intended in the semi final.Pivotal.
There are two areas that Liverpool may have the upper hand. One is that Milan’s forward line whether it be Inzaghi or Gilardino are nothing to shout home about.
The other is that Benitez will be in his element in a European arena where he feels at home and knows the territory and the mentality of the opponents more than the other managers in the English Premier League.
And tactically he has proven to be one of the best; the latest example being his tactical outwitting of Mourinho in the Semi Final. Why Liverpool came out winners against Chelsea.
And in the end Rafa’s tactical nous may prove the shining light under the shade of the Acropolis!