Thursday, May 24, 2007

Champions League Final: AC Milan 2 - 1 Liverpool

I cannot tell you how much I hate Pippo Inzaghi and his stupid goal celebration right now. I would very much like to rip out the corner flag and beat him about the head with it.

Ok, let's get the rest of the bitterness out of the way right off the top:

  • Milan's first goal was deflected in off Inzaghi's arm. In other words, handball. In other words, it should never have counted.
  • The ref blew his whistle to end the game before stoppage time was up. So much for that little announcement, "There will be a minimum of three minutes' extra time." Or the fact that there'd been a substitution in stoppage time, which should have been even more time added on.
  • And that was just the final straw in a game that featured some rather biased refereeing. How many 50/50 decisions went against Liverpool? (If I was really bitter, I would wonder how much Berlusconi paid the ref. But I'm not that bitter. Quite.)

I'm not really disappointed in the team, but I'm disappointed for them. I thought they did well to get as far as they did, and they were the better team for most of the match. They shut down Milan's midfield quite effectively -- which was the key to their game plan -- and they created way more chances on goal. The problem, as it's been so often this season, was that they couldn't convert any of those chances.

Rafa went with a 4-5-1 formation, which I didn't predict but I actually preferred. With the right players, it can actually be a much more attacking set-up than 4-4-2. But it depends a lot on having quality wingers. Liverpool had...Jermaine Pennant and Bolo Zenden. Yeah. They both worked hard, but Zenden doesn't have the legs to be a true winger, and Pennant, although he was helped out by Jankulovski having a nightmare of a game, needs to do some serious work on his crossing (seriously, please sit him down with a David Beckham highlight reel so that he can learn to put a dangerous ball into the box rather than hanging it up every time).

The other thing is you need somebody who's effective as a lone striker. Whereas in this game, on one side, we had Alessandro Nesta, reminding us that the list of hotshot Italian centre-halves does not begin and end with Fabio Cannavaro, and Paolo Maldini, who I've concluded is some kind of ageless creature who feeds on the blood of virgins (insert Kaka joke here). On the other, we had Dirk Kuyt. That's not even close. Again, he worked hard -- and even scored a late consolation -- but that's not enough over 90 minutes. Liverpool could badly use a top-class finisher, and they've been struggling to fill that role ever since Michael Owen left.

Normally Steven Gerrard is the player you expect to pop up with the game-winning goals, and he had a few decent chances yesterday -- particularly that one where he was in alone on Dida and didn't place the ball quite right to squeeze it past the keeper, which I'm sure he'll be kicking himself over for months. It just wasn't happening.

Whereas Milan, who only had a handful of shots, got a couple of lucky breaks and made the most of them. Their first goal was from a free kick in a dangerous position, but I'm confident that Pepe Reina would have saved it if not for the deflection. The second came late in the game, with Liverpool throwing everybody forward for an equalizer, as Kaka, freed up by Javier Mascherano being subbed off, slipped the ball through the Liverpool defence to Inzaghi -- who was onside for possibly the first time in his entire life -- to kill the game off. (oh, that, and a nice display of time-wasting after he took a ball to the stomach. Suck it up, you rat-faced little bastard.)

I've seen some post-game criticism of Rafa's tactics, but I think he got it right, for the most part. Playing five across midfield meant that they were able to close Milan down quickly and not give them time to play, while also freeing up Gerrard, although he couldn't reproduce his Istanbul heroics this time around. Rafa probably could have made his substitutions a bit earlier (and I'm still confused by Arbeloa on for Finnan, frankly), but overall he did the best he could with somewhat limited resources -- i.e., Bolo Zenden. I thought Harry Kewell looked like a better option when he came on, but starting him would have been a big gamble. The result just highlights the areas they have to invest in over the summer.


Sarah said...

(If I was really bitter, I would wonder how much Berlusconi paid the ref. But I'm not that bitter. Quite.)
Oh for god's sake.

Tepid said...

So this summer we just need to buy a world-class striker or two (like everybody about a cage match between all of the managers? Winner gets David Villa) and some decent wingers.

How much money do Gillett & Hicks have again?

Jen said...

sarah: I don't really think the ref was paid off. Hence why I said I'm not quite that bitter. But if I was a raving conspiracy theorist...

tepid: A 20-goal-a-season striker has to be their first priority, I think. After that, then at least one quality winger. Zenden and Gonzalez are both going, but I think Kewell and Pennant might be worth giving another season.

James said...

I actually think Kuyt has had a great season and that if they just team him up with someone good, Liverpool will take a huge step up.

Doesn't it seem odd that after waiting a full year to sort out Mark Gonzalez' work visa, that they're ditching him already? I don't think he's played enough for them to really know his potential.

BTW, I'm another Liverpool and TFC fan here in Toronto. Glad to have found your blog!

A pedant said...

In Fifa's Laws of the Game 2005, Law 12 says a free-kick or penalty will be awarded if a player "handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area)".

What was deliberate about Inzaghi's handball? Not a lot, from the looks of things.

Jen said...

James: Kuyt has had a decent first season at Anfield; I'm interested to see how he'll do next year too, if they can pair him up with somebody with pace. He and Bellamy seemed to be working pretty well together, but Bellamy's form has gone down towards the end of the season, I think.

I'm surprised that they're jettisoning Gonzalez so quickly -- I kind of expected him to be given another year, maybe on loan -- but on the other hand it's good to see that Rafa's not afraid to admit when a signing hasn't worked out.

(And hi, by the way!)

Jen said...

a pedant: Well, watching it on the replay, it seems pretty clear to me that Inzaghi deliberately turns his body into the path of the ball. I've seen penalties given for something equivalent, when the ball goes off a defender in the box. It's not like he had his back to the play and was hit accidentally; he's obviously trying to get a deflection, whether or not he meant it to be off his arm.

That being said, it was hard to see as it happened, and I'm not really surprised that the ref didn't call it, especially since none of the Liverpool players were appealing for handball. I just figured I'd give myself a chance to indulge some of my more extreme paranoiac theories :)

Tepid said...

A striker is a definite priority. Rumors are going around about signings, but no 20-goal men yet. Now all we need to do is find the guy who signs the checks so Rafa can actually relax on his holiday.

rafs said...

What a shame about the first goal, Reina had that covered had it not been for that stupid deflection! Gah.

I thought Mascherano had an awesome game, he and Carragher did well to shut Kaka down. It was evident when Maschers was subbed off that Kaka had found a lot more room and time to set up the second goal for Milan.

I thought Kewell and Crouch should've been given a bit more of a run - with Pennant on the right, Kewell on the left and crosses-a-plenty into the box to Crouch, surely goal opportunities would've presented itself.

I'd like to see Tevez at Anfield next season. At just 23 and one of Mascherano's Argentine buddies, it should be a killer combination! Tevez worked some Premiership magic towards the end of the season with the Hammers and I'd love to see him with the Reds next season. There has been speculation about Eto'o coming to Anfield, but personally I think he's too expensive for what he has to offer.

Being an Aussie myself, I'm hoping that Kewell stays out his remaining year that he has on his contract. Although Viduka has been superb for Boro, I think at 31 Rafa won't be too interested. And I'm still spewing Lucas Neill chose the Hammers over the Reds!

Anonymous said...

rafa got it wrong tactically, three at the back, you gotta control midfield vs milan. fergie, take notes! ref was gack. milan are a bunch of pansies who dive and feign injury at every op, refereeing was extremely poor vs bayern, pool and united
. why exactly would someone find it incredulous that " silvviioooo! " might pay off the ref. dont you know who " silvviioo! " is? ;) obviously not.

Joey said...

Well to all you Liverpoolies, you lost, Milan won. Thats how the game goes! 2 years ago you guys pulled off a miracle comeback. However, miracles are a rarity. Good luck next season! ;)