Wednesday night's 2-1 loss to AC Milan in the Champions League final must have been a bitter pill for Liverpool and its manager, Rafael Benitez, to swallow. Probably the better team in a game where Benitez's tactics dominated the flow (or lack thereof), Liverpool did a far better job of neutralizing Milan's attack on Wednesday night than it did in Istanbul two years ago, where it took six magical second-half minutes to put the Reds within sight of a team it never looked like catching.
In Athens, the tables were turned somewhat, says former Ireland star Tony Cascarino, writing for the Times. Liverpool put the stop on Milan's flowing midfield by clogging the center with holding midfielders Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano, who gave by far his finest performance in a Liverpool shirt. Mascherano kept Kaka as quiet as one could hope for each of the 78 minutes he was on the field. It's no coincidence that four minutes after he was taken off for Peter Crouch (why not Alonso instead?), Kaka threaded the crucial pass that led to Filippo Inzaghi and Milan's second goal.
Speaking of Crouch, Cascarino points out that Liverpool was unable to match its control of the center with effective attacking play. If you're going to go with a lone striker, why pick the shortest striker in your deck over a 6-foot-7 giant? Indeed, had Crouch been in lurking in the box instead of Kuyt for 90 minutes, Jermaine Pennant's complete dominance of the right side of field (especially in the first half) might have born fruit. As it was, Kuyt never looked like winning much in the air (until his late goal), Boudewijn Zenden looked too injured to do anything, and Steven Gerrard, for all his endeavor, was out of sorts playing the Kaka role. Rather, he could have used someone like Crouch nodding down high balls into space.