Liverpool will spring shock, says Milan legend Sacchi

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The Independent Online

Arrigo Sacchi, the former Milan and Italy coach, now the technical director at Real Madrid, believes that Liverpool's greater freshness could tip tonight's Champions' League final in favour of the English club.

Arrigo Sacchi, the former Milan and Italy coach, now the technical director at Real Madrid, believes that Liverpool's greater freshness could tip tonight's Champions' League final in favour of the English club.

"I hold Milan in great esteem and have great affection for all the people there. I would like to see Milan win but I think that the physical aspect could be the difference between the two teams," Sacchi said.

While Liverpool failed to make it into the top four of the Premiership, Milan pushed the newly crowned Italian champions, Juventus, until the penultimate weekend of the season. Fighting on two fronts appears to have worn them out and in the Champions' League semi-final second leg against PSV Eindhoven they were run ragged.

"As with all the great teams, Milan's intention is always to be in charge, to dictate the play and take the initiative, using ball possession, orchestrated team manoeuvres and quick counter-attacks. But my impression is that they are not arriving at this game in the best condition. They have looked tired recently. In ordinary circumstances, Milan would take the game to Liverpool but they may just not be up to it on Wednesday," Sacchi said.

Sacchi was unknown when the owner of Milan, Silvio Berlusconi, hired him from Parma in 1987. By 1990, his Milan had won the European Cup twice, playing sumptuous attacking football and had turned the Italian game on its head.

The men who have guided Milan and Liverpool into the 2005 Champions' League final are quick to acknowledge their debt to the 59-year-old Italian. Carlo Ancelotti, who played under Sacchi for both Milan and Italy, says that Sacchi's ideas "profoundly changed the mentality of many coaches". The Liverpool coach, Rafael Benitez, calls him "the greatest coach of the modern era" for his ability to fuse brilliant individual talents into an unbreakable collective.

Sacchi defines the modern game as "the harmonic movement of 11 players, who are always active, with or without the ball." That, he said, was "the real revolution in modern football and few have been able to pull it off". Among the few teams that did, he said, were the great Liverpool sides of the 1970s and 1980s.

"Liverpool were up there with Brazil, Holland and Ajax as the teams that most excited me. They were one of my main reference points for the way they married individual ability with collective ability to create a marvellous continuous style of play." The Benitez Liverpool does not match up, yet, but are getting better, he said. "They are a good collective. They lack experience but they can always acquire that and they have a coach who will improve them."

One of Sacchi's most treasured memories from his European Cup campaigns with Milan is the 5-0 demolition of Real Madrid at San Siro in the 1989 semi-final, a game that lingers long in the memory for Milan's breathtaking attacking play. He does not, however, expect tonight's game to touch such dizzy heights. "When you get a team which is tired coming up against a side which, on paper, is weaker, in general you don't get a great game."

The Liverpool teams which lifted the European Cup four times between 1977 and 1984 did not worry too much about being pretty, and if Sacchi's prediction is right, and they edge it on sheer stamina, they will not be apologising for it.

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