Milan plot a break over Liverpool's wall

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The Independent Football

They have coined a new phrase at the Milanello, Milan's ornate training ground in the hills to the Italian Lakes. It isCatenaccio Liverpool. It was certainly the mantra yesterday as Milan's coach, Carlo Ancelotti, explained what he expected to face in next week's Champions' League final between the two clubs who have lifted the European Cup 10 times between them.

They have coined a new phrase at the Milanello, Milan's ornate training ground in the hills to the Italian Lakes. It isCatenaccio Liverpool. It was certainly the mantra yesterday as Milan's coach, Carlo Ancelotti, explained what he expected to face in next week's Champions' League final between the two clubs who have lifted the European Cup 10 times between them.

Milan, he said, were a team "dedicated to attacking play" and would have to overcome a Liverpool almost as singularly committed to defence. "Yes, I think so," Ancelotti argued. "But this is not a defect. This is a quality." The statistics would appear to back him up. In Europe at least. Milan have failed to score just once in 12 matches while Liverpool have earned clean sheets in half of the 14 games, including qualifying, they have played and have not conceded at all in their last three encounters. It's a marked difference with their Premiership form.

Such parsimony has been a quality much admired - and fostered - by the Italian teams over the decades but although Ancelotti paid tribute to his "great goalkeeper and great defence", still marshalled by the 37-year-old Paolo Maldini, he made another, startling, declaration.

Asked to compare the present team, with Kaka, Andrei Shevchenko, Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf, and the glittering squad of the late Eighties and Nineties, which won the competition three times, he plumped for the here and now.

"In the Nineties the team was tactically almost perfect," Ancelotti said of that line-up headed by Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Maldini, of course. "But presently I believe the team has more quality with regard to individual skills and individual players."

Startling stuff, but then it should be remembered that Ancelotti, 44, was a Milan player in 1989 and 1990 as well. He is also a man brimming with confidence after reaching his second Champions' League final in three years. That was "a winning cycle" he said that started at Old Trafford when Milan beat Juventus in what was one of the most defensive, cagey finals but was understandably so as it brought the trophy back for the first time since that heyday during the last decade.

Still some might say his comments on Liverpool, although undoubtedly deliberately used as a psychological ploy, are also a little rich and Ancelotti conceded: "Yes, it's true. At that time we had two Italian teams that knew each other very well and no one wanted to risk too much. With Liverpool it will be slightly different but probably more or less along the same lines." The contest in 2003 against Juventus went to penalties and he feels the same could happen in Istanbul. "It would not be a surprise," he said, especially as Liverpool have the capacity to play virtually "the whole game in their own half".

The side led by Rafael Benitez - a coach Ancelotti said he admired for his "tactics and ordered manner" - did not do so however in over-powering Juventus in the first-leg of the quarter-final, especially in that tour de force of a first-half at Anfield.

Ancelotti would be right to be wary. After all Juve look set to prevent the Rossineri from winning another Scudetto having opened up a five-point lead last weekend with two matches to go. "We have suffered a little bit," Ancelotti said of his team's recent, disappointing form. "But we still have a week in which to prepare well and arrive at the top of our form.

"We can dedicated ourselves to the final," he added. Only Massimo Ambrosini, who scored the goal that narrowly beat PSV Eindhoven in the semi-finals, is unavailable, injured although several in an ageing team have looked tired of late.

Milan may not retain the Serie A title but, Ancelotti stated, if Liverpool beat them next week to win the trophy for the fifth time the Premiership club should be allowed to enter next season's Champions' League.

"I don't think it's correct to say that if a team receives such a title they are not allowed to defend it," Ancelotti said. That, he added, was a problem for English Football Association to sort out.

Asked to comment on the qualities of the Liverpool captain he smiled and said: "[Steven] Gerrard is one of the brightest midfielders in the world. He is the representative player of Liverpool and their captain and of course their performance will depend very much on this player." But he will not, he said, be a transfer target.

Beyond the diplomacy of that answer, what he feels will tip the encounter in Milan's favour, apart from their undoubted attacking power with Shevchenko and Hernan Crespo likely to start, was the "experience and personality and conviction" of his players. "Each final is pressure and stress," he said. "But there is also enthusiasm and desire to win."

That came across yesterday from Crespo, who is coming to the end of his season-long loan from Chelsea which could finish with him, rather than his paymasters, landing Europe's top prize. The Argentinian striker said he hoped that Liverpool would also be committed to attack. "If not it will be a very tight game," he said. Crespo added that he knew all about Benitez and his teams having followed the coach's career at Valencia.

Crespo also, again, stated that Chelsea wanted him to return to London next season. "Chelsea want me," he said. "They talk about it." However, he added: "If I stay here in Milan I'm very happy but if I go back there to England, that is fine. It's going very well here and feels like home." It helps that he got married on Monday with all the Milan directors and Ancelotti there. A wedding present could be a permanent move to the San Siro.

Crespo's diplomacy is understandable. Although contracted to Chelsea he clearly wants to stay in Italy where he has enjoyed eight successful seasons as opposed to one miserable one in London. However he is also on the biggest, highest-paid contract at Stamford Bridge and does not want to jeopardise that. It is probably why he added, with Liverpool having beaten Chelsea in the semi-finals, that beating the Merseyside club would "be a good, personal reason for me". A winning goal would also help his currency to rise once more - especially as he will have to breach that Liverpool defence at the centre of debate in Milan.

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