3 bold predictions for Liverpool-AC Milan in Champions League group stages
When most fans think about a Champions League final, three games spring into mind: 1999, when Manchester United scored two goals in the dying minutes of the game to win it over Bayern Munich; 2014, when a Sergio Ramos header in the 94th minute denied Atletico Madrid their first CL title in club history; and, of course, the 3-3 thriller in 2005 between Liverpool and Milan.
Now, the English and Italian giants will meet again in the European competition they won a combined 13 times. It is true that the Italian team did not have the greatest period in their history for the last few years, but they are entering this campaign hungry to prove themselves. On the other hand, Liverpool will be looking to set the tone early in this tricky group, which also contains Atletico Madrid and Porto.
Here are three bold predictions about the upcoming game and some things to look out for.
Milan will look better than expected
As it was mentioned above, Milan has not been featured in the Champions League since 2014, when it was Atletico Madrid eliminating them in the round of 16. Seven-time champions of this competition look fairly different now, coming into the group stages with a fairly young squad. The biggest star is definitely still Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose name on the teamsheet is enough to get all possible attention, but the team around him is also fairly strong.
The best player is most likely Franck Kessie, Ivorian midfielder and former Atalanta player. He joined the Rossoneri in 2019 and absolutely bossed the midfield whenever he was on his top game. He is supported by Sandro Tonali, a defensive midfielder who is surely the future of Italian football. Other than these two, there is Canadian-English center-back Fikayo Tomori, Real Madrid loanee Brahim Diaz and Croatian winger Ante Rebic, just to name a few players who can make an impact on the game.
Should Liverpool underestimate the Milanese, they will surely use the opportunity to put the footballing world on alert. Pacey wingers and fullbacks will look to abuse overlaps and get the ball inside the area, where Ibrahimovic and French veteran Olivier Giroud will be ready to do what they know best and put the ball in the back of the net. While they are not exactly favorites to win the whole thing, Milan can definitely ruin the plans of some huge teams in this edition of the Champions League.
Liverpool’s defense will outshine their attack
The attack of the former European and English champion is the envy of many teams around Europe. Egyptian superstar Mohamed Salah from one and Senegalese winger Sadio Mane from the other side, with the support of Roberto Firmino in the middle, is an attacking line that any fan would do anything for. The pace and skill of the wingers, combined with the distributional skills of the Brazilian in the middle, are too much for most teams to deal with, especially when all three are on their day.
However strong the attack is, Liverpool’s defense will be their best asset this year. With Dutch stonewall Virgil van Dijk back and both Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold ready to play, and with Allison in goal, it will be incredibly difficult to score against Liverpool this year. What is even better for their fans and for the team, German coach Jurgen Klopp has a plethora of options in terms of pairing up Van Dijk. Not only can he use Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, his preferred options, he also has Ibrahima Konate who joined the team this summer, and youngster Nat Phillips, who showed good potential last season.
It was surely the defensive injury woes that stopped Liverpool from continuing on the successes from the past couple of seasons. After winning the Champions League in 2019 and the English Premier League in 2020, Liverpool only finished third and got eliminated in the quarter-finals by Real Madrid. This year, they will be doing everything in their power to bounce back and show the world why they won major titles two years in a row.
The midfield battle will decide the match
Both of these teams boast great midfielders and it will be their battle that decides this match. On one hand, Liverpool plays with a three-man midfield, headlined by skipper Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, while the third player will either be Thiago, Harvey Elliott, or Naby Keita. However, Elliott just sustained a serious ankle injury. They all bring different skills to the pitch, but the two stalwarts in Henderson and Fabinho bring incredible stability and strength, something that Milan will need to address. Both are great, ball-winning players and the attackers and midfielders of Milan will have to work hard to get past them.
On the other hand, Milan usually runs a 4-5-1, with their wingers Alexis Saelemaekers and Rafael Leao acting as right and left midfielders, respectively. The core in the middle is usually headlined by Tonali, who is joined by either Rade Krunic or Franck Kessie, should he come back from injury. In front of them, it is Diaz advancing the ball towards the opposition goal, with the support of the aforementioned wingers. They are also supported by very offensive fullbacks, Davide Calabria and Theo Hernandez, who are active on the overlaps and will require Liverpool wingers Salah and Mane to react accordingly.
Whoever ends up controlling the pace of the game will pull ahead and while it does seem like Liverpool has the clear quality advantage, Milan will not simply roll over and take the defeat. The experience is definitely on the side of the Englishmen, since this exact squad, with some slight changes, won both the EPL and the CL in the last three years, but Milan has a lot of young players that will be looking to prove themselves on the biggest stage in Europe.
While we probably won’t get a six-goal thriller like 16 years ago in the final, there is too much history between these two teams for this not to be an amazing match.