AC Milan’s Paulo Maldini, 37 next month, admitted he has great respect for Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher, and then offered his opinion on what makes a good team: “Even though I am not going to coach in the future, if I had to pass on a recommendation it would be to build a very strong defensive line. Having said that, I genuinely think it is harder to find good young defenders now than it was in the past. They don’t seem to be coming through as they used to."
The reputation of Italian football through the rest of Europe is that it is an ultra-defensive game, but Maldini doesn’t agree: "I think it is absurd to
consider Italian football as such because Italian teams attack much more than other European teams.” Maldini then criticised both English Champions League
semi-finalists: “For instance, with Chelsea and Liverpool they do not play forward at all. Liverpool are very much defensive in their tactics. Once they have
the advantage it is very difficult because they have eight or nine players in defence. It is very hard to find spaces against them.”
Despite this, Maldini still thinks there more to a team than just the defensive aspects – and considers that although Liverpool are OK at defending, they are
unable to attack: "The main difference is that we know how to attack. Liverpool are a team that is essentially very defensive; caution is at the heart of
their game. The key to the final will be that Liverpool will close down any space and hope to use their quick players up front." Maldini continues: “We have
probably the best defenders in Europe but we make more goals so sometimes there is an imbalance in the defence. Liverpool never lose this balance because it
is a very much more defensive tactic that they play.”
Maldini was asked if the thought of facing Milan Baros and Djibril Cisse was keeping him awake at night. He said it wasn’t: “We never concern ourselves with single players because we believe in our team. My children have kept me awake, but in my sports career I have had no reason not to sleep.”
Maldini showed more of his defensive nature when Milan were accused of using ‘cynical’ methods to get a result: "That is an absurd question. It’s a ludicrous thing to say. Milan have got such good players that we don’t have to do that. We play the game properly and we attack more. Chelsea and Liverpool don’t play the ball forward at all. You simply can’t judge a team’s football from the country it comes from."
Maldini said Liverpool’s quarter-final win over Juventus was an example of Liverpool’s boring defensive play: "Juventus lost the match in the opening 20 minutes in a game that lasted 180, although you have to say Liverpool played very well. Once Liverpool go ahead, they are dangerous because it becomes hard to find space to break them down, especially if you are not playing all that brilliantly. Liverpool have about nine players who are capable of playing defensively and holding up the game."
Milan are now resigned to losing out on Serie A – even if they win on Friday Juve can still take the title on Sunday. Maldini says: "We have lost our hopes in Serie A. It has been very painful but we have to swallow it and concentrate on the most important match of the season. In the Champions League you can focus on a single game and play in exactly the style you need. That’s why Liverpool have found it easier here than in the Premiership where you have to prove yourself week in, week out."
Maldini says that the AC Milan team that won the Champions League at Old Trafford three years ago was good, but that the current AC Milan team is better: “This team is stronger because we still have the champions from that time and we have added more."
Maldini’s coach Ancelotti agrees: “Two years ago was different because it was the beginning of our team and we had to open a cycle. This final fits in well with that cycle. In the Nineties the team was tactically almost perfect, but presently the team has more qualities with regards to individual players.”
Ancelotti wasn’t so critical of Liverpool’s defensive approach though, saying, “This is not a defect, it is a quality."