John Arne Riise believes Liverpool are AC Milan’s worst nightmare because they hate playing against physical sides.
The Norwegian full-back believes Liverpool will never allow the Italians the freedom to attack they had in the Champions League semi-final against Manchester United.
Riise is convinced Liverpool can repeat their success of 2005 but he says he and his team-mates are aware that Milan believe them to be inferior to Manchester United, who the Italians eliminated in the semi-finals.
Their coach Carlo Ancelotti claims Liverpool are the poorest of the four semi-finalists and even United chief Alex Ferguson believes Liverpool have no hope of success.
But Riise said:
“We don’t really care what people say, we deserve to be in the final. And we know Milan don’t like playing against teams like us.’
“I heard some things earlier that they think they are the more tactical and we are the more physical side. But we can play football too. And they know we are strong and physical and we will use that to our advantage. They hate playing against those sort of teams.
“They looked like they struggled against the physical aspect when they played Bayern Munich earlier in the competition, even though they got through. But it is not something they enjoy facing.
“And we will play our own style of football that has been successful for us, we know that some teams hate to play against us because we play a physical compact type of game. We don’t listen to other people because we know what we can do.”
Riise insists that Liverpool can blunt the Milan style that caused Manchester United so much trouble in their calamitous second-leg mauling in Milan.
“When they played against United their full-backs were almost like strikers or wingers. That is because United made room for them and gave them space.
“The way we play is quite compact and it will be hard work for their full-backs and wingers to get through. If they still attack us that way we will find space to hurt them. We have got the next few days to find their weaknesses and exploit them.”
And Riise has faith in boss Rafael Benitez to produce the game plan to win Liverpool’s second Champions League crown in three seasons.
“When he picks his team, and he knows who he wants to play, he will talk to every player to say what he expects from them and what the opposition player is going to do. Our manager is a tactical genius and he knows how to get his players ready.”
“We cannot afford to give them a three goal head start this time. It was called a miracle because of the comeback, but it can’t happen again. This time we will approach the game perfectly and hopefully get a good start.”
Riise recalls Benitez’s calmness in the face of that dreadful deficit in 2005.
“When you are losing 3-0 at half-time in a game like that you expect to get shouted at by the manager. All our heads were down.
“But the manager was very quiet and calm and explained what we were going to do. He wanted us to lift our heads, which we did. He said if we got a goal anything can happen. That is what we did and in the end, everything turned out okay.
“Once Steven Gerrard scored with the header, you could see the change in the faces of the players. We all seemed to get extra energy and the fans were lifted as well. We knew we had a chance. We just had to keep going.”
AC MILAN midfielder Gennaro Gattuso insists he is not letting the painful memories of Liverpool’s Champions League victory in Istanbul two years ago bother him and just days before his chance for revenge, he insists he is just taking it all in his stride.
“I am sleeping fine,” he said. “I cannot deny there is tension, but I cannot wait for the day of the game. This club takes defeat with a different class. The players always remain relaxed.”
The 29-year-old admits he has not been able to watch the full 2005 Champions League final again.
“I refuse to watch that type of game,’ he added, while admitting that ‘Liverpool won it on the field, so they deserved it’.
“They are a team who make you play really hard – they press you and close the gaps and we will have to make sure those gaps remain open and keep the ball moving quickly.”
Gattuso did divulge what has been occupying his thoughts regularly.
“[Jerzy] Dudek has been our recurring nightmare for two years,” he joked. “What on earth can I say to him other than congratulations?”
“Actually, I think both teams ought to be congratulated on the way they have reached the final again two years on.”
He also had praise for the man he is set to come face to face with in midfield, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, who in his own autobiography likened Gattuso to a kitten.
‘I don’t think I am, and if I was, I would be a really ugly one with a beard like this!”
“I don’t want to respond to provocation. Gerrard is a great player and a champion, and he is showing it this year.
“I am one who gives it all, gets involved and never gives up. It is difficult to forget that evening, but it could give us the hand to give that little bit more.”