Up against Kaká you always have the same dilemma. Man-mark him or treat him like any other player and not change your tactics? Over to you, Rafael Benítez.
Up against Kaká, you always have the same dilemma. Do you man-mark him or treat him like any other player and not change your tactics? Do the former and you lose a creative edge in midfield, risk the latter and the stakes are high as you strive to silence one of the world's best players.
Liverpool FC boss Rafael Benítez looks set to choose the second option as his side attempt to defeat AC Milan and win the UEFA Champions League for the second time in three seasons in Athens on Wednesday. "We know Kaká is a very good player, but our system is not to mark him individually," Benítez said. "We mark zonally and try to control the play, the ball and the space." Time will tell if the Spaniard is right, but statistics, for what they are worth, might suggest a different approach. Kaká is largely marked man-to-man in Serie A and as a result, has scored just eight goals in 31 appearances this term. In the UEFA Champions League, where he invariably encounters a zonal defence, the 25-year-old Brazilian international has registered ten times in 14 matches. "In Europe no team marks me man-to-man," Kaká said. "I'm sure it will be the same against Liverpool."
Kaká has been particularly lethal against British teams this season, hitting the only goal of the tie against Celtic FC in the Round of 16 before adding three more in the 5-3 aggregate win over Manchester United FC in the semi-finals. "I don't know if there are particular reasons for this but I have always played well against British opponents and I hope to do it again," the forward said. According to Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti, however, Liverpool are not a classic British side. "I think the only really British team we faced on the way to the final was Celtic," he said. "United play a more flamboyant style of football while Liverpool rely mostly on a solid defence and counterattack. Against Liverpool we will not have the same space we had against United."
Space is exactly what you don't want to give to a player with the pace and technique of Kaká. Benítez knows it better than most. The Brazilian ran the show in the first half against Liverpool in 2005 when Milan jumped into a 3-0 lead; it was only after the interval when Benítez introduced Dietmar Hamann to bolster his midfield that the English club gained a foothold in the game. On the other hand, with the likes of Clarence Seedorf thriving in the room opened up by Kaká, paying the Brazilian too much attention can create problems of its own. Man-to-man or zonal defence, holding midfielder Javier Mascherano will have his hands full on Wednesday – not to mention centre-backs Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger every time the Milan No22 gets the ball.