Carlo Ancelotti's No1 goal this season is again to guide AC Milan to UEFA Champions League glory – but he knows from experience how "very hard" this will be.
As AC Milan prepare to take on SL Benfica in their opening Group D match at San Siro on Tuesday, coach Carlo Ancelotti revealed that the thought of becoming the first team to win the UEFA Champions League two years running is giving this campaign an extra dimension.
The Rossoneri clinched their seventh European Champion Clubs' Cup with May's 2-1 victory against Liverpool FC but despite being the second-most successful side in continental club competition, Ancelotti says motivation will not be a problem for the Italian giants on Matchday 1. "At the start of every season the Champions League is our most important objective and this year is no different," he said. "This tournament is special and we will give our all to win it again.
"It's very hard to win it back-to-back," continued the 48-year-old, who knows all about defending the European title having played in the last team to do so; the 1989/90 Milan vintage that overcame Benfica in the final. "This tournament is particularly hard. Everything has to go your way but winning two in a row is an added incentive for us."
Milan will have to improve on current form if they are to go the distance in Europe. A last-minute goal by defender Alessandro Nesta spared them defeat by AC Siena in Saturday's 1-1 draw. With five points secured from a possible nine the Rossoneri, who were without injured captain Paolo Maldini (knee) and Ronaldo (thigh) in Tuscany, have not had the best of beginnings to their Serie A programme.
'Kaká is back'
Both players will be missing again on Tuesday. Andrea Pirlo (calf) is also a doubt but Massimo Oddo should be back from a similar problem. Massimo Ambrosini, Filippo Inzaghi and Kaká, all rested from the start against Siena, also return. "In Europe you play against the highest level of club opposition and Benfica will be more attack-minded [than Siena]," added Ancelotti. "So it will be a different Milan, one with an attack – and Kaká is back."
Rui Costa praise
Benfica playmaker and Milan old boy Rui Costa has been quick to acknowledge the ability of the Brazilian, who scored ten goals en route to glory in Athens. "He deserves the Ballon d'Or because he is both an extraordinary player and an extraordinary person," said the 35-year-old of Kaká. "And AC Milan are the best team in the world. They are very compact, organised, full of big names; but that doesn't make them unbeatable."
Unbeaten Benfica come into the match buoyed by successive 3-0 victories. The Eagles have yet to concede a goal since José Antonio Camacho replaced Fernando Santos last month, but if the new coach is insisting that his side "always play to win", selection worries may force his hand. Defenders Luisão (knee), David Luiz (foot) and Marc Zoro (thigh) are out, along with influential midfielder Petit who, like goalkeeper Moreira and Pedro Mantorras, has a knee injury sustained during Saturday's win against A. Naval 1° Maio. Maxi Pereira is expected to deputise in midfield while Edcarlos, Konstantinos Katsouranis and Léo step into defence.