Liverpool legend John Aldridge maintains that Rafael Benitez must get all his best players on the pitch together – even if that means playing Steven Gerrard on the right – if the Reds are to clinch a sixth European Cup triumph.
Benitez is believed to be considering whether he can do without midfielder Xabi Alonso against AC Milan on Wednesday to allow him to use skipper Steven Gerrard in his favoured central midfield role.
But the former Anfield striker believes that Gerrard must play on the right against the Italians.
That view will not meet with universal support from the travelling red army descending on the Greek capital but Aldridge – a former Tranmere boss – thinks otherwise.
Aldridge, speaking at a soccer fun day organised by Vodaphone in Athens, said: “I expect Liverpool will play Peter Crouch and Dirk Kuyt up front, or maybe just one striker.
“And I feel Benitez will play Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano in midfield.
“You need your best players on the pitch for such a final, and these three are the best. It means Stevie will have to play on the right again, he can be very dangerous there.
“I feel Rafa has to accommodate all three of those midfielders, Milan play with five across the middle so Liverpool have to match them.”
He added: “Milan will be very wary, very intimidated by Gerrard. He’s a big match player and he can win the game for Liverpool. He is the key.
“I expect Rafa to use him in a free role on the right, able to come inside and cause them problems. Regardless of what people say about him being better suited to the central role, he does the job on the right very well.
“He is pivotal to the way Liverpool play. I think Liverpool will go for it and the game will be much quicker than people expect.
“We must be very aware of what Milan can do, with Kaka and (Gennaro) Gattuso. We must nullify their threat and get Gerrard into the game as much as possible.”
Aldridge also believes that the game could go to penalties in a repeat of the sides’ meeting in the 2005 final in Istanbul – something he insists favours his former employers.
He said: “If Liverpool go one or two down, it will be nagging in the back of the Milan player’s minds that we can get it back after last time. That is a big psychological point for Liverpool.
“They may want revenge after last time, but that can work against them because they will want to come forward and force the game. That will play right into Liverpool’s hands.
“Liverpool have so much self belief and if it went to penalties again it will be a massive boost for them, they know they can do it.
“They did it in Istanbul, they did it against West Ham in (last season’s) FA Cup final and they did it against Chelsea (in the Champions League semi-final).
“The belief that they can win shoot-outs is hugely important, and I can see this game going to penalties again.
“Liverpool have got more bottle than Milan. They need Gattuso to play well, when he goes off the pitch Milan can collapse.”