So after a disappointing draw against Aston Villa, nearly a week has passed without seeing Manchester United in action, but a tough test is upon us. AC Milan are next up for Sir Alex Ferguson and his Red Army in the Champions League Second Round 1st Leg. With United at the San Siro first, it is sure to be a difficult tie.
Minds will surely be cast back to the last time the two sides met in 2007, United took a 3-2 lead back to Old Trafford and were very confident of finishing off the job in Manchester, only for Kaka, Gattuso, Pirlo et al to completely dismantle an inform United, utterly deflating them and producing a display akin to the great Milan side of the early 1990’s.
Other than 2007 the Rossoneri have dumped United out of Europe’s elite competition on three other occasions, – 1958, 1969 and 2005. So no matter what you have heard about Milan being a waning power and a team in decline, they will be dangerous, especially at home, there is no doubting that.
Manchester United go into the tie off the back of a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa a draw in which Ryan Giggs broke his arm ruling the midfielder out of the Milan match.
In goal, Edwin van der Sar should provide a formidable barrier to Marco Borriello, Ronaldinho and Alexandre Pato. Protected by Rafael, who should be preferred to Gary Neville given the recent performances the club captain has had. It will be a massive game for the youngster, coming up against his fellow countryman and former FIFA World Player of the Year could be the making of him. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic should recreate the fearsome central defensive partnership that lead United to glory in 2008. Of course Evra will be in place at left-back.
Expect Sir Alex Ferguson to line up with a five man midfield, Antonio Valencia is likely to be in that team and is rightly looking forward to the match, stating, “They will be the biggest games I’ve played in club football.” Joining him will be Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and probably Paul Scholes. The Ginger Ninja has been in superlative form recently and the added time on the ball he will be afforded by Milan will surely mean he can do damage. Nani should also make the team, despite his red card on Wednesday his form over the last month has only been eclipsed by that of Wayne Rooney, who will be the lone frontman on Tuesday evening.
Underestimate AC Milan at your peril. There are deficiencies in the team; of that there is no doubt. But rookie manager has manages to shape some sort of team from the remnants of Carlo Ancelotti’s reign. Leonardo prefers a 4-3-3, which becomes more a 5-5.
Staring in goal will be Dida, by no stretch of the imagination back to the form of six years ago when he was one of the best stoppers in world football, he has at least achieved a reasonable level of performance so far this season, and can still pull of the odd wondersave.
The back four will be key for AC Milan, Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva are one of the most solid defensive partnerships in Europe right now. Nesta has managed to nurse himself back to a semblance of health, while Silva has proved his ability with masterful displays throughout the season. Against Udinese on Friday, Nesta made his comeback from injury only for Silva to go off injured in the same match. Much will depend on the fitness of these two.
Both full-back are the places where Milan are most vulnerable, Ignazio Abate, though young and full of running, is not a right-back, he is a best a decent right midfielder. His defensive positioning is poor and he can be a bit ‘over eager’ to say the least. Luca Antonini has made the left back position his own this season, but a journey man player, he spent 8 years away from the San Siro on various loan spells before he returned in the summer.
The Milan midfield will have a number of familiar faces, Massimo Ambrosini, the club captain and longest serving player is in a rich vein of form. He will more than likely be alongside Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso. Pirlo will be pushed further up, as if he is in the trequartista role with the two generals behind him.
The front three will consist of Borriello, Pato and Ronaldinho.
Pato is just back from injury and scored against Udinese, he may be lacking in match sharpness so David Beckham may be given a starting berth, on the right side of a front three. Ronaldinho is back on form, not quite at his Barcelona best but not far off, he still has all the skills and can easily beat his man, he may have lost that acceleration of old but he has a potent weapon in the Rossoneri attack. Both will be playing off targetman Marco Borriello, the former Genoa striker his banging in the goals, while not a star, he is effective and can give any defence a rough ride.
Milan did not win for three games after the derby defeat to Inter. If United can press the ball just as Inter did then Milan do become vulnerable, but given space and time, Milan will hurt you. Just as Real Madrid.
Prediction: 2-1 Milan
Probable Line Up: van der Sar, Evra, Vidic, Ferdinand, Rafael; Nani, Fletcher, Carrick, Scholes, Valencia; Rooney.
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