It was one of the most demoralising matches of United’s in the modern era, with us crashing out to Milan following a 3-0 defeat at the San Siro. We were flying high in the Premiership, with us going on to be named Champions four days after that defeat, but this was the game that let us know we still had some way to go if we were going to be the best in Europe too.
We had beaten them 3-2 at Old Trafford, with Kaka running through our defence with ease and putting the Italians 2-1 up at half time. We equalised with plenty of time to play in the second half, but only after Gattuso and Maldini had been subbed off. Rooney scored the winner in injury time, shooting with his first touch to catch Dida off guard, although the keeper probably should have done better at his near post.
For our return leg I was expecting Milan to work hard to protect the advantage their two away goals gave them, but I was naively confident about what we could achieve. That’s probably why our embarrassing result hurt all the more.
It is often overlooked that we were without three of our first choice back four, with Gary Neville (yes, remember the days when he was first choice!), Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra all out. Our squad was so shallow back then, with the likes of Chris Eagles and Kieran Richardson taking up spots on the bench for this European Cup semi.
People also forget that four days earlier we had a gruelling game at Goodison Park to play, with our title hopes taking a hit after we went 2-0 down against Everton whilst Chelsea were leading at Bolton. Milan were well out of their title race though so had been resting their players.
Still, there was no denying we were totally outclassed at the San Siro and it was apparent early on that we were up for an embarrassing result. With half an hour played we were 2-0 down and looked like amateurs.
We obviously learnt a lot that evening though and haven’t played like that in a European away fixture since. May 2nd 2007 was the last time we lost away away in Europe.
Almost three years has passed and things have changed. We’ve won the Champions League since then, as have they (beating Liverpool in the final after knocking us out in 2007) and we’ve both lost our best player to Real Madrid. Kaka left them for a staggering £56m before Cristiano Ronaldo signed for an even more impressive £80m. David Beckham wants to beat us for the sake of the club he is playing on loan for and with their title chances dwindling, he won’t be alone in their desperation to knock us out. They’re currently third in the league, although winning their game in hand would put them second, six points behind Inter.
They’re top scorer is Ronaldinho, who could have been ours once upon a time, and will be keen to perform on the big stage. With no Nemanja Vidic to deal with him, who is apparently suffering from some nerve problem in his leg, Rio Ferdinand will step back in to the team alongside Jonny Evans. It’s as big a test for our youngster as it is for our more experienced defender, who has struggled for fitness and been beaten for pace on a couple of occasions this season.
We passed a bigger test last season when comprehensively outplaying Inter Milan, who are a better side than AC Milan, although that was with Ronaldo in the team. But we should have enough to get the job done and the impressive displays we’ve put out already this season should fill our players with confidence.
This is a big game for us but even a score draw should be more than enough to keep us happy. Becks should be in Patrice Evra’s back pocket all evening, if he starts, in front of a crowd that will be sold out. Makes a nice change for the San Siro, who’s average attendance is some 40,000 below capacity.
United know how to play away in the big games these days, as has been demonstrated with last year’s semi-final against Arsenal, and the season before against Barcelona, so let’s hope we fair as well against a more defensive side away!