With ten minutes gone at the San Siro, I started to wonder whether my confidence in the team had been totally misplaced. Rafael da Silva was getting murdered by Ronaldinho, who kept cutting in to our box with ease. He may have needed a deflection to open the scoring but we were left with the terrifying prospect of what might occur over the remaining 88 minutes.
Sir Alex Ferguson has since revealed that the atmosphere gave him and our players a big shock and unnerved them. Our manager has been to every big ground in Europe with our players so if he was startled, imagine how the likes of Rafael and Jonny Evans were feeling! Well, it showed. We were all over the place defensively and somehow managed to hold our ground to prevent any more going in.
We then started to show some signs of ability, with Paul Scholes shooting wide under pressure from David Beckham, before Nani delivered a brilliant cross which sadly nobody chose to attack. Then Wayne Rooney had our best chance of the game, shooting from outside the box and the ball going narrowly wide of the post. We didn’t look entirely convincing but at least we were starting to take the game to Milan, rather than freezing like rabbits in the headlights in our own half.
Huntelaar should have made it 2-0, after skipping through our defence and leaving Van der Sar a vision of fury, before United were down the other end equalising.
Darren Fletcher played in a great ball to Paul Scholes who was waiting unmarked. He swung a leg at it and the ball crept in at Dida’s far post. You weren’t entirely sure how he had struck the ball but you didn’t care. Replays show he totally missed the ball as he went to hit it with his right foot, only for it to bounce off his left shin. So no, it doesn’t go up there with the cracker he scored against Barcelona the season before last, but in terms of goals he will remember when his career is over, scoring the equalising goal at the San Siro has to go up there with some of his greatest achievements with the club.
Michael Carrick then had an effort go wide of the post before David Beckham delivered a high and wide freekick. The playing field had levelled somewhat and we went in 1-1 at half time knowing we could have been dead and buried, but now had everything to play for.
Sadly, we started the second half on the back foot again, with Pato sending his free header over the bar before Van der Sar pulled off the save of the match from a Pirlo freekick.
Then with half an hour to go, Rooney came to life. First he embarked on a 20 yard sprint which resulted in a powerful shot and corner for United. Five minutes later he was on the scoresheet, with substitute Antonio Valencia pulling off what Nani had been attempting all match. He beat his man then delivered a perfect cross in to the box for Rooney to head over Dida and in to the back of the net. He was a good foot higher than his marker and again showed what a versatile goalscorer he can be.
With less than 20 minutes to go, Beckham was subbed off for Clarence Seedorf and met with warm cheers from our fans. Since his early freekick which lead to the goal, Becks had a very quiet night, making little to no impact on the game. With Carrick having a less than impressive match, our midfield was there for the taking, but Beckham, who Ferguson believes was played out of position in the centre, couldn’t get a hold of it.
Two minutes later, we were 3-1 up and could barely believe our eyes. Darren “anti-football” Fletcher got his second assist of the night, playing in a perfect ball to the unmarked Rooney, who drifted between the two centre backs to drill his free header in to the back of the net. Unbelievable. Let’s be honest, a score draw would have done us, so to be winning with three away goals was incredible.
Just to make sure there was some anticipation over the home leg, Ronaldinho got behind our defence again, as he had done all night, to deliver the ball to Seedorf. Without doubt the goal of the game as he flicked the ball behind him in to Van der Sar’s net. I prefer Sharpey’s against Barcelona but after four Champions League titles with three different clubs, you may expect such brilliance from Seedorf, even if he is almost 34-years-old.
We’d be in a pretty much untouchable position if we had had kept the scoreline at 3-1, whilst now we’re comfortable but still with some way to go. Do we go for the kill at Old Trafford or do we play the defensive game? It’s impossible to know which approach the manager will opt for but those three away goals are very precious and we should do all we can to protect them.
But thoughts of that game need to be pushed to the back of our minds with an important trip to Goodison Park on the way. The blues have been very hit and miss, after losing to the ten men of Liverpool before beating Chelsea 2-1. But if there’s any team that wants to put a stop to Rooney’s brilliant goalscoring form, it is Everton. Yet, if there’s any team Rooney wants to continue his form against, it is Everton, so we should be in for a good one.
Valencia will be pleased with his impact at the San Siro and will certainly start on the right with Nani suspended. Scholes might be given a rest after his full 90 minutes, which begs the question will we see the return of Anderson who turned out for the Reserves this week? Stranger things have happened.
Everton don’t have a great home record, winning just six of the thirteen games they’ve played, but Mikel Arteta is back, Landon Donovan is doing well, and Louis Saha has found the back of the net against the likes of Chelsea and City in recent weeks. They’ll be no pushovers and will be looking to spoil our run of great results. We’ve won six of our last eight in all competitions, scoring 23 goals, beating AC Milan, Arsenal and City in the semi-final, and are looking good. We certainly seemed to have turned a corner now that we are getting something resembling our strongest team playing every week but it’s games like the ones on Saturday away that decide your season as much as beating the likes of Arsenal and Milan away.