Before this season, the last time we faced AC Milan in the European Cup we were lacking in confidence and self-belief. Despite going on to be named Champions days after losing 3-0 to them at the San Siro, we had suffered a few barren years and therefore it didn’t seem a massive surprised Milan beat us. They had easily knocked us out two years earlier, a 1-0 win in both legs, and United had struggled for success, in England as much as on the continent.
Things are different this time around though, with several more winners’ medals being placed around our players’ necks since then, including the Champions League, after beating the likes of Barcelona and Chelsea to lift the European Cup.
Despite the obvious nerves ahead of our trip to the San Siro, we went in to the game with a team of experienced players, who knew how it felt to win these big games now, and who had the belief to go out and do it.
90 minutes played, the advantage is firmly with us but we need to make sure that counts tonight.
It is easy for fans to get complacent about these occasions, given just how many times we’ve reached this stage in Europe for almost a couple of decades, but this is almost as big as it gets. AC Milan are European giants, with seven European Cups to their name and 17 league titles. However, it is not just their history which is being talked about at the moment, with Milan currently lying second in Serie A just four points behind Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan. Alexandre Pato has been scoring freely this year and is only 20-years-old, Ronaldinho is starting to look like the player who was named the best in the world for two years in a row, whilst still packing their squad full of world famous football names, in Clarence Seedorf, Gennaro Gattuso, Filippo Inzaghi, David Beckham, Alessandro Nesta and Andrea Pirlo, amongst others.
Wayne Rooney rescued us in the first leg, although the hard work of Park Ji-Sung, Darren Fletcher and Antonio Valencia shouldn’t be ignored when looking at their direct influence on us taking three away goals with us back to Old Trafford.
The defence have had another game together which important after having so little playing time as a unit this season. Of course it’s frustrating to hear of Wes Brown’s injury, although it is likely Sir Alex Ferguson would have opted to go for Rafael at right back anyway. Our young Brazilian had a horrible time trying to deal with Ronaldinho in the first leg but he is our only right back who could match Goofy for pace, whilst Brown and Gary Neville would be left for dead.
Fletcher was rested against Wolves whilst Paul Scholes was definitely the one to shine from the midfield after Michael Carrick and Darron Gibson did nothing to enhance their reputations. We could have left with a point after Carrick gave the ball away in the penalty area during injury time. If he does that against Milan, there’s no way the likes of Ronaldinho or Huntelaar are going to do a “Sam Vokes”. Carrick is of course missing for this game though after his red card at the San Siro, Anderson is out for the season, Owen Hargreaves isn’t about, neither is Ryan Giggs, so what is Ferguson plotting? Could we see a 442 in Europe, with Valencia, Fletcher, Scholes and Park making up the midfield, and Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney starting up front? If Ferguson going to find space for Nani, who failed to impress at the San Siro or against Wolves at the weekend? Surely the manager isn’t thinking of a five man midfield with Gibson would be a part of?
Pato is in the squad although after missing the weekend’s game against Roma with a hamstring injury, is a big doubt for Old Trafford. This would mean Huntelaar filled his place, a player who many United fans have shown huge interest in over the past few years.
The talk of the match is mostly revolving around David Beckham though, who chose to leave United almost seven years ago. After donning the Real Madrid shirt, he will enter the Old Trafford pitch for the first time since leaving in the colours of AC Milan. After a disappointing performance from him in the first leg and not starting a game since, our manager reckons that Beckham will begin the game on the bench. He will be received warmly by our crowd, particularly if we are already winning, but whatever he regularly says about his feelings for United, there will no love lost on the pitch and he will want to win. We certainly wouldn’t want an 89th minute freekick on the edge of our box!
Who scores first will be important but it won’t necessarily be match defining. If we score, it will mean Milan have to score three goals. CSKA Moscow managed this in the group stages, although we had a defence of Neville, Brown, Evans and Fabio on that evening. Before then, the last team to score three goals against us in Europe at home was Real Madrid on the night they knocked us out and Beckham played his last Champions League game for us before joining Real.
This is a massive occasion though and I fully expect our players to be up to the task. We have plenty of maturity at the back so they just need to keep their heads, keep Milan out, with the thought that a goal should win it for us, two goals would all but guarantee it.
Come on United!