Manchester United may be chasing 3 finals, but their first big game is tonight. Knowing that an English team will be waiting for them in the final should be a big source of motivation – after all, who wants to be the English team that ‘didn’t’ make it to Athens?
Manchester United vs AC Milan
After all’s said and done, this Manchester United team is far more confident than the Milan team coming to play them tonight.
Perhaps, after the Roma win, we already had one eye on the final, and were talking about picking Chelsea or Liverpool as ideal opponents. But the subsequent injury crisis (namely, Rio Ferdinand’s injury) means that Manchester United are now painfully focused on their next task – keeping a clean sheet and taking at least a 2 goal lead to the San Siro.
It’s not impossible – Wes Brown and Gabriel Heinze are good central defenders, and this is the sort of task they have been waiting for all their careers. These players thrive in adversity, and if fans are getting worried they only need to look at how the players, each and every single one of them, are rising to the challenge.
“At this stage of the season you’re always looking for signs [of nervousness], you hope you don’t see them but you’re always looking, and I’m not seeing any signs. Training has been fantastic, there’s great banter and the atmosphere in the dressing room is fantastic. They’re all contributing in showing camaraderie with each other. Their friendships have developed and it’s very good. I think it’s galvanised the team to a level where they know they can play football, but are prepared to muck it out where necessary. They’re showing great determination to get through games.”
The one concern that I have is that if Milan hold the upper hand in terms of goals aggregate, this team lacks the experience at the back to cope with it. However, there are two reasons why that shouldn’t be too big a worry. One, the front 6 are more than capable of handling any type of pressure (yes, even Alan Smith). Two, we’ve got Ferguson’s half-time talks to bank on.
As suspected, United will go into the game with O’Shea playing left back and Fletcher at right back, with Brown and Heinze in the middle. There’s a chance that O’Shea and Heinze might switch positions, but Heinze is a better defender than O’Shea so that wouldn’t be an ideal situation.
We can be scared to tackle – yes, Heinze and O’Shea have been caught in a couple of controversial incidents, but that’s in the past. Heinze and Brown only have to look at the penalty Lucio conceded against Milan (when he got the ball first but Kaka’s full-body sprawl convinced the ref otherwise) to see how Milan may try to gain an advantage over them.
One thing that people forget is that if the defence is weak then it’s the midfield’s job to protect them and avoid any hiccups. In the Sheffield United game our defence looked completely at sea at times, which was more because Ferguson was trying a couple of different things instead of an imbalanced team. Against Milan, with somewhat the same defenders, Ferguson won’t sent Carrick up front to make runs into the box.
Incidentally, if the last European game at Old Trafford was Carrick’s finest night as a United player, tonight will be his first real test. Before this, he has performed well but there have been no serious expectations of him (as in people are looking at him and expecting him to fail to live up to Keano’s style, and then when he plays differently they bash him for it). Tonight, Carrick’s job is clear – guard the defence, and don’t let Pirlo, Kaka or Seedorf shoot from distance or run at Brown and Heinze.
He can pull it off, no doubts about it.
A lot rides on Rooney’s shoulders – Ronaldo maybe the mega superstar but Rooney will be the primary source of goals for the club and it will be up to him to keep his temper and use his head in getting past the Milan defence. As long as Ronaldo and Giggs can keep supplying the ball to him, he should score at least once tonight.
Starting lineup: van der Sar, Fletcher, Brown, Heinze, O’Shea, Ronaldo, Scholes, Carrick, Giggs, Rooney, Smith
Bench: Kuszczak, Evra, Dong, Solksjaer, Chris Eagles
Ferguson will have to look at the Academy to fill up the bench after that – and there isn’t much to choose from as all our top young players are out on loan. I’m sure that some like Sam Hewson or Aaron Burns or even Michael Lea could do a half-decent job if they were called upon in an emergency, but knowing Ferguson he’s rather play Rooney in defence 🙂
Prediction: Manchester United 2-0 AC Milan.
Over-optimistic, yes, but I’m not asking you to bet on it, am I? 🙂 Rooney to score the first goal in the first half. Hah…
- A update on our loaned out players:
Rossi now has 7 goals in 14 games for Parma and he’s been one of the driving forces behind Parma’s escape from relegation. Can’t wait to get him back for next season.
Gerard Pique – a man we could have used tonight – has scored 4 goals (same as Rio) and his side (Real Zaragoza) are now fourth in La Liga.
For a complete update (including how Ben Foster messed up and how Jonny Evans lost), read the ManUtd.com report.
- As I said yesterday, Manchester United have four players on bookings – Ronaldo, Scholes, Evra and Heinze. Both Scholes and Heinze might get booked for their tackling, and it’ll be a really tough ask for United if that happens.
- Milan managed to rest Kaka, Nesta, Maldini and Gilardino over the weekend and Milan are making a big deal out of coming into this game fully rested, but don’t count on tiredness to bring United down. At home, they’ll be pumped up enough to take through the full 90 minutes running at Milan.
- Ferguson thinks that the ref was correct in not awarding Boro a penalty as O’Shea touched the ball. I’m talked about that incident in much more detail here.
An interesting stat from that article is that on penalties won and conceded by both Manchester United and Chelsea. Manchester United have won 5 penalties and conceded 4, while Chelsea have won 4 penalties and conceded only 2. If there’s any bias, Mr Mourinho, the numbers show it to be towards your club.
- Gattuso talks about how he loves Manchester United but how he would never leave Milan. From what I’ve seen in the last two years every single one of Gattuso’s interviews are about how much he likes the Prem but how he can’t leave Milan. We get it, let’s move on now.
- James Eve makes a case for Milan’s superiority over Manchester United. I suppose he’s right 🙂