I don’t need to tell you how great last night’s game at Old Trafford was. The early goal, the second-half comeback, Scholesy’s audacious flick – perhaps his only meaningful contribution of the game but what a contribution, Giggsy’s interception and run in injury time that brought back memories of THAT 99 semifinal – except he’s older now and instead of taking on defenders he chose to pass, and Rooney’s straight, low drive to the near post, and the look on his face while shooting told you that that ball was going straight to the back of the net.
There are a lot of things that could have gone differently. United’s backline was missing, there was no Saha in attack, etc etc. Milan had their share of problems too – Inzaghi wasn’t fit, Gattuso got injured, Maldini was taken off at half-time. Milan were away, United were home, the ref gave a couple of strange decisions (but none too controversial). It’s all part of the game (apart from the refereeing decisions, which need to be fixed), and it was good to see both sides move past their problems and focus on the game itself.
Both sides lived up to the expectations of a grand spectacle. Milan showed that they could mix it up with the fastest of them and their ability to control the game and change the pace as necessary is frightening, even if their only really-fast player is Kaka (who is scarily fast). Manchester United proved that their form on the domestic stage can be replicated on the European stage against top opposition even when the chips are down.
Taking a leaf out of ChelseaBlog’s playbook, here’s a look at what was good and bad about last night’s game:
- Wayne Rooney – 21 goals this season, not to mention over a dozen assists. For a ‘patchy’ season, he’s chosen the right time to hit form. Fantastic play by him for both the two goals. People who call him a ‘shadow’ striker or a support striker forget that this kid is an amazing finisher – everything that Saha is expected to do (shoot, hold the ball up, move off the ball), Rooney does better. Ruud’s successor? Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you Wayne Rooney.
Now if only he can put 30 goals away next season 🙂
- Kaka – Two moments of brilliant individual skill are all that separate Milan from crashing out of the Champions League. Without him, I doubt that Milan would have managed any goals.
- Heinze and Brown – Yes, Heinze was outpaced by Kaka twice. Yes, Brown was AWOL on both occasions, having camped up front for corners / free kicks both times. But Heinze made some excellent tackles, Brown kept the ship watertight and overall, the makeshift Manchester United defence had a good game. It’s no shame to beaten twice by goals of Kaka’s quality.
- Nesta – Honorable mention to Maldini, but it was Nesta who did all the hard work. His early tackles on Rooney and his commitment to shackling Ronaldo meant that United’s most trumpeted threat was often isolated and had to rely on team play rather than individual skill. He managed the first goal (that was an own goal, but I’m giving it to Ronaldo), but wasn’t able to stamp his authority on the game, despite being the focus of United’s attacks for most of the game.
Props to Nesta – without him, United could have had done a repeat of the Roma game (hey, you never know…)
- Giggs – Well, what can you say? He turned it on when United needed him the most, and between him and Scholes these two were key to all 3 goals.
- The quality of the game – Manchester United’s early European games were scrappy, but against Roma away and home we saw signs that this team had really come together and had the belief to play good football outside the league as well. They proved it last night, going toe-to-toe with one of the best sides in Europe and giving viewers a spectacle to remember.
- The spirit – despite a couple of contentious decisions and a few hard tackles, there was a healthy respect between both sides, and that’s how it should be. Good to see United players not overawed by the occasion, although I expected more from Carrick.
- Patrice Evra & Michael Carrick – Both players did well, but they were both at fault for the two Kaka goals. You can’t fault them too much, but at this level Carrick should not have stopped running for the first goal, and Evra really should ran towards the goal to put himself between it and Kaka instead of running into Heinze.
Carrick also missed a sitter.
Other than that, both players had decent games.
- Gilardino – ineffective and resorted to going down will minimal contact in order to win free kicks for Kaka (who did the same once or twice). It’s not as if Ronaldo doesn’t do the same, or that Rooney sometimes doesn’t make a meal out of challenges, but last night Gilardino was the one doing it the most, and let’s be honest, he wasn’t doing much else 🙂
Manchester United vs AC Milan (goal videos)
Manchester United 1-0 AC Milan (Ronaldo)
Manchester United 1-1 AC Milan (Kaka)
Manchester United 1-2 AC Milan (Kaka)
Manchester United 2-2 AC Milan (Rooney)
Manchester United 3-2 AC Milan (Rooney)