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Manchester United taught a lesson in quality football, but will they learn?



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AC Milan taught Manchester United a footballing lesson. I desperately hope that these players do not forget it and instead, learn from it.

From keeping the ball to pushing Manchester United by tackling and winning the ball back to keeping their discipline, Milan were the superior side, hands down.

Could Manchester United have done better? I think that Liverpool or Chelsea would have played Milan better. Probably Arsenal too, with their ability to keep the ball (assuming they could score, that is). It’s a damning thought for a Manchester United fan to consider that their Premiership rivals are better than them on the European stage, but that’s how things are.

You can read the BBC match report or the Guardian Minute by Minute to get a good view of how the game went on – I’m going to review the good and bad points from the game below, but first, the videos.

Match Videos

AC Milan 1-0 Manchester United (Kaka)
AC Milan 2-0 Manchester United (Seedorf)
AC Milan 3-0 Manchester United (Gilardino)

Gattuso vs Scholes tiff

The Good

  • Milan’s tactics and discipline – a very expensive lesson in football but a valuable lesson nevertheless. You can lose two games a season to teams that play good possession football and still be the favourites for the Premiership, but you can’t do that against Milan in a Champions League semi-final. Milan didn’t allow United to even come in the game. Ambrosini, Seedorf, Pirlo and Gattuso (who’s a bloody nutter but a fantastic player) keep harrying United players whenever they had the ball, putting in sliding tackles and closing them down as soon as possible.

    They kept their shape, defended well, moved forward and back on the pitch as a unit (mostly all the time) and, it’s trite but has to be said, they kept the bloody ball. You’re always going to be chasing the game if you can’t keep the ball.

  • Vidic’s return – it was good to see him back in a United shirt – his presence will be crucial in the final 3 games of the Premiership for Manchester United.
  • Seedorf – this guy is absolutely amazing. Why he doesn’t get more recognition in the myopic English media is beyond me.
  • Kaka – he has, in the last year (starting from the World Cup and going into this season’s Champions League final – taken over the mantle of the world’s best player from Ronaldinho.
  • Carlo Ancelotti – he was the brains behind this win, and while a defeat was always a possibility it wouldn’t have been this comprehensive without Ancelotti’s tactics.
  • Gattuso – Apart from that spat with Scholes (see below for details or above for the vid), he was awesome in midfield. Where United dithered in their tackles, Gattuso used the rain and the subsequent wet conditions to his advantage and kept snapping in tackles.

The Bad

  • Manchester United – no two questions about it. Afraid to tackle, couldn’t keep the ball and started off on the back foot. There are some people who are more to blame for this than others, but the club must collectively accept responsibility for their actions.
  • Fletcher – his job on the pitch is to tackle and win the ball. He didn’t do that. Throughout the game I kept hoping that he’d turn in the same performance that he did at Old Trafford against Liverpool, but Fletcher was either over-awed by the occasion or under explicit instructions from his manager not to tackle. He’s not a great passer, he’s not a natural goal-scorer and if you don’t let him tackle, he’s just taking up space on the pitch.

    Fletcher has improved as a player this season, but he had to do more.

  • Heinze – poor defending in the first half, allowed the second goal to happen which virtually killed off the game. He was ok otherwise but these matches hinge on small moments like these and he didn’t live up to the expectations.

    Mind you, I don’t think Evra would have done any better here.

  • Gattuso vs Scholes – I understand Gattuso’s frustration and I know he’s completely ‘in the zone’, but I also understand Scholes’ desire to get a move on and there was absolutely no need for Gattuso to go charging in at Scholes or to keep calling him a fucking bastard after he had gotten a card. For my money, the ref could probably have booked Gattuso a second time for the tirade and it was smart of Ancelotti to sub him immediately afterwards.

    When you see the video (or if you remember it from seeing it on the tv), did you notice someone’s hand around Scholes’ neck pushing him back? Sneaky, very sneaky, though I couldn’t make out who that was (it was a Milan player, not Gattuso).

The Future

Over on the chelsea blog someone made a comment that losing one game (critical or not) does not define a full season, and Chelsea have nothing to be depressed about after the way they have battled throughout the season.

I think the same can be said about United. We’ve had a good season – no, we’ve had a great season – and you can’t piss on that because of one bad night.

United will go back to Old Trafford and hope to beat Manchester City and get the Premiership wrapped up as quickly as possible. They may have a 99% chance of winning it but they still haven’t won it, so I’m not taking anything for granted.

Milan have a Champions League place secured for next season and a place in the final. They’ll be up for the big night in Athens, and while it will be revenge night there will also be the understanding that Milan are older (and possibly slower) while Liverpool are a better team than the one that showed up in Istanbul.

The final promises to be more balanced than tonight and a better game than last night.

Milan, Liverpool – let’s see what you guys can do.

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Ahmed Bilal created Sportslens in 2006. He is a business consultant and entrepreneur who helps businesses identify and overcome their biggest challenges. He’s also the founder of Football Media, an online advertising agency that specialises in sports and male audience targeting, with a monthly reach of 100m+ sports fans in the UK and US. He’s also the previous owner of Soccerlens.com – a sports news site that reaches 3m+ readers / month.