Manchester United vs AC Milan – First Leg Review

Most of the early reviews of last night’s game are already in and having read them all, I thought some of them missed key points. Made me wonder if I had seen the same game as everyone else. Here’s my take on the game.

To start with, it was a really open game, which was a surprise. I expected it to be a little bit cagier than this. To see Carrick waltz his way unmarked into the milan penalty box and get to the end of a cross (and make a hash of it uncharacteristically) was really surprising. Old as they are, milan’s defense is still stingy by any standards. In fact before this game, they had only given up 1 goal away from home in the entire campaign.

That really does highlight united’s attacking threat and how much they have improved since the 2005 meeting. All the pundits are lauding manchester uniteds ‘brilliant’ win and predicting an all english final already.

I beg to differ. There were vast periods in the game where milan were completely on top. They were playing in their little triangles and making life difficult for manchester united. In fact, the middle third of the game reminded me of the 2005 encounter where milan had looked utterly comfortable on the ball and manchester united were left chasing shadows. Milan are still capable of that kind of possession. The key to that is Gattuso. Till the time he was on the field, manchester weren’t getting anything in the midfield and most of their attacks were getting cut off. The red devils were losing possession regularly in the final third and allowing milan to break through kaka and seedorf. Manchester fans should be praying that gattuso misses the return leg. In the 51 minutes he lasted, to me, he was the most effective player in the midfield.

On the opposite end of the performance spectrum is Ronaldo. His performance was terrible by all accounts. More so, because he had the measure of fullbacks and pretty much the whole milan defense. However, his frustrating tendency to try to do it all alone was again on display. He was routinely seen moving away from his teammates and then getting cornered in impossible positions from where he had little option but to shoot useless shots. Towards the latter part of the game, he did start using his teammates but it was too little too late.

Ronaldo has transformed himself this season primarily by changing his thinking, his skill level and speed remain the same as last year. The difference is that this season, he has been using those skills to work with his teammates. Yesterday that was not the case and we saw the ronaldo of old. Not very effective. What he should be doing is running at the defense and then getting in the killer pass, the way giggs did for the third goal.

Another important thing i wanted to mention was the lack of quality on the freekicks. With two teams boasting ronaldo, giggs and pirlo, it was a shame that no one even hit the target (though giggs and pirlo did come close). These players are expected to atleast hit the target and produce a save from the keeper every time. Who knows what happens on the rebound with the likes of kaka and rooney lurking around? At this level, each wayward freekick is a letoff.

Finally, to conclude the review, it was a mixed game. High on entertainment but fluctuating in quality. There were a couple of really high quality goals (kaka’s first and rooney’s last gasp winner). That aside it was poor defending and poor goalkeeping that let the others in.

Looking forward, I won’t give manchester united the advantage going into the second leg. On the face of it, they have it easier, a draw will take them through. But with their defensive frailties, I expect milan to score. Manchester must go in with an aim of scoring 2 goals. If they get that and defend in a reasonable manner, we’ve got an all english final on our hands.

And yes, scholes ‘scoop’ was inspired.

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