Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Champions League Semi-final: Manchester United 3 - 2 AC Milan

Well. That was quite a game.

Milan lined up as expected, although with the terminally ineffective Gilardino instead of Inzaghi at the top of the Christmas tree. United were in the predicted 4-2-3-1, but with Wayne Rooney leading the line in place of Alan Smith. With Patrice Evra fit to start, Darren Fletcher moved into midfield, as the Gattuso to Michael Carrick's Pirlo. (I know, that sounds like a ridiculous comparison. And it's true that Carrick faded in and out of the game, but Fletcher -- although he didn't manage to stifle Kaka -- played his little cotton socks off, bless him.)

United got off to a good start, imposing lots of pressure on Milan -- and actually putting in some decent corners, something that shouldn't be notable but is. And it paid off with an early goal as Dida flapped at Cristiano Ronaldo's header from Giggs' corner, but managed only to push it into his own net. The first 15 minutes or so were all United, but Milan worked themselves into the game. United still looked dangerous when they got the chance to attack with speed, but Milan weren't panicking, just patiently shutting them down.

Milan's equalizer came from Kaka, who got away from Carrick; the defenders didn't close him down quickly enough, and he finished with a perfectly placed shot past Van der Sar. Cue much screaming from me about why the fucking defenders had their heads up their fucking asses. (For the record, I am from the Jamie Carragher school of defending, which involves throwing yourself in front of people, shouting a lot and shanking the ball into row Z when necessary.) Fifteen minutes later Kaka scored again, controlling the ball well to slip past the defenders into the box. But United looked like the Keystone Kops out there -- Heinze was trying to catch Kaka, Evra came over to cover but body-checked his own player out of the way instead, leaving Kaka with a clear shot on goal.

Kaka easily won the battle of the young superstars between him and Ronaldo -- who was eager to run at the Milan defence and show off his tricks, but not so eager to actually pass the damned ball before two or three players closed him down and took it away. Wayne Rooney, though, made a case for himself with two beautifully taken goals that gave United the lead.

Milan had lost Paolo Maldini at halftime, but were still looking much the better side. Then, probably more detrimental, Gattuso went off injured not long afterwards, and that let United back into the game. Just when I was starting to think they should substitute Paul Scholes -- because he wasn't doing much other than lunging at people and practically begging to be booked -- he flipped the ball up over the Milan defence for Rooney chest down and slot past Dida. Rooney's second goal came in stoppage time, as Giggs broke from the halfway line and played a through ball for him to run on to, and he hammered it past Dida at the near post. It was a great finish but once again some dodgy keeping from Dida, who had made a couple of excellent saves but gave him way too much space to aim at here.

That third goal gives United a lifeline for the second leg, but I think the tie is still too close to call. Although United have the lead, Milan have those two away goals, which means a 1-0 victory at the San Siro would be enough to send them through. But they'll regret not killing United off when they had the chance -- they may have thought it was all over at 2-1, but then they took their foot off the gas and paid for it.

The issue for United in Italy will be patching up their defence again. Evra was booked on Tuesday, so he'll miss the next leg. They've got to hope that Ferdinand and/or Neville is back fit by then, or else start Fletcher at right-back. (On the other hand, it's not all bad, because it gives them an excuse to move Heinze back to the left; I'm really not comfortable with him in the centre.) They also could use at least one goal to increase the pressure on Milan. And they absolutely have to figure out how to deal with Kaka, although I have no suggestions for that other than maybe attaching lead weights to his ankles.

As for Milan, I think they shouldn't rely too much on the Brazilian choirboy -- they need to find goals from their strikers too, though that's not likely with Gilardino faffing around up front. And they also need to remember that games last 90 mintes, not 45. You'd think they would have learned that in Istanbul, but apparently not.

1 comment:

Pat said...

Christian Poulsen did a good job on Kaka a few years back for shalke and a couple of other defensive midfielders have kept him quite.

It needs to be a hardnosed dm who can tackle and run all day and who can make a foul look legit. I think the key is to intimidate him early and then just frustrate for the rest of the game. Although his growing confidence and maturity make this a lot harder than it used.

I dont think ManU have a good dm, so i dont think they can do anything about Kaka except hope.

I think Milan will be doing the same about CRonaldo.

Anyway I go for Milan so hopefully we win