Friday, May 04, 2007

Champions League Semi-final: AC Milan v. Manchester United

AC Milan 3-0 Manchester United (5-3 aggregate)

Unlike certain Portuguese managers, I can admit when my team's been beaten: United were comprehensively outplayed by Milan on Wednesday.

I don't know if it was tiredness from a long season, a hangover after their comeback against Everton on the weekend, a crisis of confidence brought on by their defensive frailties -- probably all of the above -- but they just looked sluggish out there. Milan were passing around them at will.

The biggest problem, as in the first leg, was that nobody could get close enough to Kaka. United really needed a player like Owen Hargreaves to do a job on him, like Didi Hamann for Liverpool in Istanbul. Darren Fletcher's spell of not-sucking apparently lasted all of two weeks, Paul Scholes won't admit it but I think he was hampered by the yellow card hanging over his head, and Michael Carrick...wait, was he even on the pitch? The whole midfield was simply outclassed by Milan, and with the rest of the team chasing around aimlessly, Wayne Rooney was way too isolated on his own up front.

At the back...god, I don't even want to think about it. But let's review the goals, shall we, just for the sake of masochism? The first one was a perfectly cushioned header from Seedorf back to Kaka, who wasn't marked tightly enough; he hit it low and hard on the volley to beat Van der Sar at the far post. The second was pure Newcastle-style comedy defending: instead of clearing the ball, Heinze passed it sideways to Vidic, who mis-kicked and fell over. (I'm not blaming him entirely, because he was clearly rusty, and it's not as if Heinze has been Mr Reliable at centre-back recently.) They eventually managed to get the ball clear, but not far enough, and this time was Seedorf who scored after dodging a couple of attempted tackles. The third goal didn't matter all that much (sorry, Gila, it's true), but anyway: United had taken off O'Shea for Saha, which left them light at the back when Ambrosini stole possession on the halfway line. He fed Gilardino for a breakaway that even he wasn't hapless enough to fuck up, with the United defenders nowhere close to catching him.

I had gone into the game expecting Milan to score at least once (but not three times); what I didn't expect was United being unable to score at least once in return. They had a decent spell after halftime, and if they'd managed to break through then maybe they could have turned the game around, but Milan were too well organized. And I think Sir Alex fucked up his tactics, bringing on Saha, who's just back from injury and was totally ineffective; I would've gone with Alan Smith instead, and probably brought him on earlier to shake things up.

As it was, United had only two shots on goal all game, which is nowhere near good enough, especially against a keeper like Dida who's liable to randomly drop the ball if you catch him at the right moment. I was surprised to see that the possession stats were so even, because United did nothing with the ball when they had it. Their basic plan seemed to be feeding Ronaldo, but he was double-teamed all night, anded up getting booked over nothing for the second game in a row and would've missed the final. Just like in the first leg, Kaka was effortlessly the better player, and...okay, normally I like him, but today there is a little part of me that wants to punch his Jesus-y face and see if he'd turn the other cheek then.

So it's going to be a replay of the 2005 final in Athens. At least I won't have to worry about any divided loyalties on the 23rd.


Sarah said...

I have to disagree, Gila's goal was extremely important, though not necessarily for this match in particular (although I was not comfortable with the 2-0 lead, in fact I would have preferred a fourth goal). We'll (well I, since you obviously don't want Milan to win) find out how important that goal really is in the next couple of weeks before the final.

Personally, I'm hoping this is the goal he needed to finally make his season worthwhile.

Jen said...

Yeah, the goal was important to him personally -- you could see that from his reaction -- but in the context of the game? Not so much. Plus I have no sympathy for Gila at the moment since he helped to knock my team out.