Football Italiano’s 500@five – A guide to beating Manchester United

The Champions League returns after its lengthy winter break and there could be no better way to kick things off than with the blockbuster match between Milan and Manchester United. With kick-off hardly a few hours away there is no use saying things that have already been said before, so we present you with a short guide to United’s weaknesses.

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Target the Centre-backs

This has to be one of the most obvious concerns for Sir Alex Ferguson. The Red Devils defence has been decimated by injuries this term, forcing Fergie to use his second choice defenders on most occasions. Rio Ferdinand who made his return from a lengthy injury lay-off earlier this year will be short of match fitness, as he received a four game suspension on his comeback. Serbian international, Nemanja Vidic, does not make the trip to Milan and this should produce even further cause to have a run at a vulnerable area for Manchester United. It might be worth having Alexandre Pato playing in the role of a second striker with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar being the target man. Pato’s pace will likely prove to be difficult for the likes of Jonny Evans to handle.

Attack through the left flank

The other area where United have been exposed time and again in the past is their shaky right-back position. Gary Neville is too old to handle the rigours of playing as a full-back and Rafael da Silva is too inexperienced at the same. Manchester City had exploited this weakness very well in their League Cup clashes with United and this is something that Leonardo would have noticed. John O’Shea is also injured so Fergie is most likely to start with Rafael. Nani who occupies the right midfield position pushes quite a bit ahead thus leaving the United right front susceptible to the counter. It will be Ronaldinho’s job to make the most of this situation in his floating wide role. If the Brazilian can get behind Rafael a few times we are likely to see a goal or two.

Keep the ball moving

This may seem like a no-brainer however it is an absolute must for the Rossoneri. The United midfield is full of rugged tacklers like Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes. These players also have an acute sense of positioning and given the time should be successful in dominating the middle of the park. However, if il Diavolo keep the ball moving it will be a lot harder for them to cover as none of the midfielders are particularly fast. Barcelona’s dominance in last year’s Champions League final was mainly because they bossed the midfield. For this reason it might be a better idea to start with a half-fit Clarence Seedorf or Mathieu Flamini over Gennaro Gattuso.

Close down the shots

Manchester United boast of a number of long-distance shooters in their ranks. Scholes, Carrick, Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney can all strike the ball very well from outside the box. Italian teams generally tend to sit back and let the opposition come at them and this may not be such a good idea against the Red Devils. Dida may have returned to the squad but he is still error prone as was seen at the weekend against Udinese. The Brazilian cannot be allowed to drop shots in the area as you can be assured there will be some Manchester player or the other lurking around to capitalize. It may be the best idea thus to close down the number of long range pops you allow in the game.

Mark Wayne Rooney

Italians are not fans of the marking system and have always believed in zonal defence. This may be the one time it is necessary to make an exception to that belief. Four years ago Carlo Ancelotti adamantly refused to man-mark Ronaldinho during Milan’s clash with Barcelona in the semif-inals. The Brazilian was the one who ran the show and played a part in the only goal of the tie. Rooney is arguably one of the best strikers in the world at the moment, and he will punish a team given even the slightest chance. As Rooney is technically a seconda punta he creates chances for his teammates as well. It will require all the guile and experience of Alessandro Nesta to keep him quiet tonight.

That is about it for our guide whether or not Milan read up on is another matter entirely. The possible formations are listed below:

Milan (4-2-1-3)

Dida, Abate, Nesta, Thiago Silva, Antonini, Pirlo, Ambrosini, Gattuso, Ronaldinho, Pato, Huntelaar

Manchester United (4-5-1)

Van der Sar, Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Fletcher, Carrick, Scholes/Park Ji Sung, Valencia, Nani, Rooney

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