Milan – the team that continuously terrorizes Manchester United on the European stage will lock horns with them once again in the Italo-Anglo clash at the Giuseppe Meazza tonight.
Sir Alex Ferguson has been unable to defeat this classy nemesis in their two encounters at the knockout stages in 2005 and 2007, which ended their hopes of European success. The last meeting on the May 2, 2007 is fresh in the memory of Sir Alex as his side suffered a 3-0 defeat in the San Siro after a master-class display by the phenomenon that is Kaka in a win orchestrated by the now Chelsea Coach, Carlo Ancelotti. However, times have changed and these protagonists have left the production, which leaves the spotlight on the English bomber, Wayne Rooney. Leonardo has sung his praises of the striker and highlighted him as the main threat to the Milanese defence.
With the Red Devils lightning fast counter-attacks and Rooney in some of the best form of his life, the Milan defence are fortunate to have Thiago Silva available after he hobbled off against Udinese on Friday night with a thigh problem. The Nesta-Silva partnership has been impressive ever since they linked up at the start of this season and it will have to be at its best to contain the surgical precision of the English champions’ attacks.
Milan’s hopes rest on the young shoulders of their Brazilian fuoriclasse, Alexandre Pato, recently back after a two-month lay off. He had his first outing on Friday night against Udinese and sealed his comeback with a goal. He received a delicious through ball from his fellow compatriot, Ronaldinho and used his electric pace to out-do the Udine defence and slot the ball home. Ferguson has increased the pressure on the young starlet by saying that he sees Pato as the main threat to his rearguard but after only one game back from injury there has to be doubts over the Brazilian’s conditioning as well as his ability to perform on the big occasion.
Another Brazilian whose conditioning is regularly questioned, Ronaldinho, could also play a key part in tonight’s proceedings. He has shown glimpses of his old self in recent times and for all the Milanese faithful they will have their fingers crossed that, the real Dinho shows up tonight and not the desolate figure we witnessed at the last big game, during the Milan derby. During yesterday’s Press conference, Ferguson talked of cycles and suggested that his barren run against the Rossoneri could come to an end, as English teams enjoyed this period of European success just as the Spanish and Italian clubs before them. The Milanese hoodoo may be broken tonight but do not write off il Diavolo and their former Red Devil David Beckham in a return match of titanic proportions.