Ronaldinho 3, Seedorf 85
MANCHESTER UNITED 3
Scholes 36, Rooney 66, 74
The score-line is bruising for Milan. Clarence Seedorf’s late, classy finish has eased the bodyblow of Wayne Rooney’s double, but the Rossoneri must look longingly in failings at both ends, as to why they have ceded parity.
For large parts of the match Milan looked the better side. Brisk passing through the middle of the park had United scrambling. Ronaldinho was playing like it was a courtesy rather than a chore, the spark in his feet was a persistent threat, as was Alexandre Pato stationed on the other side. What was most encouraging about il Diavolo’s attacks was United’s frantic efforts to overt them. The whole United back four looked hasty and hesitant, as they were caught cold on a ground they have not enjoyed good fortunes.
As well as looking a danger themselves, they were aided and abetted by some nervous defending from the visitors. A series of rushed clearances and kamikaze passing in their own half presented the hosts with yet more situations they spurned, and this general theme continued throughout. Although the score doesn’t offer much cheer, there is plenty of reason for optimism ahead of the return leg.
Another night, another game, Milan could have won with room to spare. It is this glass half-full attitude they should take to Old Trafford with a two-goal margin needed. Basically, Milan need goals, two minimum, three likely, more probably. If Ronaldinho and Pato can have their game on, and United don’t function well defensively, the Rossoneri will create chances. Are they going to take them?
It will be interesting to see how Sir Alex Ferguson sets out his team back in Manchester. After their open and attacking nature was swathed through by Kaka and Co in 2007, Ferguson has noticeably shifted to a more formulaic functioning. A five man midfield has been the norm, so, will United curb their usual forward intentions for the second leg? Against Barcelona in the return of their semi in 2008, they were happy to cease ground and possession. Leonardo’s men will have plenty of opportunity to control the game.
If Andrea Pirlo and his midfield associates can get a grip of the ball, they have shown they are able to play at the heart of the Red Devils. Michael Carrick will be suspended and Paul Scholes looked way off the pace for chasing the ball. It will take a concentrated, organised and clinical display if they are to overturn a hefty disadvantage.
Unfortunately that all sounds far too simplistic, and you must wonder whether Milan really have missed the boat here. Surely United will not be as dishevelled as they were tonight, and a far superior showing will be demanded by Ferguson. The Scot will not allow a second bite of the cherry. There is, also, another major stumbling block in the form of Wayne Rooney who looked a cut above everybody else. The Milan defence simply looked unable to cope with Rooney, who constantly engineered himself chances. It will be difficult to implement any plans to stop the man, and in such form he could settle the tie alone if left unshackled.
Progression to the quarters would require one of the club’s finest ever European performances. It is an almighty ask, and one largely of their own doing.