Manchester United 4
Rooney 13, 46 Park 60 Fletcher 87
AC Milan 0
A rampant Manchester United performance put paid to Milan’s slim chances of progressing through to the last eight of the Champions League at Old Trafford last night.
The game started ominously for Milan with the build up to United’s first chance proving to be symptomatic of the defensive ineptitude the team showed all night. Luis Antonio Valencia was allowed too much room after winning the ball on the edge of the box, slipping in Wayne Rooney who showed his characteristic strength and awareness of goal to place a shot narrowly wide of the post. The Rossoneri almost paid for their inability to close United down again when, moments later, Gary Neville was given seemingly limitless time and space to get a shot away. Milan did however manage to get forward in the early exchanges; Ronaldinho going close when he headed a deflected free kick just wide of Edwin van der Sar’s post.
United looked particularly vulnerable to balls over the top, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar managed to break through a pushed up defensive line but lacked the control to capitalise on Thiago Silva’s pin-point pass from deep.
Rooney’s 30th goal of the season not only put the tie beyond doubt but also shattered the visitor’s resolve on the night. Despite stringing together some good passes in the midfield, Milan were impotent in attack. Ronaldinho looked a shadow of the player that had tormented Rafael in the first leg, what Neville lacks in pace over the young pretender to the right back berth he made up for in impeccable position and tackling, not allowing the Brazilian the room to weave the magic that has tormented defences in Italy all season. Neville also got forward with great effect, providing a glorious cross for Rooney to convert for the goal.
Luis Nani atoned for a disappointing first leg performance when, just a minute after the break, he played a beautifully weighted cross-field through ball to an on running Rooney who made no mistake to grab his second of the night. By then Milan looked dead and buried, with Huntelaar spurning their only real chance of a torrid second half, heading wide after good work from Andrea Pirlo and Ignazio Abate in the build up.
David Beckham came on shortly after Ji-Sung Park had made it three, walking on the field to a rapturous reception from the United fans. He almost stole the headlines shortly afterwards, hitting a venomous volley from just outside the area only to be thwarted by van der Sar. The 36-year-old who played 265 times for United was visibly moved by the reception he received, showing solidarity with the fans by putting on a green and gold scarf, a symbol of the United faithful’s dissatisfaction with the ownership of the club, as he walked off the field.
Darren Fletched completed the rout in the 87th minute beating Christian Abbiati at the far post with a close range header.
As much as Manchester United were the engineers of their own success, producing a truly vintage performance, Leonardo will need to ask some serious questions of his team. Its total failure to gain control in any area of the pitch and lack of cutting edge up front will need addressing as Milan focus on a strong finish to their domestic campaign. Huntelaar’s performance over both legs will also be a worry, after missing a gilt-edged chance at the San Siro, the Dutchman struggled again tonight. With United’s clinical finishing proving the difference over the two legs, the Rossoneri will be ruing missed opportunities as they return to Italy.