United in the driving seat but result hides serious weaknesses



Ronaldinho 3, Seedorf 85


Scholes 36, Rooney 66, 74

Manchester United will take a 3-2 aggregate lead back to Old Trafford after an enthralling nip and tuck tie at the San Siro. Both teams enjoyed periods of extended dominance with both United and Milan’s performances effortlessly swinging between the sublime and the ridiculous.

It was Milan who took the early initiative in the game going 1-0 up after four minutes. Patrice Evra’s woeful attempt at a clearance, allowing Ronaldinho to snatch a deflected shot past Edwin van der Sar, epitomised the defensive ineptitude that became the enduring feature of the visitor’s poor first half performance. Clearly rattled by the early goal United looked out of sorts. Rather than respond to the early blow with the composure and control that propelled them to two consecutive finals they faltered allowing the Rossoneri to run riot. The first half saw Milan dictate the match with a display of pressing, harrying midfield play, and incisive attacking led by Ronaldinho and Alexandre Pato.

With Nemanja Vidic still absent it was left to the still relatively inexperienced Jonny Evans and a Rio Ferdinand far from his best to deal with il Diavolo’s attacking threat. Evan’s looked out of his depth – his performance was so shaky that Sir Alex Ferguson could be seen berating the 22-year-old centre-back from the sidelines after a series of missed interceptions and poor passes. Ferdinand’s poor performance culminated in him almost costing his team dearly when a wayward Paul Scholes pass gifted possession to a marauding Ronaldinho. The newly-appointed England skipper got nothing of the ball in a challenge just on the edge of the area that ended a run full of the flair and zeal that typified the Brazilian’s exceptional first half performance.

At the other end of the pitch United’s attacking failures were summed up by the visible frustration of Wayne Rooney. After a good run of form in previous games the much-derided Nani spurned the majority of United’s attacks with appalling crossing and indecision in the final third. Even United’s equaliser had an air of the comedic about it with Scholes’s mistimed volley trickling past a hapless Dida via his standing leg. Rooney’s goal on 66 set up by Antonio Valencia, on for Nani, acted as the catalyst for a 20-minute period of total dominance on a par with the Rossoneri’s first half performance. Before Clarence Seedorf ‘s goal rejuvenated a clearly shell-shocked Milan, United finally clicked into gear playing their characteristic brand of attacking, free-flowing football, spearheaded by the magnificent Rooney.

Despite United’s late brilliance, Milan will go into the second leg assured that they have the measure of a United side full of exposable weaknesses. With better finishing United should have leaked four goals. Ronaldinho at times toyed with Rafael da Silva who is guaranteed another torrid evening if he starts at Old Trafford. The partnership of Evans and Ferdinand also looked, at best, unconvincing, and barring Rooney, United’s attack looked uninspiring.

A period of exceptional play not often seen this season may have handed the Premier League champions the advantage but Seedorf’s late goal and United’s frailties leave the door to the quarter-final very much ajar for Milan.

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