Man Utd non-reaction to San Siro scintillation
With Liverpool into the Champions League final, it was down to Manchester United to emerge through their 2nd leg at the San Siro last night to make the final an all-English one, the first in the competition's history. The Spaniards have achieved it in 2000 with Real Madrid v Valencia, and so have the Italians in 2003 between AC Milan and Juventus. But last night things went quite astray from the norm with Man Utd. From the kick-off Milan were playing sharp passing and moving football while Utd could not get a touch on the ball. The word is constantly about the Brazilian Kaka, with perhaps Gennaro Gattuso added, and no doubt had Paolo Maldini been fit his name would have been repeated too. There are others who additionally contribute largely to the cause for Milan, and last night those names were Clarence Seedorf, Andreas Pirlo and for me Massimo Ambrosini, captain on the night in Maldini's absence, to name three.
The threat came within the opening minutes from Kaka and Seedorf. Kaka broke down the right easily past Nemanja Vidic to pass across goal. Seedorf picked up a loose ball from a corner by the penalty box 'D' and shot for Edwin van der Sar to tip over. Fillippo Inzaghi touched an effort inside thebox into van der Sar's arms. So when an Alessandro Nesta ball came over for Seedorf to nod on, Kaka was on hand by that very same 'D' to hit the ball into the corner on 11mins. In response Christiano Ronaldo tried to break down the left where he started but Gattuso was equal to him, clearly fulfilling his role to watch the Portuguese winger. Utd hardly gained a touch on the ball to threaten Milan at this stage, Milan were busy threading pass after pass with near accuracy, near enough to keep possession and build up their attack. Giggs picked up on a Nesta mis-header to turn in and shoot low for Dida to palm stop and gather.
However, on 30mins, Utd conceded again. Gabriel Heinze collected the ball and could have either cleared it down field or chipped it across to either Wes Brown or John o'Shea over to the right, but instead he turned it to Vidic, who was immediately put under pressure by Inzaghi and slipped, the ball came to Pirlo who was closed down by Heinze. Yet Pirlo still managed to get a cross over, which was touched on by Vidic with three other Utd players in the box, the only players in the box. Seedorf picked up the ball, again by the 'D', evaded one challenge and another and then fired low into the same corner Kaka did. It was calamitous. Utd then enjoyed a brief spell of possession with Wayne Rooney trying to thread through a pass but to no avail, there was little from Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, and Milan were becoming welcome to shutting out the attacks and calmly threading themselves out of danger.
Being 2-0 down meant potentially Utd could once again for the second consecutive match come back, and in doing so they would need just two goals and not conceded anymore. They had more possession, which was good in that they could now perhaps command something more in Milan's third to open them up slightly and cause some panic. But it was not to be, Dida was rarely tested and time was not of the essence. One chance Utd had to make a difference came via Rooney passing down the right to Darren Fletcher, who could have kept his shot down but saw it go up and wide instead. This meant Sir Alex would make a change as the game moved into the last quarter.
O'Shea was sacrificed for Louis Saha, the idea being the formation was 3-4-3, Ronaldo up with Saha and Rooney, keeping the four in midfield to break up Milan's passing in the middle of the pitch and feed the three upfront on the immediate counter. Yet a minute after the change Milan exposed the 3-man defence on the counter themselves. From within their box, they construct pass after pass until Ambrosini passed into a canyon of a gap in the middle of Utd's defence, where only sub Alberto Gilardinho, on for Inzaghi some ten minutes earlier, galloped alone with only Brown in pursuit. Gilardino tucked away Milan's third to compound Utd's exit.
Sir Alex was gracious in defeat in the post-interview, submitting that he has had to play with the same players for a while while Milan could rest theirs over the weekend, how Milan were sharper and physically prepared to battle in a downpour of weather that engulfed the pitch before and during play. In hindsight the manner which Utd found themselves 2-0 down at Goodison Park on Saturday may have been a more obvious indication of fatigue than was first thought. But not in hindsight was the line-up last night. I would have preferred Ronaldo on the right and Giggs on the left to start with, contemplated having Alan Smith starting to get at the Milan defence as he did to Roma.
There was talk mentioned that Rooney as the lone striker didn't work as he loves to play off the striker rather than be one. In that sense, Smith or Saha would have been better to start with Rooney, pitting Ronaldo against Marek Jankulovski, Giggs to press on Massimo Oddo as the right-back has shown a regularity in attacking often, like his predecessor Cafu did. I mentioned above the penalty box 'D', which was significant as there was no one covering that area to clear danger at all why Milan managed to exploit it, something which I expected either Scholes or Fletcher to do. Also on a night like last night, thought should have been given to introducing Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer, who can interject something into the game from nothing. From when the 60th minute came and Utd had made no progress, I would have contemplated changes.