Thursday, February 18, 2010

Milan succumb to Rooney's brilliance

On Tuesday night, Manchester United overcame both glaring inadequacies on their own part and a patchily classy performance from AC Milan to secure a definite advantage in their Round of 16 Champions League tie. The fact that both teams were beset by ill-judged manoeuvres all over the pitch and the fact that they were both capable of producing intermittent moments of brilliance, meant that the game made interesting viewing. In the end, it was a virtuoso performance from Wayne Rooney in the second half, which tipped the tie convincingly in favour of Manchester United who will return to Old Trafford, knowing that Milan will at the very least have to score two goals to progress to the next round.

In what enhanced an already flustered opening to the game, United’s carelessness at the back coupled with Ronalidinho’s willingness to take on the volley, when lesser players would have been prone to needless deliberation, saw AC Milan take the lead as early as in the third minute. Evra’s miscued clearance from a David Beckham free kick, fell kindly for Ronaldinho, whose volley seemed to be covered by Van der Sar, but a deflection off Carrick, meant that the ball found its way into the far corner. If they weren’t already rattled by the intimidating San Siro atmosphere, the goal certainly put United completely off their track giving rise to a period of stunning dominance from Milan. The Italians dominated possession in typically refined fashion and could have easily scored two or three more, if not for their profligacy in front of goal. Ronaldinho, in particular, spurred by his strike was in dazzling form and treated his compatriot Rafael to as torrid as time as the young right back would have experienced in his short career thus far.

Although comprehensively outclassed in the first period, United were able to go into the break, level on goals, courtesy an embarrassingly fortuitous finish from Paul Scholes, who sought to volley a Darren Fletcher cross with his right foot, only for the ball to strike his standing foot and trickle wide of Dida into the Milan goal. Even as the players were celebrating the equaliser, Sir Alex Ferguson tore into Jonny Evans who had been shockingly dreadful up until that point. Much of United’s initial sloppiness though, may have well been Ferguson’s own doing as he lined his team up in a strangely asymmetrical manner. Fletcher, Carrick and Scholes formed a midfield three to match Milan’s central midfield, but with Park Ji Sung starting ahead of the trio, Fletcher was forced into performing the role of a left winger as well as essay the task of a conventional central midfielder. Fletcher though showed every bit of his consummate professionalism as he went about the task with supreme verve and even managed to create two of United’s three goals.

Pursuant to what must have surely been a heated half time talk, the second period saw a resurgent Manchester United take the game to Milan, in a manner more befitting of the English champions. Antonio Valencia who was sent in place of Nani with the specific mandate of attacking Milan’s thirty eight year old left back Giuseppe Favalli, did that and more, when he beat Favalli on the outside and crossed into the far post, for Rooney to finish impressively with his head. Buoyed by their lead, United exuded greater confidence in their passing and movement and may have been forgiven for thinking that they had settled the tie entirely in their favour, when Rooney completed his brace after some neat interplay with Fletcher. Having expertly controlled and held up a long ball from the back, Rooney immaculately laid the ball back to Fletcher, whose delightful chipped ball back into the path of Rooney, was headed into the back of the net with newfound aplomb.

Having gone up 3-1, one would have expected Man United to show adequate nous and retain possession in a more assured manner, but the Reds were guilty of being incautiously adventurous as they allowed Milan to claw one back. Clarence Seedorf, who came on for Beckham, conjured a moment of sublime magic to finish past Van Der Sar with an elegant back heel after a smart cutback from Ronaldinho. In the end though, in spite of having huffed and puffed for large periods, United must be satisfied for having not only beaten Milan at the San Siro, but also for having scored three away goals, which makes Milan’s task in the second leg exceedingly difficult, if not utterly impossible.


Rahul Saha said...

Milan's defending for Rooney's second goal was horrific. So much time!

Suhrith said...

Ya, the defending of the Italians isn't what it used to be like.