Saturday, December 19, 2009

United must raise their game if they are to settle AC Milan score..

Manchester United will face AC Milan in the Champions League round of 16 - it is a draw that neither club will have wanted - but the Italians have every reason to be confident of progressing to the quarter final given the champions woeful record against Milan.

Ferguson gave his reaction to the draw to the media ahead of this weekend's Premier League clash with Fulham; according to the United manager the players' learnt more from losing last season's Champions League final than they did when winning it on penalties against Chelsea the previous season.

Apart from the opening ten minutes of the Rome final, in which United looked the better team, Barcelona wiped the floor with the Red Devils'; quite what the players' learnt from that sorry display - apart from the fact that they were comprehensively out-played in midfield would be a good question to ask Ferguson. It is one thing suffering the bitter taste of defeat – quite another being capable of doing anything about it should United meet Barcelona again.

Whatever Ferguson says about lessons being learnt it doesn't alter that fact that United have come up against Milan twice in Ferguson's reign, both ties ended in humiliation; the latest meeting came about in the 06'-07' semi-final, the champions won the first leg 3-2 at Old Trafford but then didn't turn up for the second-leg in the San Siro, as they wimped out without so much as a whimper when losing embarrassingly 3-0 - it was one of the most limp-dicked United performances in living memory.

If the events of 2006 were hard to stomach, that sorry episode paled into insignificance when the great unwashed aka Liverpool fought back to win the Istanbul final against Milan in 2005. Along the way, the Red Devils' once again proved to be too easy to beat in both legs of the round of 16 as Milan breezed into the quarter final when winning both legs 1-0 thanks to Crespo. The score-line wasn’t emphatic but Milan had controlled both legs in a manner that was totally unacceptable as far the fans were concerned.

Looking ahead to this year's round of 16, both teams have been seriously weakened with the loss of star players like Ronaldo, Tevez and Kaka. United have looked unconvincing in just about every department of late. The champions recently surrendered a long unbeaten European run at Old Trafford against Besiktas and very nearly lost against CSKA Moscow.

United were beaten by an in-form Aston Villa last weekend in the Premier League, uncharacteristically, home form has been something of a concern. It's true to say that while injuries have played a big part in some of the issues facing the manager, tinkering also played its part in some of those games.

There's a growing concern among some of the fans about Fergie's decision making, those concerns were highlighted again when the manager opted to start with one striker against Aston Villa last weekend.

With no out and out striker to select, Fergie should be starting with two strikers in every game, but despite this rather obvious weakness he flirts with 4-3-3 (4-5-1) which does not work with the manager’s current options up front. The fact that Fergie elects to start with one striker, not only can play into the hands of the opposition when United all too predictably lose possession, but it also speaks volumes about the manager's lack of confidence in his central midfield options which is why he attempts to flood that department.

It remains to be seen if United can raise their collective game, to a level that will see the champions end what has, for some, become a painful losing hoodoo against AC Milan; the two clubs have met four times and United have lost on every occasion - a losing run that stretches back to the 1950s.

On paper there shouldn't be much between the two teams; both have match winners in Rooney, Giggs, Owen, and Scholes. While Milan have players like Pirlo, Inzaghi, Huntelaar, Ronaldinho and most dangerous of all Pato. Some United fans will be surprised to learn that Michael Owen is currently second top in the leading scoring stakes with four, just two behind Ronaldo.

Milan only just sneaked through to the knockout phase of this year's competition after winning two games, drawing three and losing one to FC Zurich. While losing and drawing with the Swiss club was a surprise, Milan's 3-2 win away at the Bernabeu was the result and performance of the competition so far; the Italians' should have won more comfortably on the night - the fact they didn't was down to some very dubious refereeing decisions.

Despite the loss of Kaka, Milan pose a serious threat to United - the fans and Fergie will do not need reminding of that. However, Fergie's incoherent meddling with his formation, combined with defensive frailties, the odds should favour Milan progressing at United's expense for a fifth time, but while United have match-winners, most notably in the form of Wayne Rooney there is always hope.

In boxing parlance, United have a puncher's chance, but nothing more than that. While injuries have undoubtedly given Fergie a thumping headache of late, perhaps more than any other factor, the current United lacks character, knowhow and stomach for fight in central midfield. Barcelona cruelly exposed that weakness in last year's final, and Milan did it 2007 and 2005 when Genarro Gattuso stomped all over United's pitiful engine room.

It is time for United to raise their collective game and Fergie needs to stop talking clap-trap about lessons learnt from previous campaigns. Talk is cheap.

4 comments:

  1. I was just interested to know if you have been watching any of Serie A this season. It seems to me that your entire analysis of Milan is based on their performance in the Champions League. If you'd seen AC's performance against Palermo at the weekend then you'd know that in no way are Utd going to be playing against the winners of the 06-07 CL.
    Admittedly they're not a team to be taken lightly, but are no where near the threat that you are making them out to be.
    I seem to take constant issue with your negativity but I really can't see how Utd's current troubles with defensive injuries has any bearing on a match scheduled for 2 months time.
    Barca did stamp all over our midfield last season but we were missing our most effective central midfielder in Fletcher and Carrick, arguably our 2nd most effective was playing with a broken toe.

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  2. NTE,

    I bet you wish you hadn't posted those comments following the disgraceful performance at Craven Cottage today. United will need a miracle to beat Milan based on what we have seen today. Despite the injury problems the senior players were nothing short of a disgrace to the name of Manchester United today.

    Despite what you say, Milan's performance the in Bernabeu was the best I've seen so far this season in any competition.

    Nut I do with you about Fletcher in last year's final.

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  3. Haha, that was a thought after the match.
    However the performance of Milan against Madrid was out of the norm, week in week out they have looked very poor.
    Regarding the Fulham match, for once I do agree with your negative assessment, that was an embarrassing performance.

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  4. nte,

    Regarding your point about Milan. Cast your mind back to 2007 when we didn't turn up at the San Siro and went on to be humiliated.

    Milan were not playing well at the time, so much so that the Italian media were taken aback by the level of their performance - roll the clock forward to 2009...

    I don't want to be viewed as a harbinger of doom, but when you see the mighty reds being humbled by Burnley, Villa and Fulham then I think there's every reason to be concerned about the prospect of facing Milan - no matter how indifferent their league form has been.

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