Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Milan v United: Iceman Rooney earns his 'big game' stripes......

Last night's Champions League clash with AC Milan was one of the strangest United games for many a long year. The champions were simply dreadful in the opening minutes in front a packed San Siro. United could so easily have been three-nil down after just eleven minutes. The Reds had deservedly gone behind on just three minutes following a poor attempted clearance by Patrice Evra from a Beckham free-kick that fell kindly to the feet of Ronaldinho, who scored with a deflected effort that gave Van der Sar no chance.

Frankly, United could have had no complaints if they'd conceded three or four in the opening period, but amazingly they went into the half-time break on level terms thanks to another bizarre goal, this time from Paul Scholes, who somewhat embarrassingly scored with his standing leg.

As the game entered the second period the champions slowly gained more confidence as they clawed their way back into what was turning into an absorbing contest: as United got better, in contrast Milan visibly wilted, which made it compelling viewing.

Ferguson had taken the unusual step of electing to start with Fletcher on the left, no doubt in a bid to curb David Beckham (a point that went completely over the head of Sky's "expert" pundit Andy Gray...). Once United's midfield trio of Fletcher, Carrick and Scholes took control of midfield the goal scoring opportunities soon followed. Rooney had been fed off scraps in the first-half, but as United gained confidence, they started play to a more incisive brand of football and Milan had no answer.

One of the key moments of the second-half was the introduction of Valencia for Nani, who had a poor game. United's Portuguese winger has had a good month, but against Milan he was back to his worst, he was quite simply awful, his final ball was more often than not way off target.

It came as no surprise that Nani was hauled off, and it didn't take his replacement long to make an impact. It was Valencia who supplied a superb cross to the back stick where he found Rooney who rose like a Salmon and calmly planted his header over Dida in the Milan goal and into the top corner.

At this point United were very much on top and they made their superiority pay with another pin-point cross, this time from Fletcher. The Scotland midfield star dissected the Milan centre-backs and found the head of unmarked Rooney, who took his goal in the manner of a training ground knockout. Rooney has been superb in front of goal this season and Ferguson's faith has been repaid in spades.

However, while there is much to celebrate, there was also some degree of concern because Rooney collected a yellow card for his troubles. In another clash Rooney's boot appeared to make contact with the head of Milan's Bonera, which left the Italian defender nursing a sore head as well as a centre parting. But the last thing United need now is to lose Rooney due to ill-discipline.

It was by no means a dirty contest, but Michael Carrick was sent-off, harshly it has to be said, for kicking the ball away, it was his second booking of the night and as a result he will miss the return leg at Old Trafford.

Clarence Seedorf came off the bench and scored would could prove to be a vital second goal late on for Milan with a clever flick that beat Van der Sar all ends up at his near post.

United ended up three two winners, but it could so easily have been very different. Rio Ferdinand was the pick of United's back four, he made one vital second-half block that almost certainly would have resulted in a goal but for the new England captain's intervention. Rooney was United's man of the match, largely because of his coolness in front of goal.

United should be confident of progressing through to the last eight, but they will know Milan pose a serious threat with players like Pato, Beckham, Pirlo and Ronaldinho.

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