Sunday, 14 February 2010
Remembering Milan: What happened to United 3 years ago?
The Champions League semi final first leg of three years ago was one of the most nerve jangling games i have ever been to. On the night United won the game 3-2, with Rooney scoring at the death. A match of high drama billed as the battle of the best two players on the planet..who now ply their trade as team mates in Spain. Kaka won the fight with two knockout punches despite Ronaldo's constant jabbing, and was crowned World Footballer of the Year.
However I do not remember this game for Kaka. Like many fans i have a taste for the technical, and despite Kaka shining on centre stage over the tie, it was United's deficiencies in the two games that i remember, and the performance of one old Milanese midfield general in the centre of the pitch.
United went in 1-2 down at half time mainly down to some calamitous defending by Heinze and Evra (Vida and Rio were both out), allowing the Brazilian genius to pick us off. But it was Gennaro Gattuso who was the man that dragged his team into the final. He was faced up against Fletcher, who was not the player he is today. And he ran the show. The only reason we managed to spin the first result round to a 3-2 win in the first leg was because Gattuso went of injured..and we then battered the Italians for 30 minutes of Old Trafford pomp.
In the second leg we were destroyed. With virtually a whole defence injured we didn't have the tools for the challenge. Once again their experienced heads of Gattuso, Seedorf and Pirlo danced and snarled their way round the San Siro, and the game was over as a contest in no time. Despite going on to then win the competition, Milan were on their way down..an aging team, whereas for United it was a lesson we needed learn. Of course since that lesson, we have visited the final for both years since that event.
I eulogised after that defeat that if we had had an Owen Hargreaves type player, that we would have nullified Gattuso's dominance, which would have meant Kaka wouldn't have had as much of the ball, which means we may have actually won. Somehow Sir Alex listened to me (!!) and went out and purchased the Bayern player...and success was then ours.
3 years on, and its fair to say that not many things have changed as a whole. United and Milan are still two of the top clubs in the world, and there are some frightening parallels emerging if you are a Red Devil. That Milan side are still being powered by those three midfielders i previously named, but with a different Brazilian starlet at the helm..the prodigious Pato. Add to that the marquee names of Ronaldinho and Beckham, and you suddenly have a very experienced side who have been there, done that and bought the t shirt more times than an over enthusiastic tourist! Milan have also showed signs of good form in Serie A, with the bucktoothed genius playing his best football since his Barca days. And with the prodigal Manchester son of Becks coming home..well it just adds to all the possible drama that may unfold.
The other link to three years ago is the absence of the afore mentioned Hargreaves. His United career is in ruins as his OAP knees start to wave the white flag prematurely. However, Darren Fletcher is a different beast now. he will be vital to the cause in these two matches. It will be the engine rooms that decide this game. Yeah I'm sure a Rooney or a Pato or God forbid even a Beckham may steal all the post result headlines, but this game is about a midfield chess match
That defeat from 3 years ago still stings. Our success since then has numbed that, but I've been waiting for Milan since 2007. This is our time for some vengeance. But the eyes must be on the prize. We must be concentrated on doing a professional job in the San Siro. If we have to be dogs of war on Tuesday night then so be it. I'm not interested in pretty pretty when you are up against an old dog like Gattuso and co. We may just have to kick and scream our way to the next round. Last time we were the young boys, but we've grown up a fair bit since. Our form is electric domestically and we need to somehow transfer that vitality to the European stage
Despite the parallels, this is a different time. Clarence Seedorf said this weekend that we are "outsiders" due to us being light of a Tev and a Ron. Only history will tell the story in the future if the Dutchman was right.
So off to Italia we go! This is officially the start of the business end of the season.