MANCHESTER UTD 4-0 AC MILAN
The scoreline says it all in what was another one of those remarkable European nights at Old Trafford.
By Dan Salisbury-Jones.
The scoreline says it all in what was another one of those remarkable European nights at Old Trafford. It began with news that Wayne Rooney was to lead United’s front line. Alexandre Pato however, despite being included in Leonardo’s 22 man squad, would miss out for Milan through injury. A huge blow for the Italians, but it was still a star studded line up that looked to overturn United’s 3-2 advantage from the first leg.
David Beckham was welcomed back to Manchester with open arms, seen joking with United legend Wilf McGuinness on the pitch before the game and visual shows of affection from the Red’s fans with plenty of banners surrounding Old Trafford in his honour. He would however start on the bench.
So then it was down to business and the 22 men on the field to create what should be a spectacle of football as Milan needed to play an expansive game chasing at least 2 goals.
United started the brighter with Rooney firing a warning shot just past Abbiati’s left hand post and Valencia looking lively on the right. Even Gary Neville looked a threat with an ambitious left footed strike from 30 yards.
Nearing the 10 minute mark it was Milan’s turn to throw a couple of jabs in the early exchanges. A right footed free kick from Pirlo was flicked on by Nani straight on to the head of Ronaldinho who sent his header inches wide of Edwin Van Der Sar’s upright. There was the unmistakable sound of Old Trafford holding it’s breath as it flashed wide.
That chance was followed by a glorious ball from Thiago Silva which picked out Klass-Jan Huntelaar in some space in the penalty area, only for the Dutchman’s poor first touch to let him down.
It was to cost Milan, as 13 minutes in Gary Neville was not put under enough pressure and with a 25 yard cross into the box picked out the deadliest head in the world right now, Wayne Rooney who just had to guide it into the far corner past a despairing dive from Abbiati. The first goal would be vital and United had it.
Milan though did respond relatively well to the setback for a short period, Ronaldinho was seeing a lot of the ball and seemingly trying to recreate his magic that Chelsea were the victims of a couple of years ago.
20 minutes in saw the first real stop Edwin Van Der Sar had to make when Andrea Pirlo warmed his hands with a strike from just outside the area.
United were looking very much in control at this point though and were happy for Milan to have possession as it wasn’t really causing too many problems at all.
One final warning strike came on the stroke of half time when Darren Fletcher was not closed down and under no pressure 25 yards from goal, his right footed shot was pulled just wide though.
So with one half left to play, it really was now or never for Milan. It was to be never, as on 47 minutes, United broke with Nani playing a beautifully weighted ball with the outside of his right boot straight into the path of the onrushing Wayne Rooney, who gleefully prodded home. Game over surely now.
On 53 minutes came the first real chance of the second half for the Rossoneri, Ignazio Abate’s cross seemed destined to find the head of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar with the goal at his mercy 6 yards out. However, the cross was just too high and the Dutchman couldn’t keep his header down.
4 minutes later, Nani was twisting the right back inside and out before playing in a deep cross that could have either crept in at the far post or been met by the incoming Antonio Valencia before Milan’s keeper clawed the ball away with his right hand.
United’s third came next with Scholes threading a ball through to Ji-Sung Park who set himself with a wonderful first touch before finishing right footed low and hard across Abbiati’s goal in textbook fashion.
It would not be a dream return to the Theatre of Dreams for David Beckham as he entered the fray on 63 minutes with his side trailing 3-0 and a handsome 6-2 on aggregate. Replacing Abate, he did however receive a rapturous round of applause and he was visually moved by the reception.
Equal praise came for Wayne Rooney and Gary Neville as they left the field to standing ovations. We know how fantastic Rooney is and what a great game he had again but Gary Neville was also very impressive tonight in setting up a goal and looking very solid. The two were replaced by Rafael and Berbatov respectively.
The rather unimpressive Borriello also exited the stage at this point to be replaced by Filippo Inzaghi.
Paul Scholes then got a rather pointless yellow card in similar fashion to Michael Carrick’s at the Giuseppe Meazza for kicking the ball away.
On 69 minutes after the substitutes had broken up the flow of the game ex-Arsenal man Mathieu Flamini struck a low shot from 30 yards that Van Der Sar had to stop with an outstretched boot.
To the tune of ‘Who are yer’ from the United faithful, Ronaldinho found himself in the referee’s book after a rash challenge on Rafael on 71 minutes. Milan were frustrated and very deflated.
Yellow carded Paul Scholes made way for Darren Gibson next, the veteran midfielder had ran the show in the middle with Fletcher and Park.
Next was a potential chance for the visitors as a cross was cleared only as far as David Beckham who struck a sweet volley from the edge of the area, showing all the technique and skill that made him a United legend straight towards the middle of Van Der Sar’s goal which the Dutchman palmed over. A yard either side and it would have been a wondrous goal to mark his return.
The game entered the final 10 minutes with half hearted pressure from Milan mostly created through a series of inch perfect Beckham crosses. The next threat on goal was to come at the other end though as the ball ran through right into shooting territory of Darren Gibson who set to shoot, his effort was however wayward by his standards and you would have put money on him at least testing the Goalkeeper.
Mathieu Flamini was next to be carded for a foul on Nani, it looked fairly cynical but the Portuguese winger did go down easily.
It was fast turning into shooting practice in front of the Stretford End, the Italian’s obviously wanted the final whistle to lick their wounded ego’s. There was more pain to come though, as Brazilian right back Rafael picked out a superb ball to the far post which was met by flying Scotsman Darren Fletcher, who headed home on 88 minutes to round off a divine Manchester United performance.
There was still a moment for Milan to grab a goal at Old Trafford, David Beckham once more the architect with a stunning ball that flashed across the face of goal just past the reach of Filippo Inzaghi.
And so the final whistle came to the relief of AC Milan, who have been well and truly humbled tonight by a rampant Manchester United.
So many positives to take from this game for United. At the back, another outing for Vidic and Ferdinand together who made Milan’s impressive sounding attack look very blunt. United’s midfielders managed to smother the Italians and not allow them space to play and up front, well Wayne Rooney does it again. Today’s golden boy came back with a bang.
The non competition allowed fans at Old Trafford to be very vocal in their ‘Love United, Hate Glazier’ campaign which gathers more speed and coverage. David Beckham even put a yellow and gold scarf around him in support of the disenchanted fans as he left the pitch.
Tonight was not about David Beckham though, it was about a vintage display from Ferguson’s men. United storm through to the quarters in emphatic style to join Arsenal, Bayern Munich and Lyon.
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