First of all, Milan did not deserve to lose this match. Though possession was fairly even, the home side had more chances to score,, and if Milan had a world class striker in their lineup, like a Wayne Rooney, then Milan would have come away with a comfortable victory.
Things were looking good for Milan early on in the game. The whole side seemed ready for the occasion and duly took the early initiative through a Ronaldinho strike just minutes into play.
The real turning point was when Antonini was forced off onto the sideline to be treated for an injury but play still continued. In his absence, it was Fletcher who stole down the right wing, forcing Thiago wide to cover the gap left by Antonini who was on the sideline. Nesta, who’s performance was poor on the night, should have got to the ball before it bounced of Scholes’ left leg for the most fortuitous of goals.
Losing Antonini was unlucky and it ultimately changed the outcome of the game. For, with Antonini injured, Milan were forced to bring on Favalli and this could only mean one thing, danger. Ferguson, recognizing how useless Nani was brought on the speedy Ecuadorian Valencia to exploit the weaknesses of Favalli at left back and it did not take long before he did. Favalli, unable to keep pace with Valencia, allowed the substitute to swing in the cross that Rooney headed home to put United ahead.
Not only was Favalli, as so often, at fault for this goal but Dida and Bonera both should have done better. The cross was on the six yard line and Dida should have jumped to punch away the danger. Instead, the Brazilian stood helpless on his goal line as he watched the ball float past him. As for Bonera, he should have at least tried to challenge for the ball rather than stay on the ground and allow Rooney to jump over him to nod home.
For United’s third goal, it was Bonera again who has much to answer for. Bonera gave Fletcher so much time and space on the ball in a dangerous area allowing the Scotsman to tee up a delightful chip over the defence and with a player like Rooney, it was easy does it.
In this match, Bonera, despite some flashes of class, showed just why he has never quite made it to the top. He showed why he is a peripheral figure at Milan and why he has had little chance on the international stage. Bonera should have at least attempted to get to the ball before Rooney scored his first goal and for Rooney’s second he should have attempted to shut down Fletcher and maybe push him wide and put him under pressure.
If he had done so Fletcher would have never got that cross in to Rooney to score and all but seal the win. Bonera, at best, should only be considered a squad player.
As for Favalli, at 38, not too much can be expected of him. Favalli represents all that is wrong with the club and that is keeping players who are well past their prime and who are just simply too old. Many of our players are simply too old and do not have the legs anymore to compete on the big stage.
Despite the failings in defence, Milan had more than enough chances to come away with a win. Huntelaar, who’s performance left much to be desired, should have done better when put clean through by Ambrosini in the first half. And Inzaghi should have leveled things up in the second half when put through on goal by Ronaldinho.
Other chances were squandered by Milan with Ronaldinho, Antonini, Ambrosini and Pato all guilty of failing to make the most of them.
The decision by Leo to start Beckham was a curious one and if Milan had won than maybe we would be singing the praises of Leo. But the fact is that it did not work. It should have been Gattuso or Flamini to start alongside Pirlo in midfield. With two defensive midfielders Pirlo would have been provided more cover to venture forward. Instead, Pirlo was dragged into more defensive duties throughout the match rendering less effective than what he could have been.
Also, in these big games where more often than not they are won and lost in midfield, it was simply an order to tall for Ambrosini to battle it out successfully with Fletcher and Carrick. Ambrosini, though he has been great throughout the season, has still shown at times his limitations. He never has been a world beater and his legs are starting to catch up with him.
He simply cannot do all the dirty work in midfield alone. Ambrosini needs a Gattuso or a Flamini alongside him.
It was clear why Leo started Bonera on the right. This provided more cover on the right for both Pato and Beckham. However, this surprising decision did not work either. Bonera was partly responsible for United’s second goal and almost wholly responsible for United’s third. It begs the question, if Abate has shown that he is good enough for the first team, then why drop him for such a big game and play Bonera who has only recently come back from injury and who has not featured at right back all season?
Despite Leo’s failed decisions, United were still lucky to come away with victory. Their first goal was nothing but luck and they were simply lucky that Milan failed to convert more of their numerous chances.
The performances of Nesta, Bonera, Huntelaar, and Beckham were all well under par. Nesta in particular was poor failing to contain Rooney and being completely outshone by Thiago Silva. Huntelaar was virtually nonexistent all night and Beckham’s contribution was minimal. Bonera’s failings have already been alluded to.
On a positive note, Seedorf again showed his European pedigree. Chipping in with a fine goal late in the game to give Milan at least some hope of still qualifying for the quarter finals. His introduction was a good decision by Leo, but perhaps should have been brought on earlier.
Thiago Silva was easily our best player at the back and in midfield Ambrosini still had a stellar display, but just too much was expected of him.
Our best player on the night was easily Ronaldinho. Though he drifted in and out of the game at times, when he was in the game he always nearly made a difference. Ronaldinho scored one, created another, and could have scored another one. So another good night out for the smiling Brazilian.
Having never scored let alone win at the San Siro against Milan makes this United performance deserving of much praise, though it was not without much luck. Wayne Rooney’s performance in particular was outstanding. He got the better of Nesta all night and was quite simply the difference between the two sides. Rooney is without doubt one of the hottest strikers in the world right now.
This match did show that this Milan team is very much capable of beating Manchester United. This result was an unlucky one despite some sub par performances from the Rossoneri and some ill-advised decisions on Leo’s behalf.
Come the return leg at Old Trafford, Milan should head into this match believing they can win. But it will not be easy, the Theatre of Dreams being one of the hardest places to travel to and come away with anything. But Milan are masters of European football and in two weeks time they will have to prove this again.