Manchester United were the favourites to progress through to the quarter-finals from this tie, but their 3-2 comeback victory against Milan at San Siro a fortnight ago must have come as a huge surprise even to their own supporters. Technically, the United side didn’t look on a par with the Rossoneri but it was their spirit, physical stamina and superiority and clinical ability to take the chances when they came that eventually led them to return home with a narrow lead.
All this implies that the Red Devils are almost certain to qualify for the last eight stage. United have been in great form since that win in Milan and defeated Aston Villa at Wembley to lift the Carling Cup. This weekend Sir Alex Ferguson’s side went top of the table in the Premier League after a narrow 1-0 win against Wolverhampton Wanderers away from home.
However, United shouldn’t be complacent as Milan do have a very strong side and, with Alexandre Pato’s return to the stating line-up on Wednesday, the Rossoneri will have a formidable front line. Last season at a similar stage, when United were up against another Italian side, Milan’s city rivals Inter, they did eventually win 2-0 at Old Trafford in the second leg, but the Nerazzurri actually struck the frame of the United goal twice. United will certainly not like things to be that close this time around.
The Return Of The Prodigal Son
Awaiting A Miracle
David Beckham returns to Old Trafford and will play his first competitive match against his old side at the Theatre of Dreams. The 34-year-old left the club under acrimonious circumstances after falling out with manager Sir Alex Ferguson in 2003 and has since gone on to feature for Real Madrid and LA Galaxy.
It will indeed be an emotional night for Beckham, but the England international midfielder has persistently insisted that this time he will be happy to see United lose. A Milan triumph is not probable, but Clarence Seedorf’s goal in the 85th minute for Milan in the first leg has given the Rossoneri a glimmer of hope.
Milan have recovered in Serie A and are now just four points off the pace. Coach Leonardo will be hoping that his side get an early goal and get the momentum going. Alexandre Pato’s return to the starting line-up is a matter to rejoice too, but it is indeed a daunting task for the Rossoneri to overhaul a 3-2 deficit from the first leg. Milan will have to score at least twice to progress to the quarter-finals and, although it is not an impossible feat to achieve, it is unlikely under the current circumstances; but then again, football is full of miracles.
March 6 v Wolverhampton Wanderers (A) – WON 1-0 (Premier League)
February 28 v Aston Villa (N) – WON 2-1 (Carling Cup)
February 23 v West Ham (H) – WON 3-0 (Premier League)
February 20 v Everton (A) – LOST 3-1 (Premier League)
February 16 v Milan (A) – WON 3-2 (Champions League)
March 6 v Roma (A) – DREW 0-0 (Serie A)
February 28 v Atalanta (H) – WON 3-1 (Serie A)
February 24 v Fiorentina (A) – WON 2-1 (Serie A)
February 21 v Bari (A) – WON 2-0 (Serie A)
February 16 v Manchester United (H) – LOST 3-2 (Champions League)
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson must be relieved that he has Wayne Rooney back training with the rest of the squad. The England international striker missed Saturday’s 1-0 win over Wolves but attended the training session at Carrington on Tuesday morning. Fortunately for the Red Devils, there are no new injury concerns. Rooney is likely to be partnered by Dimitar Berbatov up front and Rafael could be given the nod ahead of Gary Neville at right-back, although Ferguson might like to go with a more experienced defender given that both Ronaldinho and David Beckham could be on the pitch from the start.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Van der Sar, Rafael, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Valencia, Scholes, Fletcher, Park; Rooney, Berbatov
Alexandre Pato has been passed fit to feature at Old Trafford and he will certainly start. Clarence Seedorf too has recovered from a minor injury setback. David Beckham started the first leg at San Siro and he will be drafted into the starting line-up, although coach Leonardo may change his mind and start with Seedorf instead. Marco Borriello remains in pole position to start in the centre of a three-man attack line that will see Ronaldinho on the left and Pato play from the right.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Abbiati; Bonera, Nesta, Silva, Antonini; Beckham, Pirlo, Ambrosini; Ronaldinho, Borriello, Pato
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
The England international striker was arguably the best player on the pitch when the two sides met at the San Siro a fortnight ago as he got the better of Alesandro Nesta and Thiago Silva and scored twice to lead his team to a remarkable 3-2 comeback victory. Rooney, placed at number nine in the Castrol Rankings, missed this weekend’s trip to Wolverhampton in the Premier League, but he will be back to the starting line-up on Wednesday evening. Rooney has been superb for United this campaign and has shouldered much of the scoring burden, having scored 23 times in the English top flight and twice in the Champions League. Rooney will again be a menace for the Milan defenders and given that he will have the home crowd backing him all the time, the 24-year-old could once again get the better of Nesta and Silva.
Alexandre Pato (Milan)
Ronaldinho might still remain Milan’s main creative strength and indeed the most dangerous man from United’s perspective, but Alexandre Pato’s return to the Milan side after an injury lay-off implies, in Goal.com Chief Editor Ewan Macdonald’s words, “this is still a contest”. Pato will start on the right and his pace and skills will be a handful for Patrice Evra, who will be checked back continuously. Pato has scored 12 goals in Serie A and two in the Champions League and the Brazilian international striker’s understanding and link-up with Ronaldinho is going to be crucial if Milan are to make the mother of all comebacks at Old Trafford on Wednesday night.
It would have been common sense to write off Milan when Manchester United scored their third goal at San Siro in the 74th minute but Seedorf’s strike on 85 minutes has kept the Rossoneri floating in this tie. It doesn’t look very likely that Milan will be able to win 2-0 at Old Trafford and their defence is always susceptible to conceding a goal, but if Leonardo’s side get an early goal, then it will be interesting. However, Sir Alex Ferguson knows that his side have done most of the job in Milan and will not be too disinterested in making it tight right from the start.
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