The Talk Is About Becks But He'll Be Peripheral
The big story of United's clash with AC Milan tomorrow is not that the 2007 Champions League winners lock horns with the 2008 champions. No, the big seller is David Beckham's reunion with his former club: everyone is talking about him right now.
Which is of course understandable - it will be great to see him, especially in the return leg at Old Trafford - but people have to maintain a sense of proportion here. Because, quite simply, Beckham is unlikely to play a major role.
Milan's Alexandre Pato has recovered enough to score a goal against Udinese on Friday so he'll probably be fit to start tomorrow. I bet Leonardo's been praying for his recovery because the Brazilian may be a novice in management but he's no fool: he knows that pitting David Beckham against Patrice Evra is likely to deprive Milan of any attacking threat down the right.
He's just not effective as a member of an attacking 'tridente' and he's never been, to be honest. Now he has no pace, he's not mobile enough, he still can't beat a man so we would have to fear only his crosses and it is not exactly difficult to close down his avenues to prevent him from getting into good positions to cross.
With Pato back, Milan will have some pace and penetration down the right, as the little Brazilian is a lithe and skilful performer, capable of lighting up a game when he's in the mood. His comeback will, in all likelihood, consign Beckham to the substitutes' bench and I can hardly see him being anything but a peripheral figure over the two games. He might not mind, though: he does not seem desperate to be involved in the thick of things.
He said ahead of the game: 'Sir Alex gave me the chance to play for a club I'd always dreamed of playing for. I definitely don't hold anything against the manager - he's really an incredible man ... There are only good memories from Manchester United, nothing else ... There's definitely no score to be settled'
'Obviously I'd be pleased to score. But out of respect to Manchester United and the fans, I wouldn't celebrate. But I wouldn't want Milan fans to think I wasn't excited to score.'
Gary Neville also played down the reunion with one of his best friends, saying that he played against his own brother and against other former colleagues like Nicky Butt and this will be no different. Which is true though the stakes are somewhat higher than usual...