Date:Wednesday March 10 2010
This was fabulous, make no mistake. Yeah, Milan are ageing, yeah, they practically gave up after Rooney's opener, yeah, their coach made a few puzzling decisions - Seedorf for Bonera, anyone? - but still: this was an utter and complete destruction of the side that has been the best Champions League team of the 2000s.
And all that with Carrick, Brown, O'Shea, Hargreaves, Owen, Anderson and Giggs all out. Despite all the injuries, we made light work of a side containing World Cup winners and players who won the CL on several occasions.
Fergie opted for playing Nani on the left with Park was deployed as an attacking central midfielder, also helping out in defending when it's needed - namely, when Pirlo is in possession as his main task seemed to be to starve the Italian playmaker of the ball.
Gary Neville was a surprise inclusion but he was one of United's best players. He certainly benefitted from the protection given to him by Valencia and Park but he was focused, committed, energetic and generally faultless. It was a marvellous bonus to see his perfect cross finding Rooney who headed home with aplomb with only 13 minutes gone.
Ronaldinho simply could not cope with Neville and he quickly lost his appetite. Without him, Milan who, surviving United's early pressure, wasted two good chances before the opener looked very ordinary indeed. In the first half, United's passing wasn't great, partly because of the absence of Carrick, partly because of the attitude of taking no risks whatsoever. But it paid off although it ruined the game as a spectacle as it degenerated into a scrappy midfield battle without any real chances or quality on show.
Leonardo broke the deadlock by taking off Bonera and introducing Seedorf at the interval. Removing one of the centre-backs when two of them struggled to contain Rooney did not seem a particularly wise idea - especially as Abate had a horrible game on the right, taking him off would have made much more sense - and sure enough, within moments Nani who worked tirelessly in the first half and did plenty of defensive work, intercepted a loose ball and produced a killer pass for Rooney who got there before Abbiati and rolled it home.
2-0 up, it was done and dusted and it became clear that the scoreline depends on United and United only. Because Milan were appalling. The third goal confirmed that: they just stood around and watched as United passed it around in front of their area. When eventually Scholes arrived and threaded a sweet little ball into Park's path I was almost exhausted by the sight of Milan players standing perfectly still. Park, though, did not mind and steered the ball part Abbiati to threaten Milan with a real badass drubbing here, the kind that AS Roma got.
They got away without that, mostly because United stepped off the pedal a little. Milan created a few chances as Vidic and Ferdinand looked rusty and as our players did not exactly display a do-or-die attitude with a 6-2 aggregate lead. But our progress was never in doubt and we should have embellished the scoreline much earlier because Valencia, Nani and the increasingly influential Park ran rings around their hopelessly exposed defence which lacked the class of Nesta and lacked numbers after Bonera's substitution.
In the end, Rafael's fine cross found Fletcher at the back post and he headed home from close range to put the icing on the cake. 4-0, with a brilliantly composed and lethal display, against one of the most experienced of European campaigners. And we could afford to take players off to rest them for a clash against Fulham. I repeat: we took players off against AC Milan to give them a rest ahead of FULHAM. What has the world come to?
A wonderful night, as good as any European night at Old Trafford. Best form at the most important of the season? You bet.
Date:Wednesday March 10 2010
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