The game was a cagey affair in the opening 45, but Real, led by Raul and former Milan hero Kaka in attack, did most of the early pressing and were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty for Gianluca Zambrotta’s late tackle on Karim Benzema in the box. However, they soon took the lead as Dida’s calamitous error on 19 was pounced on by the alert No 7 in white. In a clash between the competition’s two most successful teams, neither looked comfortable or capable in possession. As out of the blue as Real’s opener was, not even Andrea Pirlo’s teammates could quite believe the Italian’s equaliser just after the hour mark, with Iker Casillas at fault for letting the 35-yard thunderbolt slip past his near post. Milan’s nerves dissipated almost as unexpectedly and soon after they took the lead. Massimo Ambrosini’s weighted ball over the Madrid defence caught a mis-calculating Casillas in no man’s land and left Alexandre Pato with an empty net to put the Rossoneri 2-1 up on 67.
The game came to life as Real searched for an equaliser and Milan threatened on the break. Royston Drenthe hammered in from a Raul corner to equalise and send the Madrid fans into raptures, but it was Milan who had the remaining chances in the game – Clarence Seedorf and Pato failing to convert whilst Thiago Silva thought he had won the game only for his header from a corner to be incorrectly disallowed. Manuel Pellegrini’s side failed to heed the warnings from the Milan front three and were duly punished with two minutes to go as an unmarked Pato was found with a delicate cross by Clarence Seedorf to win the game with a well-taken volley.
Alexandre Pato: “It was a beautiful game full of great moves and some intricate play. For me to score two goals here and to see my team emerge victorious was fantastic – it was a dream of mine to play at the Santiago Bernabeu.”
Royston Drenthe: “We came up against a team with good players who adapted well to the situation. We played better before we conceded and we were knocking the ball about well enough to win with ease, but it wasn’t to be.”
Milan fully deserved the three points in what proved to be the game of the round. Both sides were wasteful in possession, and whilst both were gifted their first goals, it was Milan’s reaction to theirs that decided the result. Going into the game off the back of some poor form both domestically and in this competition, last Sunday’s 2-1 come-from-behind home win over Roma may have given Leonardo and his side the renewed vigour they showed after Pirlo’s stunner. The 4-3-3 formation was a huge risk and before they equalised, Milan looked a bag of nerves, fully aware that nothing was working through the midfield and attack. The lucky break went their way and suddenly Ronaldinho and Seedorf supported the divine Pato in every attack as they smelt blood. The score could have been even greater for Milan but for Seedorf’s wastefulness and Casillas’ desire to make up for his earlier errors.
Madrid has all the talent any Coach could desire in midfield and attack, but still with two of Europe’s best defensive midfielders and a strong back-line, Los Galacticos were exposed time and again. Barcelona, Manchester United and Milan are the past three winners of this competition and built their success off the back of a solid defensive structure that allowed the front-men to earn the headlines each midweek. Defensively, neither side on the night came away looking a real threat in the competition whilst it was Milan who gave Real the attacking lesson.
Real looked shorn of creativity without Cristiano Ronaldo as Kaka continues to adjust to the Spanish’s side’s style of play and the Brazilian was perhaps distracted by who he was facing. The player many in Italy and Milan are looking to step into Kaka’s shoes, Pato’s performance was one of an individualistic nature for the first hour, almost single-handedly attempting to beat his opponents with little support from the goal-hanging Pippo Inzaghi and the unpredictable Ronaldinho. After the goal and his teammates’ shock into gear, Pato showed exactly why he is so highly valued by the Milan faithful. What he can do with the ball makes him an exciting talent and one that Serie A can rebuild its reputation with.
For all the derision Italian football receives from Sky Sports and the British Press in general, and for all its merit given Milan’s first hour of play, the Rossoneri gave a masterclass in cutting one of Europe’s best teams to shreds going forward, with attacking play the English and Spanish giants favourites for this tournament would be envious of. Milan cannot expect to go far in this competition the state their defence is in – a quarter-final spot will be a significant achievement after the start the side have endured to the 2009/10 campaign and this result showcased the class they still possess albeit in fits and bursts. Real’s expectations are far grander and every negative result edges the club closer to anxiety. High prices paid over the summer, high stakes at the Bernabeu.
Real Madrid 2-3 Milan – Raul 19, Drenthe 76 – Pirlo 62, Pato 66, 88
Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Casillas – Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Albiol, Marcelo – L Diarra, Xabi Alonso – Kak