MANCHESTER UNITED 4
Rooney 13, 46, Park 59, Fletcher 87
Whenever Milan are involved in a high profile Champions League tie, age is a subject always close to the surface of a tactical analysis, but it was two senior players from Manchester United who were to prove decisive in this encounter. In deciding to start with both Gary Neville and Paul Scholes Sir Alex Ferguson clearly felt experience could propel his side to a winning performance.
Neville was able to build on his recent good form to put in a strong performance against Ronaldinho limiting the Brazilian to consistently look to hit long balls to the far post rather than influence the encounter with the usual flair we come to expect from him. The England man was strong in the tackle throughout and never gave the former Barcelona schemer the chance to settle on the ball. A strong aspect to Neville’s game is his ability to influence the play from wide areas and his delivery for the opening goal was fantastic. A solid partnership seems to be building with Antonio Valencia increasing the point of attack from the right-hand side – a tactic which the Milanese side struggled to contain throughout the first half. Many believe that Neville has an outside chance of making Fabio Capello’s final squad for South Africa and with a performance such as this it would be difficult to argue that the veteran defender would not be a deserved member of the squad.
Buoyant from his 100th Premier League goal, Scholes put in the type of performance which shows why he is so revered in English – and indeed Italian – football. He was a constant option for United players in possession and his use of the ball as always was first class culminating in his assist for United’s third goal. The energy levels shown by the former England man defied his age as United closed down their opponents putting in a traditional English-style defensive performance which was to prove much of the undoing of Milan.
Another tactical decision which was to prove decisive for United was the inclusion of Ji-Sung Park supporting Wayne Rooney from midfield. Whenever the Rossoneri were in possession, Park’s immediate concern was Andrea Pirlo ensuring he was never further than five yards away from the Italian playmaker. Whenever Pirlo was in control of the ball Park pressed and harried him refusing to give him the time and space he is accustomed to in Serie A. Going into a home Champions League encounter with an aggregate lead and a bag full of away goals effectively playing with a man-marker may be viewed by many as a negative tactic but due to Park’s continued improved displays going forward it was to prove a masterstroke. Park’s link up play with Rooney was exceptional as the South Korean exploited Pirlo’s reluctance to replicate the defensive nature of his performance. The movement and link-up between these two players enabled both Valencia and Nani to be brought into the game which again was to prove too much for a poor Milan side.
There is no doubt that the tactical decisions made by the United boss were spot on in enabling his side to put in a performance showing their credentials to again go all the way in this competition. What must be remembered, however, is United are likely to face much stronger opposition in the latter stages where the line between success and failure will be the slimmest of margins. Following this performance, however, it may be difficult to bet against Ferguson once again achieving that tactical masterstroke.