10 Commandments For Manchester United To Beat AC Milan

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Daniel has 10 simple rules for not bottling it in Milan.

1. Attack Milan with pace. You are guaranteed to hear the ‘expert’ TV co-commentator blather some trite, old pap along the lines of, “United could do with just stringing a few passes together. They don’t have to threaten Milan, just settle themselves into the game, patient build up is the way to play European football, quieten the crowd, yadda, yadda, yadda.” No, Manchester United must play the game at a tempo that suits them best and their opponents least, i.e. high. Firstly, this means passing the ball quickly and running at the Milan defence. Manchester United are much more effective when they play this way and Milan hate to be rushed. Everyone knows the Rossoneri have an aging defence. If, as is likely, Wayne Rooney plays alone up front, it is vital that he stretches the Milan defence as much as possible as they are weak in this area. In a Champions League against Fenerbache at the San Siro 18 months ago, Nicolas Anelka played as a sole striker and gave his team-mates a constant get-out ball with his pace and movement, and the Milan defenders did not have the legs to track him.

2. Press Milan when they have possession. A high tempo game should be maintained when United are not in possession too. Milan’s players are accustomed to the softly, softly catchy monkey style of Italian football. They have excellent passing ability so it is vital that they are not allowed to settle in possession. The individual playmakers who start their attacks, Pirlo and Seedorf, can be negated to a surprisingly large extent by closing them down. Pirlo’s style is to drop deep in central midfield to receive short passes from the defence and then use his passing ability to orchestrate Milan’s attacks. This works well in Serie A where opponents will get men behind the ball and not challenge for the ball until it is in more advanced areas, but marking Pirlo or pressing him when he has the ball, damages Milan’s Plan A. In the 2005 Champions League final between Milan and Liverpool, Rafa Benitez’s half-time tactic of having a forward or attacking midfielder get close to Pirlo helped disrupt Milan’s possession. Seedorf is a lazy player and will not work hard to find space if United close him down. To help this pressing game, the United defence should play a high line. Whether Milan play Inzaghi or Gilardino (or both) in attack, neither has pace or dribbling ability to fear and both are penalty box goalscorers who are poor at the holding the ball up outside the area. United must resist the temptation to defend deep and hang on to what they’ve got as this plays into Inzaghi’s and Gilardino’s strength of taking good scoring positions and getting a quick shot off. A high line, however, will guarantee that Inzaghi adds to his lifelong attempt to break the record for most times caught offside in a career with a dedication that would make Roy Castle trumpet with pride.

3. Be careful with your challenges. Apart from for goals, the biggest roar from the San Siro comes for a high boot or slightly late challenge. It builds for a few innocuous challenges, then erupts in a frenzy of outraged gestures for something that might actually be a foul. And the home fans in the San Siro are just as good as the wiliest of pros at knowing which players are on a booking and to soup up the theatrics for. Fletcher’s aggressive ball-winning style and Scholes’s ‘oh shit, I’ve done it again’ style of slide tackles will be targeted. And don’t even consider playing Smith. He will be manna from heaven to the San Siro faithful. To understand why you only need to consult the Alan Smith Game Plan Flow Diagram which is all the rage currently in middle management business seminars.

4. Don’t get sucked into time-wasting traps. Falling over and yelping is not just a means for getting a free kick and an opponent booked. It also opens up the whole charade of mass haranguing of the ref, excessive finger pointing and constipated faces at the opposition, and then making up with them. This ritual is a conscious attempt to kill the clock a little more. Milan did this very effectively in the first half at Old Trafford when they were in control of the game. They slowed the pace of the game and took momentum out of United’s thrust to get on the front foot against them. It is easier said then done, but if Milan’s players start diving and whining, United must not allow themselves to get frustrated and become embroiled in the whole playground farce. If they do so, they waste precious seconds allowing Milan’s less fit side to recover their breath and run the clock down.

5. Don’t concede free kicks around the box. Pirlo is one of the best free kick takers in the business, combining power, accuracy, curl and a lot of dip.

6. Track Kaka. Kaka plays in the hole between defence and midfield that United have traditionally had trouble dealing with in the Champions League. He picked Liverpool apart in the first half of the Champions League final, but was innocuous when Didi Hamman was brought on as a deep lying midfielder to shackle him. Carrick and Fletcher (if he plays in midfield) need to be aware of Kaka’s position if he drops off United’s centre backs and not let allow him to run at the defence.

7. Use the width of the pitch. Milan do not have wide midfielders: Seedorf is a natural centre midfield who plays on the left but drifts inside and similarly Gattuso or Ambrosini will be asked to play out of position slightly on the right but will not stay wide. Consequently, there will be space on the flanks and Man U should work the ball quickly to their wide men to exploit this and attack Milan’s full backs who are not as good as their centre backs. Giggs should play on the left wing and Ronaldo on the right, otherwise they are more likely to come inside on their stronger foot. Seedorf will not chase back on Milan’s left flank which will make it harder for Milan to double team Ronaldo as they did at Old Trafford.

8. Ronaldo has to play like the 2006-2007 end product version, not the 2005-2006 version. Last week Ronaldo knew he was involved in the biggest club game of his career and tried too hard to be the star. His head was down trying to dribble past the whole defence and running away from his team-mates into cul-de-sacs. United need him to be less selfish in the second leg.

9. Don’t be overawed. Yes, Milan have some world class players and a great European Cup/Champions League record, but United should not be too fearful of them. Against both Lyon in 2006 and PSV Eindhoven in 2005 Milan were outplayed for large parts of the tie and were lucky to progress. The ageing team has been due a big overhaul for years and has looked unmotivated at times. Milan have underperformed in Serie A this season. Even without their eight point deduction they would still be third place in a Juventus-free division that is weaker than it has been in the modern era.

10. Play until the final whistle. Milan beat Lyon and PSV in the games mentioned above courtesy of late goals. The upside of being an old team is that they have the experience to raise their game when needed. They often switch off in the 45th-80th minute period of games, but are masters of scoring the late goal in the Champions League.