Red night to remember: Fergie calls on Man United to win from the front

10 March 2010 08:32
Forget, for now, about the Red Knights. This promises to be a memorable red night.

Manchester United versus AC Milan. Perhaps when Europe's leading clubs got together to turn the old European Cup into the Champions League, fixtures like this were what they had in mind.

We are still three steps from the final in Madrid but - after the mundanity of the group stages - this is a fixture dripping in sex appeal.

Win from the front: Fergie wants a repeat performance from United against Milan

Two teams blessed with talent yet hindered by equally clear flaws. An ageing, master manager against one of the new breed. And, of course, the return home of one of Europe's most revered footballers.

WHY HISTORY IS ON FERGIE'S SIDE. 1996 - Only one side has successfullyovercome a home deficit to progress in the Champions League the taskfacing AC Milan tonight. Dutch giants Ajax lost 1-0 at home to Greek champions Panathinaikos in the semi-final 14 years ago, before winning 3-0 away to reach the final, which they lost to Juventus on penalties.

2007 - The only other side to win an away leg after losing at home is Barcelona.Liverpool won 2-1 at the Nou Camp in a last-16 tie three years ago before losing 1-0 at Anfield. The Catalans were knocked out on away goals.

David Beckham may not even play against his first club United at Old Trafford. He has not started a game for Milan since United beat them 3-2 in the first leg at the San Siro three weeks ago.

But that does not really matter. As his old boss Sir Alex Ferguson said yesterday: 'He will be here.'

So, too, will 75,000 fans and Ferguson believes they will be there from the start. Despite plans this week for 10,000 United followers to delay their entrance to the stadium until 10 minutes after kick-off as a show of opposition to the club's owners, the Glazer family, it appears that particular protest may have to wait for another day.

It seems Wednesday will be a football night. Plans by the self-styled Red Knights to buy United from the Glazers continue. For one day only, however, the issue of United's ownership will revert to sideshow status.

'I don't think that will happen,' Ferguson said of the planned protest. 'I don't think our fans will do that.'

Enlarge Whether Ferguson's faith in the supporters who have massed admirably behind the green-and-gold banner that symbolises the anti- Glazer movement is justified, remains to be seen. He is, on the whole, pretty adept at gauging the public mood.

What is certain, however, is that this tie is far from over. The defining moment of a thrilling, topsy-turvy first leg in Milan was the goal scored by the enduringly talented Clarence Seedorf in the closing moments. That breathed life into the tie and into Milan's challenge.

Leonardo's team - with or without Beckham - will pitch up at Old Trafford knowing that they must score twice to have any chance.

That, combined with the inclusion of players as sublimely gifted as Ronaldinho and Andrea Pirlo, has served to make Wednesday's ticket a hot one.

United, quite rightly, are not fretting unduly.

Ferguson's team perform better against those who attack them.

Witness two wins over Arsenal, for example, this season. It is the 'two banks of four' approach that tends to vex them and Ferguson will hope that Milan's ambition will be their greatest weakness.

'Words don't really mean anything,' said Ferguson.

'It is up to my players to perform and they will perform. This is an open tie and I think it will be a great game of football.

'We hope to kill the tie by our own attacking play but AC Milan have to score and that should make for a very open match.

'We are not very good at defending leads, anyway. So we will have to play our normal game and that is an attacking one.

Becks factor: David Beckham (C) prepares for his first return to Old Trafford


Ronaldinho's first-half performance at the San Siro was sublime.

He was less effective after half-time, however.

1st half2nd halfGoals10Shots on target31Shots off target00Assists01Total passes1617Pass success (%)6953Dribbles41Dribblelsuccessl(%)750Duels76Duels won (%)86lxxx33xxxlFouls02Yellow cards01Red cards00'The 3-2 score does not necessarily give us a route into the next round. We shouldn't be too confident.'

Having won for the first time in Milan - against either of the city's two teams - United have subsequently lost at Everton and won games against West Ham, Aston Villa and Wolves. In truth, their form has been up and down and although United are strong favourites, Milan could have a say in the outcome if they level the tie early.

Wayne Rooney will play after recovering from a knee problem and his presence will unnerve Milan more than Beckham's will unsettle United.

The former England captain's presence will be a sentimental and emotional one and rightly so. It should not, however, unduly influence the outcome. As Ferguson knows deep down, he is no longer good enough.

'We have won in Milan for the first time in four attempts and that is significant,' said Ferguson.

'That represented a large step forward for us and I was delighted with that.

Beware, Ronaldinho: The two-time World Player of the Year is Milan's leading scorer in Europe with three goals and second behind Pato (14) in all competitions

'The psychological thing about going there and winning was great. I think the Italian teams are better than they have been in recent years.'

  The fact that Milan have lost to Inter (twice), Udinese (twice) and Palermo this season suggests that Leonardo's team are far from invincible. The expected absence of Brazil striker Pato will also hurt them.

United should win; both the tie and the match. There could be some drama and some excitement along the way, though. Let's hope so.

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Source: Daily_Mail