Manchester United 4-0 Milan – an efficient and comprehensive victory for Ferguson

March 10, 2010

Another game where Sir Alex Ferguson got things spot on. To run out 7-2 winners against any side in the latter stages of the Champions League is impressive, but to do it against Milan is quite remarkable.

It was pretty easy to read as soon as the line-ups were announced. United’s use of two out-and-out wingers in addition to Park meant Ferguson’s gameplan was obvious – the wingers would occupy the Milan full-backs, whilst Park would do what he did in the first leg, pressing Andrea Pirlo and his two midfield colleagues. Paul Scholes sat deep in the holding role that he is increasingly becoming familiar with – Ferguson likes using him there for his passing ability, in a similar role to Pirlo himself. Against Arsenal Ferguson felt the need to take Scholes out of that position because he was becoming overwhelmed by Cesc Fabregas’ runs, but here against Milan he had no such problems, and had time and space to keep possession for tonight.

In a sense that was Milan’s problem. At the weekend, ZM put forward the view that Milan’s midfield was too functional and not dynamic enough, and that was in evidence again tonight. There was a little more action – outside-right Klaas-Jan Huntelaar often took up a more central position, and Flamini exploited the space created by Patrice Evra moving inside, but that was the only movement. Milan’s full-backs struggled to get forward (Ignazio Abate had slightly more joy, since Nani is a poorer player defensively than Antonio Valencia) but it was all too static from Milan – they played in front of United, and didn’t look to play triangles to bypass the midfield. United’s biggest threats were longish balls from deep in the first half, and David Beckham’s crosses in the second.

Also at the weekend, ZM noted United’s tendency to attack down the right-hand side, and sure enough, the goal came from a right-wing Gary Neville cross. Ronaldinho’s lack of interest in tracking back meant that Neville had time and space to get in numerous crosses (and a left-footed shot), and his ball was perfectly angled for Wayne Rooney to claim yet another headed goal.

That was that until half-time, when Leonardo introduced Clarence Seedorf, who (as in the first leg) at least offered some drive in the Milan midfield, and looked to link up with the front three more directly. But by the time he attempted to show this, Rooney had scored a second and the game was over as a contest.

Whilst Ferguson effectively got things 100% correct tonight, it wasn’t even really a ‘tactical masterclass’, he just did exactly what was expected for United to stifle Milan and manage to trouble their back four.

Leonardo has made a promising start to his managerial career and this shape has generally worked well, but perhaps tonight was an example of when Milan needed to vary things in terms of formation – this 4-3-3 seemed blunt, static and was easy for Ferguson to read. It has been said of Milan for many years that their squad is too old – and they have generally defied those critics and reached the final four of this competition, but never have they looked quite so overwhelmed by the energy of another side, with Darren Fletcher and Park Ji-Sung in particular getting through an enormous workload compared to Milan’s central midfielders.

The tie was very similar to Liverpool’s 5-0 defeat of Real Madrid last year – a narrow away win followed by a thrashing back in England – Milan might need a Real-style overhaul of the side in the summer to compete in the Champions League next season. Their style is well-suited to Serie A where they remain in the title race, but this game was embarrassing for the club.

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