Being a football fan stateside means being inundated with all things EPL, and more importantly Manchester United. I follow the EPL regularly, first with Chelsea following the move of one my favorite players of all time and namesake Gianfranco Zola, and more recently I follow his exploits with West Ham, in effort to see how the bottom half live. It also doesn’t help that the U14 Boys team I coach here locally is named after the club and the boys have a new found penchant for all things United. In a way, even AC Milan is intrinsically linked with most successful Club in England. Our paths to CL glory have often traveled through Manchester and Old Trafford, and while we should never rely on past history when judging an upcoming tie, there is a surreal feeling that this trip is a must if a CL goal is to become a reality.
United currently sit second in the table behind Carletto’s Chelsea, and have experienced a very good run of form recently a contrast to the Rossoneri. But despite being a point behind Chelsea, at 57 points total, if you have followed their season you can’t help but feel it tells a much different story. For the first time in recent memory a parody exists in the EPL that has been a joy for fans and a nightmare for the proverbial big four, it is almost as though no one wants to take that league by the horns and the rest of the football loving World has yet to notice the chinks in the armor of the EPL’s big boys.
Following United, you almost feel this aura of luck that cannot be explained; even the announcers often sit speechless as fortuitous bounce after bounce goes the way of the Red Devils. Games against Man City, Sunderland, Arsenal, Villa, and Birmingham all seem to leave non United fans asking how lucky can one club be? An unprecedented amount of own goal s have led to United winning points and while one can argue that own goals are a product of sustained pressure and well organized attacks, you can’t help but see the flipside and wish the horseshoe would fall out of their asses.
This is not CRON’s United, in fact they have struggled to score goals as easily as they once did, and while Wayne Rooney is establishing himself as the premier striker in the EPL, this is now a team needing great performances from the supporting cast, such as Nani or Valencia, in order to yield results. If those guys are having an off day, United don’t look nearly as imposing. This is also a team that lacks a true hard man in the middle, sure Scholes can give you a solid 60, but they are not suffocating in the middle park, which can lead to pressure on a back four that has struggled with cohesion, a byproduct of injuries and lack of depth throughout the campaign, similar to our very own Milan. While I am by no means calling United a push over, there is no reason to believe the media machine that is trying to prove that this Club is still on top of the World. While they command respect, much like Milan, they have weaknesses and can be beaten.
So how do you beat them? For starters you need to attack, while the old cliché, the best defense is a good offense, can be applied here, the main reason is keeping the ball away from Rooney and out of the defensive third. The DM duo that Leo chooses, my vote is on Ambro and Flamini, will have to be strong in breaking up United’s attacks and feeding the ball to Pirlo to help jump start the front line and keep the pressure on the United back four. A one all draw is certainly not the worst result for the Rossoneri, and the away game will be crucial for the trip back to San Siro. If Dinho and Pato can carry over a bit of rhythm from Friday, chances on net should not be a problem. I also need to advocate the use of Borriello, if fit, while KJH proved to be “Johnny on the Spot” against Udine, he did little else in terms of work rate in the attacking third. Borriello’s grit may prove pivotal in putting the United defenders under pressure, and keeping them from finding easy passes to the wings; their preferred method of attack.
The pace of Antonini and Abate may prove useful to counter United’s use of the flanks, and Silva, who looks to poised to return from a thigh tweak, will most likely be charted with the duties of keeping tabs on Wayne Rooney. Nesta will provide his experience as always, and recently was cited by the danger man himself, Rooney, as the man he fears most in the Red and Black. Was Rooney just paying his respects to iconic defender or is there really a fear in Wayne Rooney knowing that he has never been on the winning side of Nesta in a CL tie?
It is time to get excited! The Rossoneri in the knockout round of the CL, throw away the Serie A form and throw away the past, when the Devil’s meet it is a always a good time! FORZA MILAN!!!!!!