Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Manchester United - AC Milan CL Full-time Report

Momentum is such a powerful force in sports. It's something that all the audience can feel, the shift of some sort of metaphysical weight in one direction or another, the inevitiable becoming the impossible, sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly and sometimes coming from out of left field, something that you wouldn't think change everything; and then it does.

For this game, the momentum shift was the removal of Maldini and Gattuso from the pitch. The former turned out to be the catalyst for Milan's defensive poise. With him gone, the ineffability of the Italian defense turned into a Rossini farce, the smart play of the first half gone, replaced by desperation lunges and sprayed clearances. Without Gattuso, the Italian Terrier, Manchester United had a new-found ability to hold onto the ball, to push, prod and pull the strings of the now-aimless Milan back four.

It was if the cagey veteran had pulled a muscle in his shoulder, his defense suddenly sagging, all he could do was try and counter-punch and hang on while the aggressive younger fighter rained down blows from all directions, changing his point of attack, urged on by a massive crowd eager for blood. In the end, it looked like the veteran had survived, had managed to retain his advantage despite taking a battering. Then an innocent slip, a dip of the shoulder and he was on his back, seconds before the bell.

Really, Milan are in a much better position than a defeated prizefighter. Two away goals is pretty massive in the home-and-away format of the Champions League. On the other hand, they had the momentum and lost it, allowing Manchester United to turn a certain defeat into a last-second victory and now the onus is on Milan to get a goal at home. I predict, Ancelotti being the crafty fox that he is, that Milan will not pull a United and steam forward at the San Siro. Instead, I expect them to sit back, to try and sneak a goal for the first 70 minutes or so, then, if the game is still even, then they will try and go for the throat. It's a good strategy when your team has the Kakas and the Ambrosinis (watch for him in the box late in the game); it's also probably necessary in order to keep this dangerous Manchester United team at a safe distance, to jab and jab and jab and hope.

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