Manchester United’s dreams of recreating their treble dreams off ’99 came to an abrupt end last night in the pouring rain at the San Siro. United travelled to Milan with great hope and confidence, carrying with them a 3-2 lead from Manchester a week earlier, but under the mesmerising spell of Kaka, and the industrious coverage of Gattuso, United’s dreams where washed away. The United team had been compared to the hero’s of ’99 , but unlike them, this United team found the challenge a step to far. Whether it was fatigue, nerves, or a combination of the two, the real United failed to turn up in Milan last night. The United that had played such exquisite, attractive, attacking football, for the entire season, the United that had come back from 2-0 down to Everton on the weekend, to win 4-2, the United of which dreams had been spoken, that United didn’t show itself. In truth Milan are not Everton, and unlike Everton where never going to gift United with a way back into the tie, once they had taken the lead. As much as United were disappointing and well bellow par, Milan didn’t allow them to play. They took control of the game from the kick off, and seldom let United back in. An early goal from Kaka, on the basis of the last week the undoubted best player in the world, and a second soon after the half hour mark from Seedorf, gave Milan a 4-3 lead in the tie, a lead that they richly deserved. Milan were always confident of progressing, even after last weeks narrow loss to United, and their performance last night should exactly why. United’s success has been built on their enterprising brand of attacking football, using pace, and decisive breaks, relying on the flair,speed and skill of their attacking players, Ronaldo, Rooney, Giggs, the midfield genius of Scholes, and the passing skills of Carrick. All of these were missing last night. Giggs and Ronaldo had poor games, Rooney was ineffective, Carrick was anonymous, and as much as Scholes tried and tried, he couldn’t force the issue. Milan’s game plan worked to perfection. Gattuso ran the midfield like Roy Keane did in that ’99 season, covering every blade of grass, breaking every attack before it happened, leading the team, and being the perfect foil for Kaka. Kaka was the avenue that Milan looked to whenever they were in possession, the first player they looked for, and unfortunately for United, the player they often found. He was able to create his magic and dictate the flow and pace of the game, giving Milan the ultimate control, and meaning that United were never going to get back into the game. In truth both Milan goals owed much to the shaky performance of Uniteds defence, where Vidic was rushed back after a month out, and were Heinze and Brown seemed to be losing their footing at crucial times, under the wet footing. But the fact that Dida was merely a spectator for the entire first half, and much of the second, was the most crucial element of the match. A United team that prides itself on its ability to score goals from all members of the team, a team oozing with creative and goal scoring ability, a United team that almost took it for granted that they would score in Milan, could hardly muster a shot at goal. A break away goal in the 78th minute by Gilardinho, just when United threatened to mount a challenge, killed off the game. Milan played almost the perfect game, and on this evidence will be hard to beat in the final. The facts will show though that although United got this far, and after their devastating 7-1 win against Roma in the quarter final, were favourites for the title, their away form as been little more then average throughout the campaign. They lost to Rosenburg, Celtic and Roma, making this loss their fourth away defeat, hardly the form of Europe’s best. They will take heart from the fact that their young team will have taken invaluable experience from this run that could take them all the way in the near future, provided they sort out their away form. Remember that most of the United team of ’99 had gone through the agony of a semi final defeat to Dortmund a few years before they won the treble. So a Milan team that were only allowed back into the competition after their domestic appeal cut their points loss from the match fixing scandal, will now look to be crowned European Champions and gain revenge over Liverpool for their loss in the final two years ago. With Kaka and Gattuso pulling the strings you wouldn’t bet against them.
United Crash Out