1698: Champions League: Milan’s form
by : Chris Sherrard
Italian giants AC Milan go into their clash with Manchester United at Old Trafford on Wednesday night on the back of a major blow – the loss of start striker and European Player of the Year Andrei Shevchenko.
The Ukrainian international forward fractured his cheekbone and eye socket in a nasty clash with a Cagliari defender during his side’s unimpressive 1-0 win at the San Siro on Saturday night. And the loss of such an influential and talismanic player is the boost Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were hoping for going into their crunch Champions League fixture.
Without Schevchenko, who was injured in the 14th minute on Saturday night, the Milanese looked lacking in any kind of focus point for their attack with the insipid Jon Dahl Tomasson looking out of his depth against a stubborn Cagliari defense and Hernan Crespo failing to fire.
Milan, chasing Juventus at the top of Serie A, looked to be heading for a disappointing and potentially costly 0-0 draw until their Brazilian substitute Serginho got on the end of a Cafu cross in the final minute to rescue the Rossineri. But the result didn’t take much away from what was an uncharacteristically lacklustre display from Carlo Ancelotti’s outfit.
That said, he rested Kaka, Gattuso and Nesta from the team that should take to the field at Old Trafford. And United will do well not to underestimate a side, Schevchenko or not, who have won each of their last four games and are threatening to push Juve all the way for the Italian title.
But it has to be said that this game on Wednesday is better timed for Manchester United than it is for AC Milan. If it had been played straight after the group stage, the Italians would almost surely have coasted through. But United are bang in form and with Rooney flying, Keane back to his imposing best, Ferdinand settled back into the side magnificently and van Nistelrooy set to return, there is a renewed optimism in the North-West.
Clearly the scalp of Milan is a massive one and United will know they have been in a game whether they win, lose or draw in midweek. But Ferguson and his scouts will have taken heart from some of Milan’s recent results which have included defeats to Livorno and Bologna in successive weeks at the end of last month.
Schevchenko, with 17 goals already this season, would arguably have been the difference between two finely balanced sides – especially if Ruud van Nistelrooy, the competition’s top scorer this season, fails to regain full fitness in time to line out. But if both are missing, you have to look to the back-ups and Rooney certainly out-trumps Tomasson. We all know by now how much the young former-Evertonian thrives on the big stage and they don’t come much bigger than this one. The ageing legs of Maldini, Stam and Cafu will not fancy going toe-to-toe with him, I’m quite sure. And the same goes for Cristiano Ronaldo, who is in good form of late and will be fielded on the right to exploit Maldini’s lack of pace.
United go into the game having won eight of their last nine games – the blip being the Carling Cup defeat to Chelsea. Milan have won six of their last nine. They have won four in a row, United five. The form books say it will be tight. And so do I.