Match Preview: Manchester United Vs AC Milan

United welcome Italian giants AC Milan to Old Trafford on Wednesday for the second round of their Champions League First Knockout Round showdown.  Sir Alex Ferguson’s side hold a one goal lead over the Serie A side, having won the first leg 3-2.  It will be an uphill struggle for Milan, they will probably need to win by two clear goals to progress to the next round but it is still a fixture that needs to be taken very seriously indeed.

The major injury news as far as United are concerned is the possible absence of Wayne Rooney.  The England international has a knee problem, which Ferguson attributes to the Wembley pitch and the fact Rooney played practically the whole of England’s friendly with Egypt.  If Ferguson’s views on the pitch at that stadium are correct it really has cost United in the last few weeks, with both Rooney and Michael Owen (now ruled out for the season) victims of the heavy surface.

I perhaps did Wolves a disservice in my last match preview, suggesting United would easily secure all the points, but they gave the Reds a decent game and Paul Scholes’ second half strike was all that separated the sides.  Rooney’s absence was certainly felt in the victory over the Midland’s side and hopefully he will recover in time to face the Rossoneri, but there really are no guarantees.

Defender Jonny Evans is also struggling with a knee problem but may return in time for the game on Wednesday, with Ryan Giggs also scheduled to return soon although this fixture may come too soon for the veteran midfielder.  Anderson and John O’Shea remain long term absentees, with O’Shea possibly to return before the end of the season but Anderson will play no further part.

United may have struggled somewhat against a Wolves side who worked tirelessly and were committed throughout.  Milan, of course, have much more quality than Wolves and will play a very different game so perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into that performance but there were few people who really shone on Saturday.  Antonio Valencia’s progress this season has been outstanding and it would be a great opportunity for him to make a name for himself on the European stage.  With his pace he could easily trouble Milan’s veteran defenders and his crossing seems to be getting better with every game.

United’s opponents were held to a goalless draw in their last game, although that was against a resurgent Roma side who have been in outstanding form of late.  They’ve got some injury problems of their own ahead of this fixture with the likes of Alexandre Pato, Clarence Seedorf and Gennaro Gattuso all doubts ahead of their trip to Old Trafford.

One player who has impressed at the San Siro this season is Ronaldinho, a player Sir Alex once tried to sign of course.  The Brazilian super star fell upon hard times at Barcelona but has resurrected his career in Italy and has earned some plaudits with his displays for Milan this season.  The attacking playmaker is also trying to force a recall with the Brazilian national side and could well prove a thorn in United’s side on Wednesday.

Milan’s visit to Old Trafford is also David Beckham’s first return since he left United all those years ago.  I’ve still got a lot of time for Beckham personally and I’ll always appreciate what he did in his time in the Premier League – regardless of anything that may happen on Wednesday.  In truth, his best days are probably behind him now but he is still an outstanding professional and his delivery from a dead ball is as good as ever.  The former United favourite is relishing his return to his old club and paid tribute to the fans before his return.

This is what Becks has had to say: “It was a very emotional night for me playing against United in Milan, but going back to Old Trafford is going to be even more so.

“The United fans were unbelievable in the first leg and I thank them for that. It was amazing to hear their chants.

“Without a doubt it will be emotional to hear that from a crowd of more than 70,000 at Old Trafford.

“I had family with me in Milan and they’ll be going to Old Trafford. My dad’s a big United fan and this is probably the only time he won’t want them to win!”

Even if Rooney doesn’t pull through I’m still confident United can progress in this tie.  Beckham’s return may be an emotional one for him but for me Ronaldinho could well be the danger man for the visitors.  However, with three away goals and a one goal advantage the odds are stacked in United’s favour and they should be able to hold Milan off and make it through to the next stage.

Written by Gareth Freeman, a sports writer who blogs about Cheltenham 2010 tips, Manchester United and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

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