CL Semifinal Preview

Back from Thailand and thanks to PM for managing the site.  Lots of things have gone on in the worldwide sporting arena, but let’s focus on the future.   The semifinals of the Champions League are here.  Let’s dive in. 

Manchester United v AC Milan (20:45 CET and 2:45 EDT on ESPN2)   1st leg tonight with the 2nd leg at the San Siro (Milan) on May 2nd. 

This is a classic match-up of Man U’s youth vs Milan’s experience.  Youngsters Wayne Rooney and newly crowned Premiership Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo will battle out against the old warhorses of Milan who will most likely start 6 players over 30 including their 38 year-old captain, the incomparable Paolo Maldini.  For some perspective, Maldini played his first European game with Milan in 1985 when Ronaldo was 7 months old and Rooney was not even born.  

Manchester United is flying high coming off their 8-3 aggregate win over Roma in the quarterfinals which included a historical 7-1 stomping at Old Trafford.  But Man U are decimated by injuries, with 1st choice defenders Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic all sidelined.  Not a good sign as Man U certainly do not want to surrender a crucial away goal to Milan. 

Milan is also on a great run, knocking off Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals and on a 5 game winning streak in the Serie A.  Their only injury concern is their goalkeeper Dida who might miss the game due to a sore shoulder.  The Rossoneri have reached the CL semifinals for the 4th time in the past 5 years which includes defeating Man U in the knockout stage in 2005.  But they have only won the Final once on this run, coincidentally at Old Trafford in 2003 when they defeated Juventus 3-2 on penalties in an awful game.   

As for tonight, it looks interesting.  The onus is on Man U to go forward while Milan will try to absorb the pressure and look to counterattack through Seedorf, Kaka and their lone striker Inzaghi.  Man U certainly has the weapons to attack with midfielders Scholes and Carrick orchestrating a devastating attack featuring Rooney, Ronaldo, Giggs and Alan Smith, whose return to form following his terrible broken leg 14 months ago is remarkable.  Each team is certainly capable of scoring goals and Milan must be relishing its chances to attack United’s shaky back 4 defenders. 

TTL believes the key to this leg is midfielder Michael Carrick from United.  He’s got to play just in front of the 4 defenders and bust-up any Milan attacks at the expense of his going forward.  He’s played this role internationally for England a few times and has to succeed tonight.  If the Man U defense falls under constant pressure, they’ll be hard pressed to secure that vital shutout.  United certainly do not want to travel to the San Siro next week having conceded any away goals. 

Milan’s key is that the superb midfield of World Cup heroes Pirlo and Gattuso control the action thus limiting United’s substantial offensive threats.  Also, an intriguing subplot to this game is the battle between Ronaldo and Kaka over the mythical best player in the world moniker.  They are similar attacking players whose creativity and willingness to dribble by anyone is breathtaking to watch.  Ronaldo’s repertoire of passing and dribbling skills is circus-like while Kaka gives off the impression he can score every time he touches the ball.  Both are extremely fun to watch. 

TTL’s prediction is a 2-1 United win in a good, open game setting up Milan winning the tie next week in a nail-biter.  Enjoy the game tonight. 


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