Milan vs Man U

David Beckham has admitted he will find facing former team Manchester United ‘emotional’ as he aims for a place in the Milan side that will take on Sir Alex Ferguson’s men in the knockout phase of the Champions League. Speaking before the game to reporters Beckham admitted;

“It’s going to be an emotional game, but as a Manchester United fan it is probably going to be the first time I want Manchester United to lose. I’m a Milan player and I want us to play well in the game and I want us to progress into the next stage of the Champions League.”

Beckham has done well for Milan since agreeing his second loan spell at the club after the MLS season finished in December. Many Milan fans were sceptical that Beckham would be able to contribute to the team, but his performances for the club in both of his loan deals have seen him cement his place in the team, in Fabio Capello’s England set up and won him an army of new fans who have been impressed by his skills as a player and his tireless work ethic.

While much of the focus has been on Beckham lining up against his old team, it has somewhat detracted away from the players who are more likely to decide the tie. Such as Milan’s young striker Alexandre Pato and Manchester United’s bundle of perpetual angst and motion Wayne Rooney, both of whom lead the goalscorer markets with most betting sites online.

Certainly Pato has the talent to cause a weakened United defence, who will start without the injured Nemanja Vidic who didn’t even make the trip to Italy, all sorts of problems. The young Brazilian, who was linked with a £30m move to Chelsea earlier this season, has been a key performer for Milan this year and as he gains experience and strength, he is growing into an imposing forward, capable of leading the line for Milan in much the same way that Andriy Shevchenko once did.

United have their own threat in Wayne Rooney. The England star has been in sensational form for his club this season and his performances have driven the club on at times. Rooney will no doubt be expecting close attention from an experienced Milan back line, but the England man needs to show his doubters that he can perform against the best in the latter stages of competititions.

While Pato and Rooney may provide the striking threat and Beckham the eyes of the media, there will be one player whom Sir Alex Ferguson will have special plans for, the resurgent Brazilian Ronaldinho.
For most of the past two years, the former Barcelona man has been something of a forgotten figure in football. His move from Barcelona to Milan didn’t work out initially, he has been dropped from Carlos Dunga’s Brazilian squad and his form took a nosedive to such an extent that many commentators felt he was finished before the age of 30. However this year the Brazilian has, at times, been back to his brilliant best and Manchester United will be well aware of the problems he could cause them if he is given too much room in advanced areas.

Certainly United have reason to strive for victory. The defeat in the 2007 semi finals to a Kaka inspired Milan hurt United greatly and Sir Alex will want to avenge that loss in the best way possible, by setting themselves up for the second leg in Old Trafford in three weeks time by securing a strong result in the San Siro.

David Beckham and his magical right foot, notwithstanding of course.

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Another Night

Is the 2009-2010 season going to be one remembered for dazzling skill, or crippling ineptitude because last night there was relatively little of the former and plenty of the latter.

Take the Porto – Arsenal clash. What started, on paper, being an interesting clash of styles between two talented attack minded teams, turned somewhat into farce by the goalkeeping performance of Lukasz Fabianski. On 11 minutes the 24 year old, lauded in the press previous to the game by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger as a true European goalkeeping great in years to come, gave the home side a lift by turning Varela’s mishit right wing cross into his own net. Of course you can argue he was wrong footed and diving back towards his goal is never easy. However the inescapable fact is that most goalkeepers tend to realise that palming the ball into your own net is never a particularly good idea.

That blunder paled into insignificance in the second half however when after Sol Campbell had equalised for the Gunners and they were looking somewhat comfortable, a hopeful punt saw Campbell touch the ball slightly back to Fabianski. Rather than clear it away with his feet, the Pole picked the ball up. The referee rightly awarded an indirect free kick to Porto inside the box. Fabianski gave the referee the ball, the ref passed it on to a Porto player while Fabianski turned and ambled back to goal with his back to the action. The Porto player took the free kick quickly (the referee Martin Hansson helpfully blocking Sol Campbell’s attempts to get back and defend) and Falcao rolled the ball past the dazed Fabianski.

It was scarcely believable, as evidenced by the hysteric tones of the ITV commentary team and the rather bemused look of Arsenal defenders trying to chase back.

Arsene Wenger has, of course, blamed the referee for the debacle. Wenger argued Sol Campbell’s back pass was accidental (it wasn’t) and that the referee should not have allowed the free kick to have taken place. It seems somewhat odd then that Arsene seems to have forgotten Thierry Henry’s quick free kick, which led to Arsenal scoring a goal against Chelsea at Highbury back in 2004.

I can’t wait for the second leg. What are the betting sites online going to offer as markets for the game? “Time of first Fabianski Cock up?”, “Number of Porto goals down to Arsenal goalkeeping ineptitude?”? I’d bet on them.

But it wasn’t just in Portugal where the official was in hot water. In Germany, Didier Drogba’s best friend, Norwegian referee Tommy Henning Ovrebo had another night filled with somewhat peculiar decisions.

Firstly, his award of a penalty for Bayern, ostensibly for a foul by Kroldrup on Ribery, not only was questionable, but in doing so he robbed Bayern of scoring a legitimate goal by playing the advantage as Klose tucked the ball away. However in Ovrebo’s world, this crass decision of the awarding of a penalty was further compounded by him not giving Bayern the advantage. Fortunately Robben tucked away the penalty.

The second half was equally baffling for most football fans, after Fiorentina had equalised, Kroldrup making amends for the penalty with a scrappy leveller, Ovrebo then sent off Massimo Gobbi for a challenge on Arjen Robben that was frankly laughable, yet a nasty two-footed challenge by Miroslav Klose just a few minutes later, worthy perhaps of a red card, went unpunished. Indeed Klose must now be adding Ovrebo to his Christmas Card list as on full time he was allowed to be at least five yards offside to score the goal that put Bayern in front.

It wasn’t a decision that any sane person would have got wrong. But then again, we had Tom Henning Ovrebo in charge of the game, so perhaps we should have expected it.

Even Bayern Munich manager Louis Van Gaal could scarcely believe the decision stating:

“Fiorentina played tactically very well. They changed their system and we could not work them out.

“That was a shame. At least we did then score a goal in the end, which was clearly offside.

“Therefore, we have been a bit lucky.”

Or it could just be that the official was inept.

You decide.

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