After a two month hiatus the Champions League is back. For this year the format has changed slightly with the first leg ties spread out over two weeks rather than being held on the same week. Tuesday's fixtures sees AC Milan v Man Utd & Lyon v Real Madrid. For this round of fixtures I will stick to previewing ties involving English clubs.
AC Milan v Man Utd
This first tie is one of the glamour fixtures of the Champions League. Both clubs have a great tradition in the competition as well as some personal history having faced off twice in recent years. On both occasions AC Milan were victorious but going into this fixture Man Utd would be regarded as favourites.
In terms of tactics United will go with a 4-3-3 formation that has become Sir Alex Ferguson's preferred choice for all big games. With injuries & suspensions the personnel is also fairly predictable & so you would expect a line up of
Van der Sar
Rafeal - Ferdinand - Evans - Evra
Fletcher - Carrick - Scholes
Valencia - Rooney - Park
AC Milan also favour a 4-3-3 formation, which has been designed to get the maximum from Ronaldinho. Their are several interesting choices facing Leonardo the most fascinating will be the decsion on whether to use Alexandre Pato from the start. And despite the hype surrounding David Beckham its likely that Leonardo will want the defensive skills of Gennaro Gattuso meaning the England international will have to settle for a place on the bench. The expected line up would be
Abate - Thiago Silva - Nesta - Luca Antonio
Gattuso - Pirlo - Ambrosini
Mancini - Pato - Ronaldinho
AC Milan's main threat comes from their front three plus the craft of Andrea Pirlo. Pato is a real livewire & will test United's centre back pairing. But where I expect Milan to really try to attack is down United's right side. Ronaldinho will try to exploit the inexperience of Rafeal and this could be particularly fruitful given the young full backs penchant for diving in.
Man Utd's principle attacking outlet is obviously Wayne Rooney. Currently in great form, the England striker has the potential to cause devistation among the Milan back line. It will be important for Milan not to leave any defender isolated against Rooney. The other aspect of United's attack is ball retention. As was apparent in last season's Round of 16 tie with Inter Milan, United have the ability to keep possesion for long periods of play. How Milan cope without the ball will be an important factor in the match.
As this is the first leg the expectation would be on cagey match. Man Utd have been circumspect in away legs with the emphasis on catching teams on the counter. AC Milan will be wary of this threat & so will be careful not to over commit. The experience & the ability of Man Utd definitely favours them going into this tie. Having gone 15 games undefeated in European Cup away matches I don't expect that run to end tonight. But given Milan's pedigree & what is perhaps an extra cautiousness from United I think the scoreline will be 1-1.