AC Milan v Manchester United, Champions League, February 16, 2010
The Champions League returns with a bang on Tuesday night with a tie that has been much talked about since the draw was made in December. David Beckhamâ€™s return to Old Trafford in March has focused minds and although his involvement in the San Siro is not guaranteed, Goldenballs will dominate much of the pre-match build-up.
Besides Becks there is much to look forward to, two of the most successful clubs in Europe meet in what can be expected to be two high octane matches and, although Manchester United start as favourites, the Rossoneri have enough quality in their ranks to get past the Premier League champions. (AC Milan are 7/4 to qualify, while Manchester United are 4/7.)
Beckham has only appeared in two cameo substitute appearances for AC Milan in their last couple of games and it would be a surprise if he started against his old club. Since returning to Italy for his second loan spell, the former England captain initially impressed on the right of a three man forward line but this position is likely to be taken by Brazilian starlet Alexandre Pato.
â€œThe Duckâ€ returned to action after an injury absence with the second goal in a 3-2 win at Udinese on Friday night and Pato will line up alongside Ronaldinho and Marco Borriello. Dutch hitman Klaas-Jan Huntelaar will see himself unlucky to be on the bench following his brace last weekend. (AC Milan are 11/5 to score in both halves.)
Leonardo has overseen a topsy-turvy season but AC Milanâ€™s initial struggles saw the Brazilian turn to a 4-3-3 that he will surely stick with against Manchester United. The Rossoneri will field the familiar Italian midfield three of Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo and Massimo Ambrosini ahead of a defence that is not as secure as when the likes of Maldini, Baresi and Costacurta were pulling on the red and black shirts. (Milan are 2/1 to keep a clean sheet, 4/7 against.)
The veteran Alessandro Nesta is still a class act whilst Thiago Silva looks to be another Brazilian capable of conquering Europe. Dida in goal however can drift from the sublime to the ridiculous. There remains the suspicion around this AC Milan side that they have too many ageing legs and are certainly not the best Italy has to offer. Leonardoâ€™s side were comfortably beaten by cross town rivals Inter Milan last month and since then were knocked out the Italian Cup and drew with Livorno and Bologna in Serie A before beating Udinese.
Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson will though be wary that the Rossoneri have reserved their best football for the Champions League and that he has seen his team exit the premier competition in Europe to these opponents in 2005 and 2007. (AC Milan are 33/1 to win the Champions League, Manchester United are 17/2.)
They may be experiencing issues off the pitch, but in recent weeks United have been in terrific form. The 1-1 draw at Villa Park last week, achieved with ten men, halted a run of four wins that had seen the Red Devils score 15 goals. (Manchester United are 12/5 to score in both halves.)Â Wayne Rooney is in irrepressible form (seven goals in his last seven games) and Sir Alex Fergusonâ€™s side have looked a different side since their FA Cup defeat to Leeds and subsequent two-legged victory over Manchester City in the Carling Cup.
The fractured arm injury sustained by Ryan Giggs deprives Manchester United of a key player in Italy with the Welshman likely pencilled in to play behind Rooney. Instead, Nani and Luis Antonio Valencia may provide pace down the wings with a three man central midfield of Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and Paul Scholes. (Halftime/Full time Draw/Manchester United is 11/2.)
At the back Ferguson will be relying on experienced players such as Edwin van der Sar and Rio Ferdinand to perform in front of a full house at the San Siro. Rafael will probably be preferred to Gary Neville on the right and Patrice Evra could be a key player as a run from deep could make all the difference with both sides packing their midfielders.
A game like this, with endless pre-match build-up and some terrific players on show, is often expected to be high scoring. However, both teams will play tight and it could well be at Old Trafford in March that this tie is won.
101gg predicts: AC Milan 1 â€“ Manchester United 1 (6/1)
Full match odds here.