Regardless of Rooney, Manchester United should knock AC Milan out the Champions League

Manchester United v AC Milan, Champions League last 32, second-leg, March 10, 2010

Manchester United 1.60; Draw 3.60; AC Milan 5.25

For all Manchester United fans who think that after winning 3-2 at the San Siro their club have guaranteed a pace in the last 16 of the Champions League, we advise you to think again. Contrary to widespread belief, Manchester United’s Old Trafford is not always a fortress in Europe.

We only have to hark back to November 2009 to find United’s last home thrashing in Europe’s premier club competition. Although already qualified at the time, with United’s foot off the gas Turkish outfit Besiktas left the Theatre of Dreams with a 1-nil win during the group phase and, in so doing, inflicted a second successive miserable result in Europe onto United after Russians CSKA Moscow had netted three on the same ground just three weeks earlier.

The task for AC Milan on Wednesday night then is not impossible. Additionally, Leonardo’s side have looked good away from home too this season in Serie A, as they have won seven out of 13 league games on the road.

An added feather in the Italian side’s cap will be the possible absence of United goldenboy and in-form striker Wayne Rooney (1.71 to score) (although reports on Tuesday confirmed that Wazza returned to training and is now in contention for the match), while Milan’s own forward-line could be boosted with the return of young Brazilian striker Alexandre Pato (3.25 to score).

Others reasons for Milan to be optimistic rest on the shoulders of Ronaldinho (9.00 to score first, 3.25 to score). Playing high on the left hand side behind the team’s central striker, the bucked-tooth genius has returned to the peak of his powers this season, bagging nine goals and 12 assists already in a sensational return from the abyss and his bulging former waistline. Whether Borriello (carrying a knock) or Klaas Jan Huntelaar (10.00 to score first) lead the Milan attack at Old Trafford remains a question-mark, however, complete with his arsenal of flicks and tricks, Ronaldinho will be the visitors’ key danger-man.

While AC Milan are more than capable of claiming at least one, if not two away goals, the bigger question is whether the Rossoneri can keep United at bay. Without a single clean sheet in this season’s Champions League, Milan have been porous at the back and undoubtedly Manchester United will look to take advantage of this fact.

Coach Leonardo has lost faith in keeper Dida since the first leg with Christian Abbiati getting his chance between the sticks, however a cynic may argue that neither keeper is actually good enough at this high level. Similarly Milan’s defence fails to give off many good vibes that they can complete a shut-out, with the likes of Luca Antonini, Daniele Bonera and a slightly over-the-hill Alessandro Nesta all a far cry from the days when Franco Baresi used to marshal the red and black rearguard with an iron-first and rolled-down socks.

Flipping to the hosts, Manchester United will be confident that they can finish off the Italians after the superb first-leg victory. United have won their last five home matches in all competitions with a tremendous aggregate record of 18 scored and one conceded in that time, and they’ll be licking their lips at the prospect of disposing of one of the great clubs in European football. (1.85 to be over 2.5 goals.)

Sir Alex has several selection decisions to make before kick-off. With Wayne Rooney edging back to fitness, the fiery Scot may yet still opt to leave his number 10 on the bench, having the luxury of knowing that his side are in pole position in the tie. Should that be the case then Dimitar Berbatov (5.00 to score first, 2.10 to score) could be called upon as the side’s lone striker, while Antonio Valencia, Paul Scholes (5.00 to score) and either Park Ji-Sung or Nani (2.87 to score) will be required to support the Bulgarian at every opportunity.

Yet it is unlikely that United will chase the game from the whistle. Instead the Red Devils may look to cede possession to the Italians and look to hit them on the break (remember the famous 7-1 demolition of Roma), and should such tactics be adopted then much focus could fall on Darren Fletcher and Darron Gibson in the heart of midfield. Michael Carrick misses out with a suspension.

At the back, following Wes Brown’s broken foot youngster Rafael could be given the nod to handle the tricky Dinho, while we wait to see whether Rio Ferdinand can play back-to-back matches alongside Nemanja Vidic, or in turn Jonny Evans could be drafted into the heart of the home defence. The excellent Patrice Evra and Edwin van der Sar should complete the line-up.

101gg predicts: Manchester United 2 – AC Milan 0 (7.00)

Manchester United 1.60; Draw 3.60; AC Milan 5.25