David Beckham will receive a hero’s welcome when he takes to the field for AC Milan at Old Trafford tonight. Rightly so, not only is Beckham a great former Manchester United player but a supporter at heart. There ends the friendship as Sir Alex Ferguson’s United look to beat Milan for the first tiem in Europe’s premier competition.
Ferguson’s side will have to make do without a string on injured and suspended players. Ryan Giggs’ broken arm has not healed sufficiently for the Welshman to play despite training this week. Meanwhile, defender Wes Brown will miss the next six weeks with a crack in the fifth metatarsal of his left foot.
Long term absentees Anderson, John O’Shea, Michael Owen and Owen Hargreaves will also sit out the game along with the suspended Michael Carrick.
However, the Scot’s most pressing concern is at right-back with a choice between Rafael da Silva, given such a torrid time by Ronaldinho in the first leg, and Gary Neville who is showing increasing age with each match.
Better news concerns Wayne Rooney, who trained with the first team at Carrington yesterday morning and will start in a probable 4-3-3 formation against the Italians.
“I looked at him on Friday and didn’t think he had any chance,” Ferguson said yesterday.
“But he has progressed and he plays and, on this form, he would be a threat to anyone. That is what he will provide for us: a real threat up front.”
It’s a threat that history says is required, with United’s record against Milan showing no aggregate wins in four European ties. United has won the last five home games against Serie A opponents but its losing record to Milan dates to 1958. Ferguson believes the run is there for the taking his side’s landmark win in Italy three weeks ago.
“European football is an ever-changing process. The challenge last year was to get past Barcelona to win the trophy and the Italians were not as good as the Spaniards,” Ferguson said.
“But there has been a little shift and the Italian teams are better this year. That’s why winning in Milan was a big step forward for Manchester United. It was the first time in four attempts that we had done it.
“I was delighted with it because, historically, we were playing against one of the best European teams of all time. So it was a landmark victory for us. I can’t help but think it was a really, really important win for us – a psychological thing.”
Although Ferguson does not believe that Beckham will start tonight’s match – he has sat on the bench since disappointing in Milan’s 3-2 defeat to United at the San Siro – heavy focus is naturally given to the former Red.
It’s a circus that has not enveloped United’s players, says Darren Fletcher, who dominated the midfield battle with Beckham in the first leg.
“First and foremost he’s a top class player, as a youngster at Manchester United he was one of the players I looked up to,” said the Scotland captain.
“Obviously he’s moved on and had a successful career and he’s still battling for a place in the England World Cup squad. He’ll be keen to impress coming back to Old Trafford but we’re focused on ourselves and winning the game.
“He’ll get a great reception but once we get on the pitch all that friendship goes out of the window”
It will need a big performance from the influential midfield enforcer with the tie balanced marginally in United’s favour. However, the 3-2 aggregate lead is not one Ferguson intends to sit on.
“The nature of our club is that we have to have a positive attitude,” added Ferguson.
“When we went 3-1 ahead in Milan, for instance, it would have been easy to shut up shop but we kept looking for that fourth goal and sometimes it makes games more exciting than they need be.
“We maybe should have killed off the game but then Seedorf’s goal near the end keeps the match on a tightrope. I don’t think we should be confused by the score of 3-2 – it does not represent a bye into the quarter-finals.”
United (4-3-3): van der Sar; Rafael, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Gibson, Scholes, Fletcher; Valencia, Rooney, Nani.
Wayne Rooney is fit to face AC Milan tomorrow and trained with the first team squad at Carrington today. The striker, who induced the ire of Sir Alex Ferguson by playing for England with a sore knee last week, missed United’s 1-0 victory at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday in preparation for the Champions League tie.
Rooney’s return to fitness is a huge boost for Ferguson, who was unusually critical of the former Everton player, blaming the striker’s enthusiasm for playing more than 80 minutes against Eygpt on Wembley’s cabbage-patch of a pitch last Wednesday.
“I don’t think he should have played,” said Ferguson earlier this week.
“It is his own enthusiasm that has caused it. His problem is that he can’t say no.
“He told us on Sunday he was feeling his knee. Then all of a sudden people put an arm around his shoulder with England and he wants to play.
“Fabio Capello has to pick his best team. A win was important so I don’t blame him at all. I was more disappointed with Wayne. Why didn’t he come off? I can’t believe it.”
Rooney trains at Carrington
Despite this 28 goal Rooney will face David Beckham’s Milan side with United 3-2 ahead after the first leg three weeks ago. Ferguson is without Wes Brown, who has a fractured fifth metatarsal in his left foot, along with Ryan Giggs who has a broken arm. Long-term injury victims Owen Hargreaves, John O’Shea and Anderson also miss the match, while midfielder Michael Carrick is suspended.
Sir Alex Ferguson says Ryan Giggs could yet make Manchester United’s Champions League tie with AC Milan on 10 March. United head into the Old Trafford tie 3-2 ahead on aggregate after the first leg in Milan but will miss injury victims Rio Ferdinand, Anderson and Owen Hargreaves, together with suspended midfielder Michael Carrick
“Ryan still has the injury to his arm,” said Ferguson of 36-year-old Giggs.
“But we are taking the plate out at the end of the week and he will be in full training after that, which is good news.”
Giggs fractured his right arm in a challenge with Aston Villa’s Steve Sidwell earlier this month. The Welshman will need clearance to play in a lightweight cast and could yet be pressed into a central midfield berth with just Paul Scholes, Darren Fletcher and Darron Gibson available to Ferguson for the Milan tie.