MILAN // Manchester United have a score to settle with AC Milan. The teams have met in four previous two-legged European ties - three of them at the semi-final stage. The Italians have been victorious on each occasion, with Milan twice going on to win the trophy in 1969 and 2007. "I expected more from my team," admitted a downbeat Sir Alex Ferguson following the 3-0 second leg defeat three years ago after Cristiano Ronaldo had been put in his place by a snarling Gennaro Gattuso, outshone by Kaka and marooned by a game plan than left United outclassed and Dida, the Milan goalkeeper, regretting not bringing a deckchair and a book, his acting services were called on so infrequently.
"It will be a totally different story," opined Ferguson after watching Milan labour past Udinese in freezing conditions on Friday night as they moved briefly to second in Serie A thanks to two Klaas-Jan Huntelaar goals. "After the experience in the San Siro three years ago, where they dominated the game, I know that won't happen again," continued the United manager. "At the time we played on Tuesday after a tiring Sunday when we fought back from 2-0 to beat Everton 4-2. Milan had rested many of their stars on Saturday.
"This time it's the other way round and a good time to be facing Milan. We didn't play at the weekend, Kaka has gone, they have problems and injuries. My team, on the other hand, is in great shape." "Milan desperately need Pato," added Ferguson. "He can make the difference, if he is 100 per cent fit, as shown against Udinese." Ferguson is usually more private in his pre-match analysis and not drawn to giving details about opponents as he has done with Milan - also talking about their tactics pre- and post-Kaka - to the delight of journalists who loved his highly quotable, unusually detailed analysis.
Ferguson is partly motivated by the criticism of his United team from Jose Mourinho in Italy, but more so because he feels that United were in awe of Milan during previous meetings when they did not need to be. Ferguson's openness should not be misplaced as overconfidence, but he is irked that United have never beaten Milan and genuinely feels that the time is now. United have been in outstanding form during the last month with Wayne Rooney playing better than at any time in his career. He too feels that he has a score to settle after 2007, since when United have performed much better in the Champions League than Milan.
Despite Ryan Giggs, Nemanja Vidic and Anderson all missing against Milan, United are aiming to reach their third successive European Cup final. They have the advantage of the second leg being at Old Trafford, just as they did they when they easily brushed past Italian sides Roma in 2008 and Inter Milan last season after tough first games in Italy. More than 4,000 United fans will travel to the San Siro, where they will see a former hero, David Beckham, wearing opposition colours for the first time since he left Old Trafford for Real Madrid in 2003.
Beckham, 34, has been the subject of much of the pre-match focus, his affection for United still clear, but Leonardo, his coach, has restricted him to the bench recently. Beckham will receive a good reception from United fans, to whom he further endeared himself by describing Rooney as "one of the best goalscorers in football anywhere". The time is indeed ripe for Rooney and Co to justify the hype against a Milan side viewed as a fading force. @Email:email@example.com Milan v United, 11.45pm, Aljazeera Sport +3