Milan hobbled by creaking limbs and a dodgy Becks

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Sir Alex Ferguson was up off his seat and halfway down into the depths of the San Siro car park before the majority of the players had left the pitch after AC Milan’s win over Udinese on Friday evening.

His Manchester United side will have to be equally quick-footed on Tuesday night to weather what promises to be a Milan maelstrom that Leonardo’s men can whip up for about half an hour.

After that it usually blows over pretty quickly and it is the opposition who then have the wind in their sails.

As we saw against Udinese – in a game that ultimately saw a welcomed return to winning ways – Milan like to dart out of the blocks quickly and grab an early goal.

The problems arise when they have to hold on to a lead or when the initial flurry abates with no breakthrough being made – then all passing and movement goes out the window as ageing and not-so-ageing limbs start to seize up.

This was the case on Friday.

Udinese's docile start played into Rossoneri hands, but when they became willing to throw players forward they stretched Milan’s defence to breaking point – especially down the flanks.

Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva dovetail perfectly in the centre of the defence until the latter was forced off injured, but there could be trouble ahead unless Ignazio Abate and Luca Antonini temper their habit of haring down the wings without leaving gaps at the back.

In Abate’s case, the only way to ram that home will be for Pato to have “STOP NOW!” pinned to the back of his shirt, much in the same way fans of Forrest Gump’s school football team held up placards reminding him not to keep running out of the stadium when he scored a touchdown.

"So I get to you and stop. Righto"

Ronaldinho needs little reminding that much more is expected of him at this crucial stage of the campaign.

Apparently Silvio Berlusconi had been on the phone to the toothy one for a little motivational talk and no doubt repeated the mantra “new contract, new contract.”

Of more significance is the return of Dinho’s muse - Alexandre Pato - to inspire his compatriot to produce those raking diagonal passes, knowing that the fleet-footed youngster will be tip-toeing into their path.

However, it may be a good idea for Pato to camouflage those yellow boots, which are a dead giveaway that he is sneaking forward and ready to strike.

Udinese full-back Giovanni Pasquale worked out that sighting a flash of yellow necessitated a flaying boot in that direction.

Unfortunately for him, that realisation only came after the whippet-like Brazilian had already struck once.

"Get 'im!!"

But tactical considerations aside, Milan’s first-leg undoing could be simple knocks and strains.

Thiago Silva limped out of Friday’s game after 40 minutes - with a tightening hamstring making his progress down the tunnel a laboured effort.

Tellingly, Udinese scored five minutes later so the medical staff have been on double shifts to get the Brazilian fit, although no amount of kneading can make Gianluca Zambrotta - whose aches and pains will not go away - whole again.

In midfield, Clarence Seedorf also seems a lost cause for this game despite the Dutchman’s personal physio working around the clock on his dodgy hip.

And striker Marco Borriello has been making slow progress from a lower back problem, but at least there is a ready-made replacement in Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who scored twice on Friday.

And what of Filippo Inzaghi, the veteran goal-grabber described by Ferguson as "born offside" who has produced many a memorable moment on a crucial European night?

It'll be the bench at best for old Super Pippo if Borriello is ruled out, but it has long been the case that the ancient poacher does not figure in Leonardos’s plans and is seeing out the rest of the season before weighing up his options, as they say.

Meanwhile, what of the man in the middle of the media maelstrom, David Beckham?

Much has been made of his first ever game against Manchester United, but he has simply not been making the sort of impact he was this time last year.

"Ready when you are, gaffer"

Indeed, when he did come on late on against Udinese, the World Cup hopeful almost set up Antonio di Natale with a wayward backpass.

Seedorf’s absence could well save Beckham from the bench - edging out Rino Gattuso in the starting XI - as Leonardo needs Pato’s pace and presence to inspire Ronaldinho to ensure Milan are still in the tie heading to Old Trafford.

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