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John Giles: Rooney offers respite to Reds’ frail defence

NOT many managers favour Russian roulette as a winning approach to Champions League football, but it worked for Alex Ferguson at San Siro.

It helps, of course, when you have someone like Wayne Rooney spinning the barrel and pulling the trigger. Every time he got the ball in the second half, AC Milan creaked.

He could have had half a dozen. Without a defence to rely on since the start of the season, Ferguson is leaning more than ever on the notion that his players will score more than the opposition.

This is nothing new, but the steady drip of injury problems among his defenders have forced Ferguson to gamble more than he usually does, and this was clearly visible against Milan.

Worse than that, the only man scoring goals for him at the moment is Rooney and an injury to him could stop Manchester United in their tracks.

SOLIDITY

Last night, Rio Ferdinand and Johnny Evans brought a bit more solidity to Ferguson's defence than he has seen for a while, but under pressure from Milan, his back four still looked well short of the required standard.

Fortunately for Ferguson, Milan didn't have the ammunition to punish Manchester United in a first half half they dominated, and when he finally figured out that Nani was incapable of delivering even one decent cross and threw on Valencia, he found the key to the game.

Rooney bristled with frustration every time Nani messed up and it is a mystery to me why Ferguson persisted with him when he had a much more direct and effective alternative waiting on the bench.

There's been a lot of talk about Nani in recent days suggesting that he has turned a corner somehow and is now ready to deliver.

Apart from 45 minutes against Arsenal, when he was very good indeed, I haven't seen any big change. His delivery is still rubbish and his decision-making very poor.

What you see is what you get with Valencia; he's direct, physically strong and did the job he was told to do – get the ball to Wayne Rooney.

Rooney is nearing his prime now and for those of us who value honesty, professionalism and ability, he's got the lot. Given the service, he destroyed a defence which is even weaker than Manchester United's.

Without him, it's hard to see how Manchester United would be in such an excellent position – hot on Chelsea's heels at the top of the Premier League and now with three away goals and a lead to protect at Old Trafford for a place in the Champions League quarter-finals.

This is the time of the year when Ferguson likes to see his team come together and start to play but the only progress I've seen since the start of the season is the momentum building around Rooney.

As I've said, there is no sign of Ferguson's defence settling into a stable spell and Paul Scholes has been his only midfielder all season, freed to work his magic by the fantastic stamina and honesty of effort shown by Darren Fletcher.

Last night was a great one for old-timers. Scholes and Clarence Seedorf both scored and Filippo Inzaghi still looks sharp and dangerous at 37. David Beckham can still deliver a fine cross and not a great deal more.

The youngest of the elder statesmen, Ronaldhino, is only a pale shadow of what he used to be, but he still scored the first goal of the game and set up Seedorf for Milan's second – the one that gives them a slim chance in the second-leg in two weeks’ time.

WARRIORS

Arsene Wenger could do with a few old warriors in his squad but even without adequate strength, depth and experience, I would be optimistic about Arsenal's chances against Porto this evening.

The Champions League is a much more predictable environment for Wenger and he is unlikely to ever come across someone like Rory Delap on his travels in Europe.

Even when you know what to expect, Stoke City are a handful, as they showed against Manchester City last night, but Porto will play to patterns Wenger knows and understands.

So far this season, Arsenal have been found wanting when it comes to the big games in the Premier League and perhaps if Porto had held onto even half of the top players they've sold over the last decade, Wenger would be facing as big a test tonight.

But there's a big gap between Porto and the top of the Premier League and Wenger has every right to believe that he will be in as strong a position as Ferguson for the second-leg.


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