Ancelotti's Milan success still pains United manager

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The Independent Football

Carlo Ancelotti said in the aftermath of his Milan side's 3-0 win over Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United in a rainswept San Siro two and a half years back that he had just witnessed his greatest win as manager of the Rossoneri.

As Ferguson offered his explanation for his club's defeat yesterday it was hard to avoid the impression that he goes to Stamford Bridge tomorrow with a reputation to restore where competition with Ancelotti is concerned. No United fan needs reminding that Milan tore their side apart that night, especially in the course of a first half when Kaka and Clarence Seedorf helped overturn United's 3-2 first leg advantage.

Ferguson still believes there were extenuating circumstances. "They [Milan] were very motivated for that game," Ferguson recalled. "It was a high intensity that we were surprised by, I must say. We weren't physically ready. We'd played on the Saturday with a full team, they'd rested eight or nine players on the Saturday. A Tuesday match was very difficult for us and we never got started in it. The pace caught us cold. By 20 minutes gone the game was over really."

The Community Shield defeat on penalties to Chelsea did not provide any payback and Ferguson was careful, ahead of tomorrow's fixture which his side enter into as underdogs, to avoid raising any more questions about the age of the Chelsea squad as he did on pre-season tour last year. His appreciation of the ability of Frank Lampard has been uncommonly fulsome in the past few months and yesterday he buzzed with enthusiasm about the 31-year-old's form. "You would have to say that his player stats in terms of appearances [are] quite exceptional for a midfield player. They've got an exceptional player there."

Ferguson said it was inevitable that Ancelotti would mould the Chelsea players he inherited around the diamond formation which he always stood by. "It would have been very unlikely that we was going to change it so the job he has to do is to mould the team to his fashion and his vision," he said. "You see it in the results: most have been very good."

Most but not all. Ferguson has his own motives to expose the fault line fleetingly revealed by Ancelotti's defeats at Wigan and Aston Villa.