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Palermo 1, Milan 0: The Pink Death

The writing was on the wall. Milan hadn’t won at the Stadio Renzo Barbera since 2006. Palermo lost big against Udinese, but had steadily improved to just a 1-0 loss last week. Pastore had cut off that ridiculous mullet thing he’d been wearing and gotten himself a proper haircut. This match was never destined to be easy, and maybe was never even destined for a Milan victory.

 
Serse Cosmi, just weeks into his appointment as Palermo’s coach, lined up an unusual 3-4-1-2 formation that was a stroke of brilliance. He essentially pushed the defense up, matching Allegri’s defensive 4 man midfield, a midfield that already was the weak link between the Milan defense and our attack. Basically, he spotted our weakness and focused on it, strangling our game and allowing the rest of his team to do their jobs. Genius. Not so much with the usual hat, but definitely with the formation.

To be fair, I have always hated pink. But no more than today as I looked at Palermo’s 3 man defense that magically transformed to a 5 man defense with 2 defensive midfielders moving back anytime a Milan attacker came within 20 yards of them. A wall of pink to prevent all goals: the Pink Death. They were perfectly positioned and always on the lookout for those legendary Milan attackers.

So the game begins, and in the 10th minute, Goian (a defender and member of the aforementioned Pink Death) scores the opening goal from a Palermo corner kick. Our defense had been tight against an early barrage from Palermo’s attack, but when the set piece came, they did not seem to know what to do and they allowed the goal. An uncharacteristic mistake for the best defense in the league this season.

To make matters worse, 3 minutes later, Jankulovski was fouled hard from behind by Pinilla and was not able to continue due to injury. Which led to Antonini being subbed on in the 16th minute. From bad to worse.

Gradually, over the first half, the Milan attack seemed to slowly be awakening to that wall of pink between them and the goal. Cassano and Pato each had at least one good chance. But when the Pink Death did not stop them, Sirigu did. With 60% possession at the half, Milan had fired off 6 shots, but none of them on goal.

Still, I was optimistic about the second half. Allegri has been very good at reading the game and making the necessary changes after the half. Only this time, he had already used a substitution for injury, so it would prove more difficult.

So with van Bommel carrying a yellow card that he earned in stoppage time of the first half, Allegri prudently subbed him off for Boateng in the 53rd minute. This allowed Seedorf, who was working hard, but losing pace like water through a sieve, to move back into his newly discovered successful role at the back of the center midfield. And Boateng, as you would expect, made an immediate impact on the game.

However Boateng soon attracted the gaze of the Pink Death, though, and took over the role Ibra has been playing for us, that of being double-marked and yet still managing to muscle off the defenders to make crucial passes. This freed up Pato and Cassano to become more dangerous and indeed, they managed more shots. Until, of course, Pato was fouled while taking a dangerous shot and ended up having to be subbed off with an injury to what looked like his left ankle. I don’t even want to think about what that could mean for the derby or subsequent games.

But I do have to say, Robinho came on for him in the 64th minute and in the next 3 minutes personally forced 2 very good saves from Sirigu. Followed by a - yes, you are reading this correctly - brilliant diving header by Gattuso. Probably the best shot of the game, too!! So it’s not as if we didn’t have our chances.


It seemed like Milan were breaking down the Pink Death, especially in the last 20 minutes, it seemed like they were not going to accept the defeat. And yet Palermo still looked very dangerous on the counter attacks, Milan were simply too slow and perhaps too focused on scoring themselves, so we were still giving up shots and forcing our defense to play for their lives. Which Abbiati, Silva, and Abate deserve special recognition for once again.

In the end, Palermo only managed 36% possession, but took 11 shots, with 6 on goal, including, obviously, the one that counted. Milan dominated possession with a telling 64%, but with 13 shots, only 4 were on goal. And Sirigu brought his A-game, which I normally love, except when he’s the opposing keeper. We also racked up a couple of more yellow cards from van Bommel and Flamini that may haunt us in future matches.

It seems inexplicable on paper, but Palermo played with focus and passion and with the very vocal home crowd, they managed to steal 3 points from us at a time when we needed them most. Milan seemed to start with a sense of complacency that gradually led to frustration and desperation. And on the evening of Nesta’s 35th birthday, they were unable to give him the gift that keeps on giving: 3 points toward a Scudetto at the end of the season. (Trust me, it’s so much better than a gift card!)

So it is with this worrisome performance that our team head into the International break, coming back in 2 weeks to face our most hated rivals in the Milan Derby. And to think we couldn’t even conquer the Pink Death. Let’s hope Allegri practices his pep talks over the break, and that the humiliation of dropping points now inspires our boys to victory in 2 weeks!