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Milan 2, Plzeň 0: Respect.

In sports, we always talk about Cinderella teams. Viktoria Plzeň are a Cinderella team that made it to the ball, but maybe didn’t have quite what it took to dance the night away with the prince. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. If you look at the match purely by the numbers, you’d never guess the disparity between the leagues they play in, the salary and talent of their players, or the sheer amount of cash behind each team. They came to play, they left it all out on the pitch, and for that, I say: Respect.

I swear, they're not laughing at Plzeň. You had to be there.
I read somewhere that Plzeň coach Pavel Vrba said that anything but a loss at the San Siro would be considered a triumph. I would have to go one further and say that even their loss was a triumph, and watching their players go in front of their supporters at the end of the match, I would say their supporters would agree. Well done, indeed.

The first half was fairly evenly matched. Only instead of Milan playing down to their level, I feel like they played up to Milan’s level. They tested Abbiati wll in the 3rd minute with a great shot that Abbiati was just able to get a hand on to keep it out. Then keeper Marek Čech had a great save on a shot by Cassano from a sweet pass from Ibra. It kind of went back and forth like that, with some outstanding play by a few players, but overall solid play from Milan and Plzeň alike.

I raved about Emanuelson in my last match review, and I will come out and say that I love Urby. He was perfect to start in this match and had some really great contributions. Ibra was a sight for sore eyes, although a couple of times the Plzeň players gave me a heart attack with their physical play. We need Ibra healthy! Of course, Abbiati, my one true love, was amazing on the night. If I could clone him, I would. And someone else who I have to admit had a solid game was one Luca Antonini. Yes, I did type that. Early on, he got smoked by a Plzeň attacker, but as the game went on, he actually made some nice contributions both offensively and defensively. And no massive blunders. Respect.


The biggest visual difference in the two teams throughout the game was the collection of yellow cards. Much of it had to do with quality and experience - the Plzeň players were definitely less skilled and thus got called more for sloppy fouls and tackles. But as much as I wanted to strangle the commentators in my stream for 99% of the match, they pointed out the disparity in the reffing. Milan certainly deserved 2-3 yellows, but got none, whereas Plzeň ended up with 4 yellows, 3 in the first half and 1 in the second. Maybe it was those ridiculous periwinkle ref jerseys they are asked to wear, but I hate it when a ref is inconsistent for any reason.

Other highlights for me in the first half were in the 33rd, Abate getting forward with a nice cross to Cassano then to Ibra for a shot that was saved. Or in the 39th when Antonini was wrongly called offside, and who knows? He really had a shot with that one, 1 v 1 with the keeper. Just before the half, Seedorf had a sweet cross directly across the face of goal, but no one was able to get to it and tap it in. Poor Cassano was Plzeň’s whipping boy, taking a high boot right before the half from Horváth.

And the 2nd half started with yet another foul on Cassano. Then Urby with a shot to the sky, followed by Horváth with a shot over the crossbar. But in the 53rd, everything changed with a clear handball on Čišovský in the box. Zlatan stepped up and drilled it to the left, sending Čech to the right. 1-0 Milan. Frustration probably led to Čech’s card for timewasting just a minute or two later, another example where Plzeň have the heart of champions, just maybe not the quality or discipline just yet.

White men CAN jump.
Milan may have been up a point, but they were still hungry. Abate getting forward again with a cross, Nocerino getting pummeled some more while running like a beast, until in the 66th, Ibra had a brilliant pass on a turn to Cassano for a goal. 2-0 Milan. It should be noted here that the Plzeň defender slid dangerously into his own keeper. Again, more heart than quality. Thankfully, no one seemed to get hurt.

The rest of the match dwindled a bit in levels of quality as players were tired, but the substitutions for Milan were spot on. Aquilani replaced Seedorf in the 71st, Taiwo came on for Antonini in the 78th, who had been cramping up and took a tough tackle. It was funny to see Ants call the ref over to help him stretch his leg, the ref seemed a bit unsure if he should! The last substitution saw the 18 year-old DeSciglio come on for Abate in the 87th, a perfect amount of time for such a young player to jump into a game like that. Allegri has certainly come a long way in the past year when it comes to substitutions.

Now if he had only allowed Pippo to be on the Champions League Roster. There was a banner at the beginning of the match that translated says “If there’s no Pippo, there’s no enjoyment.” And I have to say that held true. It was great, we desperately needed the win, the team stepped up to the challenge and practically everyone played well or even outstanding. But the energy that Pippo brings to a stadium full of people is unparalleled. I can only hope that he makes the list come January.

By the numbers, Milan had 14 shots, 7 of which were on goal. Plzeň had 13 shots, but only 2 or 3 were on goal, depending on which statistician you ask. (Quality.) Milan were credited with a very healthy 62% possession, and I saw a stat that they had 80% pass completion rate to Plzeň’s very nice 70% completion rate. Milan showed quality, even if we have a lot to improve. Especially if we are to keep up with Barcelona, who beat BATE 5-0 today. But I am not worried. If we can continue to improve and get more players back from the infirmary, we should be able to make a stronger Champions League run this year than last, which is the goal, I believe.

One to tell the grandchildren about.
As for Plzeň, I just have to say it again: Respect. They came to the big time, they played their hearts out, and they gave the seven time Champions League winners a lot of trouble in their group stage debut against a big club. I think a lot of people gained respect for them tonight. They should be very proud. And Milan should be grateful for a solid battle and 3 points. Respect.



This post inspired by the music of Muse’s “The Resistance” album.