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Coppa Italia: Milan 2, Novara 1

Have you ever been in a situation that was comfortable, and then things turned horribly awry and you felt lucky to get out alive? That is how this match felt for me. Not so much the result, although that was a contributing factor. But rather escaping without more injuries. (Which as of this writing, I’m not sure we’ve done.) I mean, great for the win, even if we had to take it to overtime to get it. But the last 45 minutes or so was one scary ride.

The performance we'd all been wanting to see


For me, the match started beautifully. Pippo with his first start of the season, next to El Shaarawy, and our newly reacquired Merkel, all ready to show what they had. And Pippo burst out of the gate with a greet run forward not 2 minutes in, then a great shot that forced a save from a beautiful pass by El Shaarawy in the 8th minute. Then a great run forward in the 16th and then a header in the 17th that went just wide. He proved he still had it, even if he didn’t get the goal. And his positioning and runs were great, even if he definitely has lost some pace. I love the way he runs at the keeper, even when he knows he’s not going to get to the ball. He’s just a predator and never gives up. He got his first and only offside call of the day in the 56th, then was subbed off in the 58th for Pato.

The old man's still got it, just maybe not 90 minutes of it.

Whereas El Shaarawy stole the show and made a very strong case for a starting spot. In the 24th minute, he got the ball, turned, dribbled to a wide open space outside of the area, and drilled the shot home brilliantly between Fontana and the post. 1-0 Milan. He continued to take shots when he could, but for me it was his pace and his passing that made my heart beat faster. He had some breathtaking crosses that could have been assists, had the strikers finished. It was almost like his audition, and if I was the director, he would get the part. Allegri has to be impressed (and the way players are dropping like flies, grateful) to have another strong option up front. Not sure if he’s ready for a Champions League final, but he just may live up to his hype. For tonight, he was definitely my Man of the Match.

Merkel was very helpful, too, and may be able to help out on that right side until Aquilani comes back. Not sure if it was the physicality of the match, but he faded faster than some of the other players. Still, he had great pace and seemed to be jumping in with both feet, despite his transfer being made official just 24 hours ago. Maybe not a starter, but a great option in our time of need.

Straight into the fray

This was the kind of match that was sink or swim for our players. It showed strengths and weaknesses that typical matches don’t always show. (translation: we played quite poorly as a team, even if we managed to maintain possession and the win.) Surprisingly, both Bonera and Antonini showed up to play today and impressed overall. Nesta saved our butts dozens of times, it is a shame he will be suspended on Sunday. Mexes had an error or two and was lucky to escape without a caution, but was solid otherwise. Amelia was solid, which is good, because Abbiati is out for a week, we need him to be solid again on Sunday.

As much as people have complained about our midfield, it was our weak link again today. Ambrosini was a beast, and it looked toward the end that he might not make it. Nocerino played pretty well, although not his best. Emanuelson was exposed in this match, and although he worked hard, he really showed that trequartista is not his postion. For example, in the 60th, he had a great run and can and should have passed it, but rather took the shot, and it went wide.

FACEPALM.

Pato came on and had some great shots and a number of free kicks, including a bicycle shot attempt in overtime that went wide. But he will be remembered for his 100th minute goal where he beat the keeper to tap it in. He struggled with passes and crossing, and his misses almost physically hurt. But in the end, he gained some confidence and had some spectacular plays, too.

As mentioned, the match went into overtime after an 88th minute goal by Radovanovic painfully, if not a bit unfairly equalized it. Novara had 7 shots on goal, same as us, but I felt that was more to our mistakes than to their credit. They were scrappy and determined, but sloppy and physical, too.

The yellow caards started in the 86th with Novara’s Rubino being cautioned. Then in overtime, in the 92nd, Robinho & Radovanovic got into it and were both cautioned. In the 96th, Nocerino, who had been a bit physical the whole match, was finally shown a yellow. In the 104th, an exhausted Merkel earned his, and finally, in the 115th, Garcia, who could have had a collection of cards by this point, was cautioned. Everyone was clearly exhausted in overtime, and tempers and fuses were short.

Our fumbling savior on the night.

Now for the difference makers: our substitutions. Pato got the goal, and it was Robiinho who came on in the 82nd after a little delay for a confused 4th official, who really helped spark the attack. He had at least three attempts himself, too, which of course all went high or wide. But in true Robinho style, he jumped in and made things happen for him and for the other strikers.

Abate came on for Antonini at the beginning of overtime and Bonera switched to the left. I have to say, this was no slight to Antonini, he’d played decently enough on the night, but it was Abate’s pace and crosses on the right that were needed at this point. For example, he was the one who crossed the ball into Pato for a great shot in the 98th that was saved. He helped strengthen that right side, and put in a solid 30 minutes.

This is not last year's Bonera.

It was so disappointing when Novara equalized. They did very well, and they especially figured out how to take advantage of our weaknesses. But playing an extra 30 minutes did no one any good. Tomorrow we will see if there were any injuries, but both Pato and Merkel were limping around for the last little bit, and we desperately need them both.

But still, it was a win. That was our objective, according to Allegri, even though he fielded a team of mostly players who hadn’t been playing or hadn’t played together. And we go on to the quarterfinals next week to play Lazio. Win there, and we are in the semi’s, something we couldn’t do last year. If we escaped that match unscathed, then we will be really lucky. But at least we got the win, and Allegri can build a squad for Sunday that will put the game away early on for 3 points in the league. Phew.


Our next match is: Novara vs. Milan
Sunday, January 22, 2012 • 15:00 CET or 9am EST


This post inspired by the music of The Sundays