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Schalke 0, Milan 1: Take the Money and Run

In another season-defining, life or death performance featuring all of our best players (sarcasm detector: level of sarcasm extremely high,) Milan actually won this preseason friendly vs. Bundesliga’s Schalke. Despite having lost 12 players this summer and also the trust in our management, it is Schalke that must feel like they got robbed twice over – on the pitch and from the pocket. With the genius clause in Huntelaar’s contract, Milan are to receive all of the proceeds from ticket sales, which have to be pretty nice considering over 30,000 tickets were sold. So let’s just take the money and run.

Urby FTW

It’s hard to watch any preseason friendly, if you ask me. No one is 100% match fit, there are all of these extra players we may never see again, and we are almost inevitably missing our best players due to some national team duty or another. (Or to being robbed blind ourselves by PSG.) But this year is particularly difficult with the exodus of quality and talent we’ve come to enjoy and expect at Milan.

To use a fashion analogy, you can make two of the exact same dress, same design, same pattern, same details, but if you use an inferior fabric on one of them, it just doesn’t come out the same. This is true of Milan. We have lost our ‘fine silks and linens’ and are left with polyesters. But, sticking with the analogy, polyester is easy to care for, durable, inexpensive, and in some situations even better than the more expensive natural fibers.

He's got Abbiati's back

To bring the analogy back to Milan, we have a lot of players who are hungry for a starting spot. They work hard and will play anywhere. Some of our best examples tonight were Amelia, who is a fantastic number two keeper and may just eclipse Abbiati someday if his injury woes continue. He was incredibly solid, whether the saves were easy or dangerous, he was confident and calm and spot on.

Another example was Ambrosini. I know he is 35 on paper, but he was truly The God of Tackles tonight, and played all 90 minutes without showing fatigue. He looks absolutely prepared to step up and make up for some of the Senatori who have left, and I am proud to call him captain.

Who in their right mind tackles Thor? Don't make him angry.

I was also impressed yet again with De Sciglio. He is so very poised and confident on both offense and defense. Wow, what a great conundrum for Allegri to have to choose between him and Abate. I only wish each position was reinforced so well, we’d have nothing to fear.

Things we do need to fear: I’m pretty sure that we could buy every available midfielder this mercato and still not have the passing and communication we so desperately need. I had hoped that by giving Allegri a lot of looks at several different combinations, this would click at some point, but it is still our weakest link, even if I thought sometimes we looked a bit stronger than we did the other day in the Trofeo TIM.

Will he shine now that he's out of the shadows of the big stars?

Urby was very dynamic, and of course his amazing run and goal in the 64th, assisted by Robinho, was a thing of beauty. Although we have to give Schalke a little credit for an obvious brain lapse there. I would say that Urby has similar qualities to a fine polyester, which really holds up when put to the test. I was not as impressed with Flamini, although he had his moments and I will give him chances to prove himself simply based on the fact that he took that ginormous pay cut to stay at Milan. Traorè has been reportedly great in training, but has yet to impress me so far in these friendlies.

The trequartista position has always been troublesome for us, and in the old system with players like Ibra who could carry more than their weight, Boateng shone and was able to put good performances forward. But now that everyone has to carry the weight evenly, I fear he is better off playing on one of the sides in the midfield. He wasn’t awful tonight, but we will need bigger performances, much better passing and better support for the strikers. This is one spot that would be great to reinforce in the mercato with a truly creative player.

The strikers… El Shaarawy is worth every penny we paid to get and keep him. He is fast, hungry, has great vision, good finishing…. well, okay tonight there was the one on one with the keeper in the 8th minute that he didn’t convert. But to be fair, between his speed and the keeper’s hand on the ball, it probably wasn’t meant to be.

Robinho, on the other hand, needs a stronger player alongside him to shine. He is the kind of player who is just better when in the presence of greatness, and this preseason squad was filled with more goodness than greatness. His Robinhoed™ shot into the wrong side of the net in the 42nd reminded all of us of the drinking game that seemed fun when we had other people to finish, but doesn’t seem as fun now. That said, his assist to Urby was great and he works hard, come goals or misses. Plus, he may be the team’s best dancer.

My jury is still out, but you haven't impressed, either.

Our defense has given many of us nightmares since losing both Nesta and Thiago Silva this summer. I am not ready to give a verdict on Acerbi yet, but have been unimpressed thus far. Bonera… just read all of the game reviews from last season, I can’t say anymore. But I will say a bit more about Antonini, he earned it. Not only did he get a yellow in the 62nd for a nasty, sloppy tackle, he had a couple of others like that, too, and was lucky to not get sent off…. in a friendly. Don’t get me wrong, I love him as a person, but tonight he was absolutely awful on the left, and only unnoticeably decent when he switched to the right.

Whatever good things I had to say about Taiwo on Saturday, I take them all back tonight. Sorry, Taiwo, but I am not impressed. I’ll still give you a chance, though, but know I am still praying for an actual left back. Mesbah wasn’t horrific, but he wasn’t that great, either. (hence the prayers) Yepes, I love you, but you are a backup. Probably one of our best backups, but still a backup. Your challenges are getting sloppier, we need the Yepes I fell in love with.

As for our youth players, I really like Valoti and Ganz, I hope they get a serious look by Allegri and don’t get shipped off to Serie B clubs (Valoti is supposed to play for Albinoleffe, I believe, and Ganz just turned down Bari.) Cristante seems promising, too. We can only hope they are taken seriously and given some more playing time over the next few weeks on the U.S. tour.

(Acerbi, you should probably pretend to challenge for that)

Okay, this has turned into much more of a report card than a review. But overall, Schalke looked really dangerous and kept us on our heels in the first half. Huntelaar did have that dangerous looking header  in the 68th that went just over the bar, but Farfan was a pain in the behind for us the entire match and Amelia worked way to hard for my comfort.

We are still struggling with maintaining possession in the midfield, which will be incredibly dangerous playing teams that are good at capitalizing on turnovers. With our defense slipping so much in quality, we really need to tighten the midfield up. I can see why Allegri wants another defensive midfielder. But more importantly, our guys, even when they hold the ball, have a tougher time getting the ball forward. This is a problem we have typically had, it is just amplified now that we are missing so much quality.

In the end, it wasn’t too bad for having such little match fitness and five of our best players still out. With those players having returned to Milanello today, it gives me hope that this little squad can do more than we hoped they might be able to. And again, one performance cannot show a player’s (or even a team’s) worth. I think we have a lot of polyester, players that will prove themselves in the end, and only a little fine silk and linen, or quality left. But maybe we need the durability and practicality of those players anyway. We just need to be prepared to give up our more luxurious taste in fabrics and players and support our team to use the quality and practicality all together to make a super team.

El Shaarawy potentially our most promising player so far

Getting the win tonight was great, even if we maybe didn’t entirely deserve it. We capitalized on a rare chance, so we certainly earned it. But the best part of this match may be the cash from the ticket sales. Thank you again Huntelaar, thank you Galliani or whatever genius included that clause in his contract, thank you Schalke for a full stadium and a good match. Now let’s take the money and run.

This post inspired by the music of NIN’s “Head Like a Hole”


Our next match is Milan vs. Chelsea Friendly
Saturday, July 28th • 6:30pm EDT
SunLife Stadium, Miami, FL, U.S.A.