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Champions League Preview - Málaga vs. Milan: The Turn of the Tide?

I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day... This day we fight!”
--“Aragorn” in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

"Zlatanagorn" leads the troops into battle

Wait…. What?  We don’t have Ibra anymore? That could be problematic. And you said we’re going to Málaga on Wednesday? Yikes. Maybe we could conjure up Gandalf… I think this one may need more than Gandalf the Grey, though…

After losing the battle of the Balrog, Gandalf the Grey returns as Gandalf the White

“We meet again, at the turn of the tide. A great storm is coming, but the tide has turned.”
--“Gandalf the White”  from J.R.R. Tolkien’s  The Two Towers 

Now if only Gandalf the White were invited to Milan’s ritiro this week. Well, and if there were any signs whatsoever that the tide was actually turning…  Ritiro literally means “withdrawal,” and it is something that clubs do either to prepare for the season or to prepare for a really important match. Or most commonly, to try to get their act together when a season has gone terribly, terribly wrong. (I think you can guess which reason Milan are using at this point.)

Ritiro means the whole team “withdraw” from everything else. They stay in the same place (in our boys’ case, at Milanello,) eat together, train together, probably do some teambuilding or psychological/motivational activities, etc. 24/7 as a team: coaches, players, everyone. This means no going home, no going out, no family, and no women. My guess is the last one is the big motivator. Teams play better coming out of ritiro because they want their women back. Except for maybe the older players who have been married for a while… they probably like it, it’s an escape, especially from the kids and chores and such. (Although it would suck to have a family birthday or something important to do this week, that is out of the question now.) But anyway, our boys are now going into seclusion, only to emerge to go to Málaga on Wednesday, then it ends after the Genoa game on Saturday.

The veteran Chilean coach anticipates hosting Milan

So… Málaga. In Group C, they have been the dominating force, and thus are the obvious leaders, even if they are only in the group stage after qualifying via a playoff round vs. Panathinaikos. In the group stage so far, with a very convincing 3-0 win at home vs. Zenit, then an equally convincing 3-0 win away to Anderlecht, I am guessing they are looking at our would-be-relegation-zone-but-for-goal-differential position in Serie A and our draw to Anderlecht in the Champions League and are preparing to shed some Milan blood at Estadio La Rosaleda there in Málaga on Wednesday. Except they had to see our spirited 3-2 victory at Zenit which, even if they gifted us an own goal, has been arguably our finest moment so far this season. Practically our only moment this season.

In contrast, Barcelona and Atletico lead La Liga, both on 22 points. Right behind them? Málaga, on 17 points: 5 wins, 2 draws, and 1 loss on the season. You could say that Manuel Pellegrini is on a roll, but that would just imply that he is getting to roll over us. Which I can only hope is not true. The former River Plate, Villareal, and Real Madrid coach has led the team since 2010 and with a very solid team (plus Oguchi Onyewu,) they are as successful right now as Milan is, well… not.

Eliseu celebrates one of his two goals vs. Anderlecht

Their most recent efforts saw a 2-1 victory at home over Valladolid. Pellegrini lined up Caballero; Weligton, Demichelis, Eliseu, Gamez; Camacho, Recio, Joaquin, Portillo; Saviola, and Isco. This is pretty close to the lineup he used against Anderlecht, too, so we could see a lot of the same names on Wednesday. Did I mention that Oguchi Onyewu plays for Málaga? He’s probably bummed we don’t have Ibra, too.

For Milan, Allegri will line up anyone who hasn’t killed or been killed by their teammates in ritiro. Seriously, he does have Pato, unless someone breaks him before Wednesday. And I’m going to take a wild guess that he may have rested some veterans like Ambrosini and Mexes on Saturday for Wednesday, only because there is really no other explanation for their omission then. And since the 4-3-2-1 did not produce results, I am also going to go out on a limb and guess that he will go with a 4-2-3-1. Just a guess.

Will the Boy Pharoah be crowned as King of Men in the Champions League?

So… please don’t quote me on this (although you are welcome to use the Onyewu-Ibra references,) but here is my best guess at his starting lineup for Wednesday: Abbiati; Abate, Mexes, Yepes, De Sciglio; De Yong, Ambrosini; Urby, Montolivo, El Shaarawy; Pazzini. That is, if Abbiati is better, and if I’m guessing correctly that Allegri will still say that Pato is not match fit. (Although I hope I am wrong on that one!)

A trophy may be well out of reach of this squad,
but the badge, those colors, still mean something.

If this ritiro thing works, and this truly is the “turn of the tide,” we still have to be careful about the tide itself. Málaga are “Los Boquerones,” or the Anchovies. And I don’t know for sure, but I’m going to guess that anchovies swim better than humans. So it will be up to our boys to search their souls, their skills, and their hearts and turn the tide the proper way so as not to be swept away. Not even for the three points or getting that much closer to qualifying for the next stage in the Champions League, but for their belief in themselves, in the team, and also for the hearts of the fans. A victory or even a draw on Wednesday would do well to prepare us for Genoa on Saturday, and if they can turn the psychological tide that has been pounding them since the summer, I know these boys can do better than relegation in the league. We may not have Zlatan, we may not have Gandalf, but we do have Milan. We have seven Champions League trophies that we got without Zlatan or Gandalf, and despite all of the shenanigans of the management this year, that still means something. Maybe not glory this year, or even in the coming years, but it means we stand together and we fight together, come what may. Forza Milan!


This post inspired by the music of the Lord of the Rings soundtracks


Málaga vs. AC Milan
Wednesday, October 24th • 20:45 CEST (2:45pm EDT)
This match will NOT be broadcast LIVE in the U.S. that I can find
(check here on Wednesday before the match for streams)