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Champions League Review: Zenit 2, Milan 3: For Keeps

Zenit probably looked at this fixture drooling. Milan drew with Anderlecht in their first Champions League match, we had a poor league start, and really no “star” players. Whereas they were undefeated in 16 home Champions League matches and have the massive Hulk and the fierce Witsel. But there was one think they didn’t count on, and his name is Christian Abbiati. Or as my good friend P3trarch likes to call him, “Captain Milan.” And true to that superhero name, our captain on the night was like the Captain America of comic book fame, our own super soldier. And he played this one for keeps.

Not today, Zenit boy. Captain Milan is here to save the day

For all of the criticism Allegri has been getting, he clearly honed this formation and lineup carefully. And it paid dividends almost immediately. After a couple of opening shots, Milan earned a free kick in the 13th minute. Urby curved the ball nicely almost around the wall, which Malafeeve seemed prepared to deal with, but a very lucky deflection sent it into the upper left corner of the net. 1-0 Milan.

Take a bow, Urby. A lot of skill and a little luck, you're on the board

Not three minutes later, il Faraone took a pass from Boateng and then dribbled through the Zenit defense and took a beautiful shot for the second goal on the night. 2-0 Milan. I felt like I was in a dream, this seemed too good to be true. But it was true. Milan were up 2-0 to Zenit in their house. This one was now for keeps.

After this, Hulk got angry. I don’t like him when he’s angry. Which meant it was time for Captain Milan to protect us. And protect us, he did. Save after amazing save, he really was just like a superhero. Even when he had to protect our net from our own Antonini in the 32nd, he managed to keep a clean sheet. My favorite was in the 34th on a wicked shot from Shirokov, he saved it right on the line. But he wasn’t invincible. When the other ten players didn’t do their part, in stoppage time of the first half, Hulk finally got one in on him. Zenit 1, Milan 2.

De Jong bossed the midfield

There were plenty of fouls and cards in this match to go around, too. Zenit had two players with yellows in the first half another two in the second half. Meanwhile, Bonera earned himself a yellow in the 36th with a high kick on Hulk, and El Shaarawy earned his by doing what no other defender or even midfielder could do – stopping Zenit before the box. Zenit was looking for the penalty, as their player was brought down in the box, but since the contact started outside of the box, the foul was adjudicated to have been outside of the box and a free kick was given and then expertly saved by Captain Milan. Yepes earned his yellow in the 85th, also for a foul on Hulk, and after he had only been on the pitch for five minutes.

With their goal just before the half, the momentum shifted in their favor at the start of the half. And so, in the 49th, on a set piece, Hulk curled it in to find an unmarked Shirokov, who easily put it in goal. 2-2.

Pazzini nearly got on the scoreboard, but for that pesky defender

Allegri took this opportunity to show everyone who has criticized him that he does know how to sub. So in the 52nd, he sent Pazzini in for Bojan. And when that didn’t produce a result, he put Nocerino in for Urby.

There had been a delay in the game in the 59th minute, as they found a hole in Abbiati’s net. But once a clever Zenit player went over and started fixing it himself, the game got back underway pretty quickly. Another highlight for me was in the 67th, when Abate dispossessed Hulk. He clearly has no fear. In the 74th, poor Anyukov ran into Bonera’s leg and now may or may not be able to have children in the future.

El Shaarawy was phenomenal again tonight

But it was in the 75th that the magic happened. Hubocan scored an own goal. He was trying to prevent Pazzini from striking, and he would have, too, if Hubocan hadn’t been there. Zenit 2, Milan 3. Other than another amazing save from Abbiati in the 82nd, the rest of the match was not that remarkable. Zenit battled for their lives, but they forgot about our super soldier, Abbiati.

There is still much work to be done. But today, Allegri demonstrated that he can find new ways to line the team up on the pitch, and not necessarily play the same players every time. El Shaarawy was a beast again, Abbiati was phenomemal. On the flip side, we are still dealing with Antonini, who put in a good cross in the 14th, was otherwise his normal self. And Montolivo… there really are no words. If he can perform with any consistency, I will take up his cause. But too many errors, he doesn’t run as hard as everyone else, even if his passing is very helpful.

Well done, boys.

But I don’t even care anymore. We won. Away. Morale has to have improved, and the boost of confidence should help us face Inter on Sunday. That was probably our toughest fixture, barring Malaga, so the confidence we gained will boost us through the group stage, too, and maybe, just maybe we’ll get through. But the true story on the night was our amazing keeper. Thanks to him, we won this game for keeps.


This post inspired by the music of Stone Temple Pilots


Our next match is
Il Derby della Madonnina
Milan vs. Inter
Sunday, October 7 • 20:45 CEST (2:45pm EDT)


Housekeeping note: I have a very busy schedule this week and will not be around as much, so I’ve asked P3trarch to step in as a moderator. So if he asks you to do something, please respect him more than you would respect me, lest my vengeance fall swiftly upon you. ;P