Sunday, December 2, 2012

Champions League - AC Milan vs, Zenit: Picking Our Battles

With AC Milan qualified for the Round of 16, this game means absolutely nothing to us. For Zenit, it is the chance to grab the Europa League spot and salvage their European season, so it means everything to them. So does Milan field a B team, rest some players and play for 90 minutes? Or do we field our A team with some bench players and hold out for the draw? Or do we field our A team, knowing we don’t play again until Sunday, and put the thumbscrews on Zenit and try for a win that really only means another confidence boost for our boys? It’s hard to know what Berlusconi will tell Allegri to do, but it’s really time to pick our battles.

Hulk and Witsel have a bad feeling about this one...

This game is actually key for Milan for at least one reason: injuries. We all know that Allegri does not know the definition of squad rotation. More than any training issues, I see that a huge factor in the dramatic growth in injuries since Allegri started. This is your chance, Allegri/Berlusconi. REST SOME PLAYERS, we may even be able to win with a B-team, who knows? But it also ensures that fewer of our starters (now that we finally have some) are subjected to the possibility of injury in a meaningless game.

Zenit, on the other hand, have had a horrible Champions League campaign. Easily the odds on favorite to win Group C going into the group stage, they find themselves in 3rd, tied on points with Anderlecht, but grabbing the next to the bottom slot only on goal differential. I would go so far as to guess that Spaletti’s job may hinge on whether or not they are able to secure the Europa League spot in this final match. Which means they must beat Milan to guarantee that. Even if M├ílaga are favored to beat Anderlecht, if they field a B-team and Anderlecht decide they want that Europa League spot badly enough, Zenit can only be sure if they win and the goal differential doesn’t flip flop.

Bystrov wonders how this team of misfits ever beat Zenit

Zenit have 1 win, 1 draw, and 3 losses in this Group Stage. Just because we gave them one of those losses in their house with the miracle of Abbiati and goals by Urby, El Shaarawy and an own goal by Zenit doesn’t mean we can necessarily dominate them. Remember that guy Hulk? I’m sure Abbiati does. His arm hurt for days after stopping those missiles. And now, they are desperate. I don’t like it when our opponents are desperate.

In the Russian league, Zenit are currently in second, just 3 points behind CSKA Moscow, with whom they played a 1-1 draw with last week. And they won their away fixture away to Spartak Moscow on Sunday, 4-2, so they are also coming into this match with confidence. Spaletti started Malafeev; Alves, Lombaerts, Hubocan, Yanbaev; Danny, Faitzulin, Denisov, Witsel; Hulk. So he didn’t rest many players, if any. And he’s got 5 different players that have each scored one goal each in the Champions League, so we will need to be careful.

Spaletti, did you ever consider Zenit's poor CL run coincides with that facial hair?

As for Milan, I think most people want to see our list B players like Carmona and Ganz start, if not Narduzzo, or maybe Gabriel in goal. With Antonini and Mesbah recently recovered, it might be a good time to remind us of why we want to see De Sciglio and Constant as our fullbacks instead. Abate is also recovering, this could be a great game for him to get his legs back. Pato, Pazzini, and Bojan could all use some love, and we’ve got Zapata and possibly Bonera, if he’s ready, that could also use some playing time. Flamini should be made to feel useful now and then, even if he isn’t always, and for the love of all that’s holy, Urby deserves way more playing time than he gets. And maybe Boateng could play and either maintain his one game “form” or get injured to spare us for the important matches.

Witsel praying that Yepes won't be available for the return leg...

The big question truly is: Who will Allegri Berlusconi lineup? Will he know to rotate the squad and rest our starters, or will he go for Zenit’s jugular? I want a win, I want to see a good game, but I also want to see our starters all make it through healthy until the end of the season. And I would also love to take this chance to look at more of our youngsters, too. I hope that we can pick our battles, and maybe take this match, too, for good measure.


This post inspired by the music of Mussorgsky


Champions League Group Stage
AC Milan vs. Zenit St. Petersburg
Tuesday, December 4 • 20:45 CET (2:45 EST)
This match will be shown on Fox Soccer Plus in the U.S.
(Check comments for stream links before kickoff)