Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Milan 0, Zenit 1: Finding Our Form Again

You know the old saying, “If you keep doing the same things you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting the same things you’ve always gotten”? Well, tonight, Allegri went back to his pre-Berlusconi ways of fielding all the wrong players in the wrong formation. And expecting a win. When the going got tough, he waited until the 65th, 82nd, and 90th minutes to make substitutions, and threw on three strikers, no less, in an apparent attempt to change the game. Sound familiar? Because it’s how he rolled all season long, until Berlusconi took over. Although this time, Berlusconi did visit Milanello today,but apparently, just like his money, his magic is all gone. Yes, tonight, we found our Budget Milan™ form all over again.

What just happened here?

This game truly felt more like an exhibition match. Several players coming back from injury, little to no urgency whatsoever, and plenty of Sky Jousting™. For me, De Sciglio played quite well, as usual. Zapata had a good game, Ambrosini was pretty solid, and Pazzini was everywhere he needed to be when he needed to be, but did not find the back of the net. But who really surprised me was Acerbi. I mean I’ve seen the potential in him, but tonight, he put in another one to make back to back solid performances. I can’t help if he is possibly the one who made Hulk so angry, because with the help of Zapata, Hulk was able to accomplish very little tonight. (Abbiati’s arms thank them both!) I would even go so far as to say that this was Acerbi's best game yet for Milan, and I am excited to see him get some more playing time.

Allegri is also undoubtedly whining about the referee, just like old times. In the 4th minute, Pazzini was taken down by Bruno Alves like an NFL tackle in the box, but no call at all. But I can’t really complain, considering all of the help we’ve gotten from refs in the league so far this season. Karma.

So Boateng's goal on Sunday was apparently a one-off

In the 18th, Abbiati just tipped a shot from Semak over the bar, a little too close for comfort. Then Zapata with a nice save, and I believe a shot at the other end in the 22nd. Flamini continued his headless chicken and his best Robinho impersonation with the first of several facepalm shots in the 24th. But it was the 35th minute that defined the evening, when Danny’s shot found the back of the net after a series of unfortunate events (epic fails, actually) from Milan players. 0-1 Zenit.

Not content with actually just scoring, Bojan used a Flamini cross to attempt an overhead bicycle kick. What is it about those that is so ridiculous when they fail, yet so spectacular when they go in? This one fell in the first category. The 43rd saw Lombaerts get a handball and a yellow card. In the 45th, Pazzini had a chance with a header that went just wide. He had a number of shots tonight, yet couldn’t score.

De Sciglio knows what to do

The second half opened up with another yellow card for Zenit for a handball, this one for Hulk. If anyone gained a sense of urgency at the half, it would be Acerbi. He was all over Hulk and Danny like flies on honey. Not even ten minutes in, he stopped Anyukov, and dribbled the ball most of the way up the pitch like a midfielder. Boss. In the 53rd, Pazzini had possibly his best chance of the night, but it was miraculously cleared by Malafeev and his defense. In fact, that was probably the most Malafeev had to work all night. Milan took 19 shots, but once again, only three were on target. Whereas Zenit only took six shots, also with three on target, and one of those converted. I'm pretty sure that is a much better shooting percentage.

Flamini earned a yellow in the 57th by elbowing a Zenit player in the neck, or otherwise, being Flamini. Then Allegri pulled Mesbah off and sent Robinho on in the 65th. Boateng, instantly sensing Robinho’s presence on the pitch, sent a ball into orbit, or as I like to say, Robinhoed™ it. In the 75th, in their best impersonation of the three stooges, Robinho passed it to Bojan who tried to pass it to Pazzini, or were they trying to shoot? I’m not sure. They looked pretty comical to me.

Acerbi put in a fantastic performance

In the 76th, Acerbi, as if he hadn’t sacrificed enough, sacrificed his manhood via a boot between the legs. But like a man, he played on. God bless him. Particularly when contrasted with Hulk’s tantrum and refusal to shake Spaletti’s hand when he was subbed off just four minutes later, at least Acerbi was all class. And in the 82nd, Allegri finally got the bright idea to put someone on who has been able to find the back of the net, making five strikers on the pitch, I believe. El Shaarawy on, Flamini off. But it was too little too late, and pretty crowded in attack, we’ve seen this “formation” before, Allegri, with absolutely no success.

Not long after Robinho and El Shaarawy each had near misses, Robinho was fouled by Bruno Alves, and it looked like there was going to be a fight. So in the 87th, Alves was awarded a yellow, and Robinho got his just after that in the 88th. Bojan, who had shown a little more life in the second half, but maybe a little less skill, took a shot in the 90th that was easily gathered by Malafeev. After which Petagna, our Primavera’s in form striker, got five minutes to try to find the ball, let alone the back of the net, coming on for Bojan. During that time, El Shaarawy had another shot wide, and Acerbi had one more really nice clearance, coupled with a big save from Abbiati to close out the game.

What was Robinho doing? God only knows...

So Zenit, with the game in their pockets, kept fighting for another goal until the end, whereas Milan seemed content to let this game slip through their fingers. There are those who would staunchly defend Allegri, saying that the players didn’t play up to their full potential. And that might be true, that a number of players underperformed, but that seems to have more to do with their mentality and motivation, which is supposed to be the responsibility of… Oh, yeah... Allegri. With Berlusconi stepping in and doing Allegri’s job for him, it’s hard to know why Allegri is still around. But Berlusconi can only do so much. Allegri is there at Milanello every day, using his “Dai! Dai! Dai!” and snarky insults to “build” our team and prepare them to succeed. He also used the 4-3-3 again tonight without anyone in the midfield that could successfully get the ball forward to the strikers. Which is why he kept searching for so many different formations in the first place this year. He still hasn't learned that you select the formation based on the players you have available. Yes, based on tonight’s performance, I’d say that Milan definitely found their early season form again. Now let’s hope we lose it again by Sunday.

This post inspired by the music of The Smiths’ “Hatful of Hollow” album

Our next match is
Torino vs. Milan
Sunday, December 9 • 15:00 CET (9am EST)