Sunday, January 27, 2013

Atalanta 0, Milan 1: Headhunter

Today’s installment of obscure song reference week is Front 242’s “Headhunter.” Not only did Milan lock the target, bait the line, and slowly spread the net, we also caught our man. A victory, clean sheet, and a little help from some other clubs and we caught 5th place on the table. Take that, Goddess of the Hunt.

It looked early on to be a friendly match, with Carmona putting his arm around El Shaarawy during a corner in the 5th minute. But it would end up with 11 cards in all, it turns out that Gervasoni simply wanted everyone to get a card, and he got halfway there, too. The most amazing thing about this staggering stack of cards is that they all came in the second half. Gervasoni’s arm must be really tired, I hope he didn’t pull something.

However, Abbiati figured out early on why Atalanta are known for their hunting skills, with great saves left and right. Zapata seemed to have a bit of miscommunication with him in the 15th, but other than that, for once he only had the opposition team to contend with. I hope he enjoyed that, it probably won’t be like that with Zaccardo on the pitch.

The two young gunners celebrate the winning goal

Sadly, Ferri pulled up with an apparent hamstring injury and was subbed off in the 24th. He is a former Milan youth player, playing under Tassotti. I wish him a speedy recovery. So with Raimondi on for him, the game was back on. Milan were playing solidly, not necessarily with the intensity they are capable of, but they were focused. And that paid off in the 29th when Niang sent a nice ball in to bait the line  for El Shaarawy, who locked the target and scored his 15th goal of the Serie A campaign. 1-0 Milan.

From then on, the game remained Constant. Okay, that was shameless, but I really don’t know what we would do without him on the left. Abate did well enough defensively, but he is being blessed by having Niang in front of him, with plenty of speed and crossing ability for the both of them. Montolivo was solid, although with a rash tackle on Biondini that earned him his yellow in the 71st. And a couple of wild shots, too. But his passing was fantastic yet again.

Remember when we played Left Back Roulette? No, I don't either. Boss.

Boateng was, well Boateng. He really plays better further back, it’s those “I’m a number 10” shots that earn him the ribbing from fans. In fact, somewhere in there, I remember seeing a sweet backheel pass – if he would do more of that and less shooting, he’d be as adored by fans as he is by himself. I was planning to say that Flamini was simply in there to be a translator between Niang and Mexes in the back, but he did make some nice contributions. He also made me shout very early in the morning, like in the 80th, when he should have had a goal. But credit to him for making the run and creating the chance for sure.

The second half was filled with cards and all kinds of action, you’d never know it was a scoreless half because of all of the incidents. Brivio earned his first yellow in the 48th. Then Raimondi and Abate were mixing it up in the 55th, so rather than call a foul or talk to the players, Gervasoni just showed double yellows. Heaven forbid you should lose control over the game, better to hand out cards like Oprah hands things out, right? Umm, no.

Pay him less money, he plays better. (What took us so long?)

So not a minute later, despite Gervasoni’s demonstration of absolute power, Biondini took out El Shaarawy with a harsh foul, and was dumb enough to yell at the ref and get in his face. But the ref had other things to do. Just three minutes later, Brivio took down  Pazzini with a nasty tackle and was handed his second yellow, so a red card for him. Atalanta down to 10 men. So off came Denis for Matheu in the 61st.

Boateng was lucky not to see yellow in the 64th for a rough foul, but maybe the ref was just stunned by his new hairstyle. In the 72nd, Abate was called for a handball and the free kick given to Atalanta. But it's important to note that Milan did NOT concede on this or any other set piece this time. Like when a child is potty training and goes a whole day without an accident. Allegri must be one proud papa.

The 76th is where tempers really flared. Niang was brutally tackled by Carmona, and the ref said play on. I guess he thought there was some sort of yellow card shortage? I don’t know. But pretty much all 22 players were arguing not a minute later, and in his limited referee skills of handing out double yellows to regain control of the match, Consigli and Mexes got theirs. After Biondini was shown a yellow in the 83rd, Atalanta manager Colantuono was sent off to add insult to injury.

The force is strong with this one

Apparently, seeing the other manager leave reminded Allegri that he had some substitutions to make. So in the 85th, he pulled off El Shaarawy and put on the Allegri-described “out of form, needing to find himself” Robinho. Or maybe he was just trolling Atalanta, I don’t know. In the 89th, Carmona was finally rewarded for his performance with a Barcelona worthy dive in the box in the 89th. Not golden enough for an Oscar, but worthy of a yellow in Gervasoni’s eyes. Which reminded Allegri that it was the 89th, so time to make a sub. Traoré on for Niang. Which is a shame, because there were so many deserving players on the bench, if he would have started before the 85th minute, three players could have gotten some time. And I am especially curious to see how Traoré does with more time. After being the butt of so many jokes all season, I think he’s ready to show us some serious football.

The final pair of yellows was given to Abbiati and Matheu. Matheu came in hard on Abbiati and shoved an elbow or shoulder or some appendage into Abbiati’s face, which was immediately red. And Gervasoni, being the very professional and capable referee that he was [WARNING: sarcasm overload detected] waited to make the call until the fierce keeper came out to defend himself against Matheu. Doesn’t anyone protect the keepers anymore? So Abbiati was carded for menacing and in your-face bodily harm-type threats to Matheu, and Matheu got a yellow (which some might have given a red) for a nasty challenge. But at least Gervasoni figured out that if you hand out double yellows left and right, your card tally goes up twice as quickly. And let’s hope Matheu got home safely. Nobody messes with Abbiati.


But we did it. We gave Atalanta a sweet payback, even if we bring a few yellows back with us. And El Shaarawy scored again, thank you, il Faraone. We managed our average of 60% possession again. We kept a clean sheet, even if our accuracy at the other end suffered a bit. With 15 shots, 3 on goal, we’ve done better. But the win is the most important. We got the win, we caught our man. And we haven’t lost in the league since Roma before the break, either. This little Budget Milan™ is showing that “the plan” actually just might work. (Oh no, she mentioned the plan. Please someone divert her from the inevitable rant!)

If the team keeps this up, we are only 6 points off of 3rd place now, so Champions League for next season is looking more plausible all the time. But we still have to survive past Galliani Day™, get through the Champions League this year, plus finish out the rest of this season. So maybe we don’t buy the champagne yet. But we can be proud of what our little ragtag team is becoming, and bring some confidence next week when we face Udinese at home. Maybe we aren’t quite the Headhunters just yet, but there is something about this squad that is putting fear into our opponents again. Just like I like it.

This post inspired by the music of Front 242’s “Headhunter”