Sunday, March 17, 2013

Milan 2, Palermo 0: Bottom Feeders

Milan were feeling lucky again today, but this win wouldn’t be chalked up to luck. I chalk it up to grit and determination, and taking advantage of a team that were bottom of the table and missing three of their best players. Before you get upset, I don’t mean any disrespect. This is what champions do: get the win no matter the weather, who is available, or who the opposing coach is. Our boys didn’t play beautiful football today. But they played with determination, and they won. Sometimes it’s pretty, sometimes it’s ugly, but the result is the most important statistic in the end. History won’t necessarily recognize that this three points came at the expense of the team at the bottom of the table. History will show a win next to Milan’s name. Bottom feeders for the win.

A victory is a victory, and this team is still a team.
It was hard to know how this team would come out. Tired from the Champions League game, and probably mentally exhausted from the media since then, plus a few changes in the squad. Boateng was a mezz’ala striker today, starting on the right. Flamini’s good form previously earned him a start, even if the good form had already disappeared. And Bonera got his first start since being injured. But still, I would have to say that the first half was the better half for Milan.

The match really started in the 8th minute, when Aronica pulled Balotelli down in the box. The ref rightly called for a penalty (which was okay to give so early in the game, because Napoli had already had one even earlier!) Seriously, Balotelli stepped up, cool as you like, and BAM. Milan 1, Palermo 0. Certainly not the way Palermo wanted to start things off, I am sure.

This is what happens when you pull Super Mario down.

Ilicic made the ill-fated decision of taking on De Sciglio in the 16th, and found out for himself just how good this kid is. It’s amazing that the right side is his natural position, because he is still better than most on the left. In the 20th, Balotelli continued his unfortunate habit of getting mauled when von Bergen used him like playground equipment. The big man was down, but never out.

In the 31st, we witnessed an unfortunately more common occurrence: Zapata handled the ball, for which he received a yellow. Some questioned whether it should have been a red, but  he was not in the penalty area, he was not the second to last defender, and there was no clear scoring opportunity for Palermo. Also, Zapata did not intentionally use the arm to control it, he just seems to have a hard time keeping his arms out of the way of the ball. Anyway, on the ensuing free kick, the ball was stopped by the wall. And by the wall, I mean Flamini, and at great…. ummm… personal sacrifice.

Palermo didn't give El Shaarawy much space, but he still slipped through a few times to create chances.

The rest of the half was a sloppy battle. Although Montolivo got a couple of nice shots off to force Sorrentino into work, like the one from distance in the 42nd. And Aronica was… well, Aronica. (it’s no wonder Ibra slapped him last year when he was playing for Napoli!) Again, it was not pretty football, but we managed to earn the penalty, convert it, and keep Palermo from taking more than just a shot or two.

The second half was where I guess we showed our exhaustion. Our defense was particularly shambolic, which may or may not have had anything to do with Bonera being on the pitch (or at least him having not played in a while.) After a De Sciglio shot that went wide, Palermo, through one Milan fail or another, got more chances than they should have had. Abbiati barely saved an Ilicic shot in the 51st then Dybala’s shot in the 55th forced a massive save from the Captain on the night in the 55th. I do love our keeper. After Boateng demonstrated his “superior ballhandling skills” in the 64th, Bonera had a great clearance at the other end not a minute later, and Zapata also with a nice clearance in the 70th.

Montolivo was on the hunted list, too, but still managed plenty of passes

But it was in the 66th that Milan earned the win. Niang crossed it into the box, two of Palermo’s defenders missed it, and even Sorrentino bobbled it about, but Balotelli, always in the hunt, found the ball and simply tapped it in over the prone keeper. 2-0 Milan. That goal probably won’t make it into the highlight reels for goal of the year, but it solidified the danger of Milan – we’ll get it done, one way or the other. Top of the table team or bottom dweller, when we are not playing well as a team, we have weapons of mass destruction capable of getting the job done.

The rest of the match saw Milan play pretty much the same… Niang and De Sciglio feeding crosses in from the left (with Niang being a natural center forward, and De Sciglio being a right back, of course.) Errors, errors, everywhere, leading to Palermo chances, for a total of 9 shots (3 on goal) in the match. Meanwhile, Milan had our average 61% possession and 12 shots (4 on target) and a mediocre performance overall.

Aronica lost the battle of Balotelli, but won the shirt exchange in the end

Allegri continued his tradition, even with a tired squad and many heading off to international duty this week, of only making two substitutions. To his credit, he subbed El Shaarawy off for Niang in the 58th, which was a great move, and right on time. But Sannino, in only his 5th day back in charge of Palermo, still beat him, having made a sub at the half. And perhaps in an effort to make us appreciate Boateng’s “superior ballhandling skills”, Allegri sent the mezz’ala striker to the bench in the 82nd and brought on yet another, more defensive midfielder in TraorĂ©. Sorry, Allegri, this joke’s on you. I would rather have a humble, hardworking TraorĂ© over a rash, egotistical Boateng any day. And  speaking of egos, Balotelli attempted a ridiculous shot from distance in the 88th, after which my commentators referred to “the selfishness of Balotelli.” Stoppage time was marred by Fabbrini getting some involuntary free dental work and needing some treatment to stop the resulting bleeding, which was kind of indicative of how we treated Palermo overall.

The Curva Sud sharing undying support

It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t a game to remember, but we won it on our own merit this time. Let’s face it, when this squad are focused, they can do great things. But on every other week, we can do good things. Like the banner from the Curva Sud said today “Always and no matter what, through the good and the bad.”  With perhaps a little assistance from the injuries of Palermo, we managed our Kryptonite, keeping a clean sheet along the way. Maybe we were bottom feeders today, but we are swimming oh, so close to the top now. And isn’t that how an ecosystem works? The predators feeding on the minnows? If so, I hope our predators take advantage of the International break and are ready to go on a nine-game feeding frenzy when they come back.

This post inspired by the music of Interpol