Milan 1, Napoli 1: Nobody Wins

I should have seen it going into this match, it was written in the stars. An epic battle of the two teams vying for second place, but Milan missing their superstar due to suspension. The middle game of three tough and very important games for Milan. With a tribute to a beloved Milan journalist kicking off the match, it was the perfect time for Milan to underperform. So why change things up?

"Even when the sky is dark, the sun shines on San Siro"
A beautiful and fitting coreografia following the passing of Claudio Lippi

With the Curva Sud kicking things off with a perfect and lovely coreo, inspired by a line in Umberto Smaila’s “Canto Rossonero,” and a very touching video tribute to the recently departed Claudio Lippi, of Milan Channel fame, emotions were high. In fact, tensions had been high prior to the match, even outside the stadium. About 7,000 of the 72,000 plus fans attending tonight were Napoli fans, and I read somewhere that Milan fans may have started a bit of trouble with some of them.

Prematch tensions started between the two sets of fans outside of the stadium

So after a touching video tribute that saw Lippi’s wife in tears, and which visibly touched so many of the players, especially El Shaarawy, who had been a friend to Lippi, the match was finally underway. Boateng had the first shot on goal in the 5th minute, from outside of the box but De Sanctis was there. Shortly after that, Montolivo had to change his shirt, I’m guessing it was all of the “friendly” manhandling Napoli was offering our players (and that our players were returning with enthusiasm.) Like Boateng’s dangerous foul in the 9th minute, Pandev elbowing Montolivo in the face in the 12th minute, or in the 27th minute when Boateng got tangled up with Zuniga and basically stepped on the latter’s face. Ouch.

But somehow, some way, in the 29th, Constant put in a great cross to Boateng, who passed it to Robinho, who tried to pass it to Pazzini, but he was pulled down in the box (and not for the only time this match, either.) The ball found it’s way to the feet of a most unlikely hero, Matthieu Flamini, who had the instinct to kick it into the net, surprising De Sanctis, most of the other players on the pitch, the sold out stadium, and even himself. Flamini goal. 1-0 Milan. And his second goal in as many games.

From hero to zero, enjoy the spotlight while it lasts, Flamini

So Milan were winning for all of three minutes, counting the minute or so of celebrating before the restart. It took them that long for the defense to completely go missing and Napoli to capitalize and Pandev score. 1-1 all. Just a minute later, Pazzini was fouled in the box. And this didn’t seem to be one of his drawing-the-foul moves, either. But either Rocchi had read the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” or he saw what happened in Fiorentina with Tagliavento and painfully remembered his two week suspension for helping Milan last year. Either way, he did not call a penalty. Which is probably fair, considering how many calls we've been "blessed" with this year.

The reality of having lost the lead was perhaps  too much for Boateng, who somehow pulled up with an injury and was subbed off in the 36th. Or perhaps he knew that he only had 30 halfway decent minutes in him and decided to quit while he was ahead. Most likely, though, it was Allegri’s choice to play him every single match, and out of position, too. I’m sure he will miraculously heal this week, though, so Allegri doesn’t have to play a real striker up front in his place against Juve.

Abbiati was immense when called upon

So Niang came on for Boateng. Montolivo, who had perhaps the most shots on goal tonight, in addition to his normal miracle midfielder duties, saw another shot saved in the 41st. Abbiati had a miracle save on a wicked Cavani shot in the 42nd, he was beast again tonight. I can honestly say the last couple of clean sheets that were spoiled were not his fault. Niang, who was not impressive tonight, closed out the half with a shot wide.

The second half was just a tougher, dirtier, harder to watch version of the first half which saw Milan play even worse, if you could believe that was possible. So I’ll quickly give you the highlights (or lowlights?) of the downward spiral:

Abbiati made a couple of more big saves, Montolivo had more shots blocked, there was highkicking and earpulling, shirt pulling, shoving, etc. Niang finally got to take an uncontested free kick to show us why Balotelli insisted on taking one instead earlier this season and why he is trying to help his young friend practice every day after training. But Niang's free kick was so bad it could have been considered brilliant… by NASA. Mazzarri’s subs came on, the yellow cards came out.

Poor Niang probably won't be allowed to take another free kick for a while

The glorious highlight of the match was a trademark Flamini Special™ in the 72nd. His classic go-to move of a two-footed studs-up tackle on Zuniga earned him an early exit. It also left Milan down to 10 men and forced Allegri to finally bring on the sub he’d had warming up for 30 minutes in El Shaarawy, pulling off Robinho, whose heart is clearly still in Brazil. Pazzini earned himself a stupid yellow in the 84th, then Allegri was forced to use his third sub about ten minutes early, in the 86th minute, when Abate twisted an ankle and De Sciglio had to come on.

One bright little moment of sportsmanship was in the 87th, Milan’s favorite punching bag of the night, poor Zuniga, cramped up. Who was there to help him stretch? His Colombian national teammate Zapata. (That may have also been the best thing Zapata did all night, too, unfortunately.)  Then Campagnaro had a nasty foul on Niang that saw everyone angered, none more than Mexes, who went over and grabbed Campagnaro’s jersey at the neck and screamed things at him that I’m sure I shouldn’t repeat. Well done defending your youngest teammate, Mexes, but Rocchi had to give him a yellow, too, having already carded Campagnaro for the foul. The match would close with another massive Abbiati save and Calaió sending a shot just wide immediately thereafter.

Know when to rest the stars. Coaching 101.

I will never understand Allegri’s lineups or substitutions. I agree that we as fans put more faith in our younger players than perhaps they deserve or are capable of giving. But his decision to bench El Shaarawy was one that should have been made when he had better players (i.e. Balotelli) to carry the weight up front. He plays “father” to them first, teaching them "lessons," and then manager second, leaving fans worldwide befuddled and angry. I understand when a player has a massive meltdown and a manager sits him even if it costs the team the game. That needs to be done. But Allegri said his decision was based on overall tiredness, particularly mentally. And why was El Shaarawy tired? Because Allegri had leaned on him and played him in every single match all season long. Matches where not so much was on the line, matches where other players were more fit and able to pick up the slack. But Allegri, true to his inability to take responsibility self, made the problem and then blamed the problem, with Milan taking the fall…. again.

That said, our boys’ performance was also tired. Napoli may have outplayed us, at least for stretches. And yet we can and should have won this one. Allegri has been riding the luck wave too long, and when the officiating goes well enough and luck does not bless us, we cannot get the result. Call it form, motivation, blame tactics, lineups, or substitutions, those all fall under Allegri’s job description. Call me a hater, I don’t care, because it is a very limited viewpoint that cannot see and accept Allegri’s responsibility for this season. It is not entirely his fault by any means. But things falling under his jurisdiction and responsibility are the most consistent and prevalent  and solveable issues we’ve had all year. And I can’t wait for him to be confirmed by management yet again.

Will your years at Milan actually teach you something? Or simply be filled with regret?

Meanwhile, Fiorentina gained on us, they are just 4 points behind us, and we still remain four points behind Napoli. This game cost us our best chance to make up ground on Napoli for second, with precious few games left. And gave Fiorentina the chance to sink their teeth back in to the race for third, risking our chance at Champions League qualification for next year. It was a very important game, and Allegri got it wrong… again. Two of his three subs were forced by injury, and the third was long overdue and perhaps inspired in timing by the red card. So it finished 1-1, and once again, with Allegri, nobody wins.

This rant inspired by the music of Rage Against the Machine

Our next match is
Juventus vs. Milan
Sunday, April 21 • 20:45 CEST (2:45pm EDT)

Milan 1, Napoli 1: Nobody Wins Milan 1, Napoli 1: Nobody Wins Reviewed by Elaine on 7:33 PM Rating: 5
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