Milan 4, Catania 2: Live to Play Another Day

With precious few games left, and Fiorentina meeting us point for point in the race for Champions League qualification, this game had a certain do or die quality to it. Allegri’s press conference was a lot more like the ones he held prior to mid-November, and it was clear that he was feeling the pressure (even if it was not clear as to whether or not he knew what to do about it.) The score perhaps does not show just how close we came to an opposite result, but in the end, we did get the result, and that is the most important thing. So we live to play another day, our Champions League dreams still alive.

A brace for the poacher, who saved the day
To be fair, this team was not built for Champions League qualification. And with all of the epic fails and incredible luck we had this season, it’s still amazing to me that we are where we are. I am truly grateful, but being so close makes it so much more stressful to think we could lose third place after all we’ve been through this year.

Imagine my anxiety when, despite having added Balotelli in January, we made the same mistakes we’ve made all year long. We managed 69% possession, we’ve done well that way all season long. But we took thirty-eight shots, with only 13 on goal. That’s thirty-eight shots. So much for our accuracy and efficiency in front of goal we’d been maintaining. We were back to the point and shoot, missile launch mentality that says if you take enough shots, one of them is going to go in. It gets the job done, but it’s not pretty, and is particularly discouraging if we’ve played so much better. Of course, Catania parking a bus full of elephants is partially responsible for the astonishing shot count, but still, we are better than that.

Montolivo... the calm amidst the storm

But for me, the part that was the most infuriating were the set pieces. Milan had thirteen chances to score from a corner. That’s thirteen corners, the closest chance probably in the 57th when Nocerino took the corner and Montolivo’s header was ever so close, but it's simply incredible that we just can’t seem to score from set pieces. However, that is nothing compared to the epic fail that is our conceding on set pieces, specifically headers. So in the 30th when Lodi took a free kick, it was no surprise that an ex-Milan player of 6 months and one appearance (Nicola Legrottaglie) headed the ball into the back of the net. 1-0 Catania.

Our defense, who were seemingly missing on the night, then completely fell apart, nearly risking another goal from Gomez in the 31st, courtesy of an error by the fabulous Bonera. They pulled it together enough to keep Catania back on their bus, but the unlikely hero in Flamini came through with a goal in the 44th to equalize. 1-1. Add in a yellow for De Sciglio for a naively timed tackle in the 9th, and two yellows for Catania, and it was a half.

Anything Boateng can't do, Flamini can do better

Our shooting frenzy was interrupted once more in the 65th with another defensive failure, we are lucky that Catania had only 7 shots with 3 on goal, it’s impossible to imagine a Bonera-led defense and Amelia as our keeper keeping out any other shots on target. My announcer kept saying “Nocerino sbaglia,” or Nocerino mistake, but he had a screaming shot on goal saved, and some other good moments, too. Either way, Allegri, in a rash departure from his traditional habits, subbed Nocerino off in the 67th, right after Catania’s second goal and brought on Pazzini. Which proved to be the game changer. Who knew, Allegri, that a sub could impact the result of a game? (except for all of us fans) But in the 74th, it did just that. After a Balotelli shot that was punched out, Pazzini pounded in the rebound, 2-2. Then again in the 77th, a great El Shaarawy shot was punched out by the incredible Frison, only to see Pazzini strike on the rebound once again. 3-2 Milan. That’s when the cards really started flying. Balotelli had earned one for dissent in the 72nd when he wanted a foul called and didn’t get it. Then Flamini and Barrientos were mixing it up. So the ref gave them each a card. And a Catania assistant coach also got sent off at this point. Flamini looked to be earning himself another Flamini Special™, but he managed to stay on the pitch for the whole match.

Not one, but two goals for Pazzini

Muntari came on for El Shaarawy in the 80th, then Niang got a couple of minutes after subbing on for Boateng in the 88th. Finally, in the 91st, Balotelli took a little foul just in the corner of the box, and the ref awarded his efforts with a penalty kick. He, of course took it, and converted it to make the scoreline look a little better than we played: 4-2 Milan. In all, Catania were guilty of 23 fouls, Milan only 9, and there were 8 yellow cards – 5 for Catania and 3 for Milan, which shows the desperation and defensive attitude they took on the night. Certainly, they frustrated Balotelli. But we got the 3 points, that was the important part.

El Shaarawy was a bright spot. With probably 3 defenders on average keeping track of Balotelli, and Nocerino behind him, El Shaarawy had a lot more room, and was like a machine gun, he likely had half of our 38 shots on his own tonight, and no one troubled Frison more. Boateng wasn’t quite as awful up front, but would have still been better in the midfield, we missed him there. Pazzini came on to show Allegri that every team needs a poacher. Both of his goals were cleaning up rebounds, but the score will simply show that he scored 2 goals.

He drew the penalty earned that crowned a mediocre performance and a fantastic result

Nocerino may not have been great, but he was far more dynamic than Muntari. De Sciglio showed his youth a bit, but he is like a sponge, and getting a yellow card like that seemed to make him up his game and he will certainly have learned from that. Montolivo was his usual incredible self, although playing a little farther forward definitely cut into our defense. And Abate… well his crosses had another off night, and so did he, really.

However the most disturbing part was that so many of our lessons from this season have not been learned. It is so frustrating, and it nearly cost us the game, which would put Fiorentina in the driver’s seat for third place. Much too close for comfort for me, personally. But maybe the win will give them confidence. And we will have Zapata back next week, and we can only hope Abbiati, too. Torino won’t make it easy, but we can pull it off, I think. Our lessons went unlearned, but we live to play another day. Let’s hope our luck continues and we can achieve what was unthinkable earlier this season: Champions League qualification.

This post inspired my the music of the Toy Dolls’ “Nellie the Elephant”

Our next match is
Milan vs. Torino
Sunday, May 5 • 15:00 CEST (9am EDT)

Milan 4, Catania 2: Live to Play Another Day Milan 4, Catania 2: Live to Play Another Day Reviewed by Elaine on 3:50 PM Rating: 5
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