Sunday, May 5, 2013

Milan 1, Torino 0: Empty Calories

This game had the satisfaction of having eaten an entire bag of potato chips: the thought of winning sounded delicious, but halfway through you wished you could stop yourself, yet you had to keep going. And afterwards, you were left thirsty and with a stomachache. Or maybe that was just me. But the match was filled with regret and very unsatisfying, despite the importance of the three points.

At least they unite in celebration

I have argued all season that it was our midfield, not our defense that needed help. Today proved that it was both. Take away the one quality player we have in the midfield and our defense lay completely exposed. Something I really don’t know how an 18 year-old signing is going to help with. However, losing what quality we have in the middle also showed the lack of quality we have left. Let’s pray hard those reinforcements on the way are quality. Although Allegri’s unwillingness to put Cristante in at all makes me wonder if the new recruits will ever see any playing time at all.

Torino only needed one player to put us on the ropes: Alessio Cerci. Less than two minutes in, Constant made a massive mistake that ended up with Cerci running in on Abbiati. But Abbiati was up to the task and had a great save. Milan returned the favor with a Muntari shot in the 8th, then Boateng trying the rebound, forcing the double save from Gillet, who was pretty decent himself on the night.

Abbiati is always my boy, but tonight he was the MOTM

Arguing was arguably the highlight of the half, with Muntari arguing with the ref multiple times. Meanwhile, Milan would try to maintain possession, take any shot opportunities they could, and attempt to defend the counterattacks. Like Barreto’s 1v1 opportunity in the 16th that Abbiati saved yet again. In the 35th, Constant showed some great defense, redeeming himself for his earlier mistake. Abate ruled the right flank with crosses that got wasted, but wasn’t as quick to defend. Nocerino started taking corners, then Balotelli took over, leaving the box void of our biggest target. There were clashes of heads and attempted headers. And finally, after a number of fouls that went uncalled, in the 39th, Balotelli actually had a foul against him called.

The second half was a lot more of the same. Except with yellow cards. In the 49th, D’Amato gave Mexes a yellow for a handball. Then in the 56th, Allegri pulled off El Shaarawy, who was struggling to create chances, struggling with an inflamed ankle, struggling with tendonitis, struggling with fatigue… he was struggling. So he sent on Pazzini, who started the hunt almost immediately. More Muntari  arguing, Barreto taking two shots back to back, Abbiati saving the one ,the other going over the crossbar. More yellow for tired, reckless tackles – Muntari earned his yellow in the 73rd, Boateng just a minute later. Boateng will miss Pescara midweek due to card accumulation. In the 76th, Allegri perhaps had his typical “Boateng is not a meazz’ala” epiphany and subbed him off for Niang, who actually is a striker.

One goal was all we needed

In the 81st, Allegri brought Robinho on for Flamini, one can never have too many strikers. But I think he found Robinho’s sweet spot: give him less than 10 minutes, three other strikers, and the worst midfield imaginable, he will actually look good. He had a great shot forcing a Gillet save after less than a minute on the field. Then, Allegri’s “throw on all the strikers” mentality was validated when Mexes’ header was slotted in by Balotelli. 1-0 Milan. But of course, scoring his 9th goal in 10 games was reason for celebration, so Balotelli was given a yellow card for pulling off his shirt. Only Muntari walked too close to the ref as he was pulling out his card, and had to hand the card back to the ref in order for Balotelli to actually be carded. Meggiorini and Balotelli each attempted shots in stoppage time, and the game was over.

Tactics: Allegri reminding Balotelli where the goal is, just in case

So we got the three points. Not sure if they were deserved, but Allegri survives to be confirmed another day. With Fiorentina’s late loss yesterday, we sit four points clear in third place. A win against already relegated Pescara on Wednesday could potentially seal our Champions League dreams for next year. But if we play another match like this, we could still miss out on those dreams. I know it’s late in the season, and what a long season it has been. I know we have key injuries, but this is when we find out if we really have a team or not. If they can dig deep, find a sense of urgency, and have players step up to fill the voids, then we can still earn that Champions League spot for next year. Given the upheaval and changes this year, that might seem like quite the miracle. But with the luck we’ve had and games like this, we will be lucky to have only a stomachache after so many empty calories. I would gladly take a stomachache into the Champions League this year. And now for those potato chips…

This post inspired by the music of New Order

Our next match is
Pescara vs. Milan
Wednesday, May 8 • 18:00 CEST (12 noon EDT)