Saturday, July 27, 2013

Valencia 1, Milan 2: That Was Close, Batman!


Some games just leave you with the sneaking suspicion that you narrowly escaped a much worse fate. This game was definitely one of those. If you read my preview for this match, you’ll know I predicted our starting lineup to be “more Joker, less Riddler.” But our level of play was riddled with errors and a level of fitness that was more despicable than any of Batman’s foes. As the Boy Wonder might say, “That was close, Batman!”

Freaking awesome.
The first half started with Valencia’s attack putting us on the ropes. Abbiati might have actually been the Milan player with the most touches on the ball for the first 20 minutes. And our boys were scrappy, too. Petagna caught Costa with an elbow in the 15th minute, although Costa was crazy to try to go up for the challenge with our young striker. Have you seen the size of that boy? And in the 18th, De Jong got Joao Pareira’s blood boiling with a crunching tackle, and his blood would stay boiling throughout the rest of his time on the pitch.

Then our luck changed. Valencia’s keeper, Guaita, came in with a ridiculous challenge on Poli, resulting in a penalty for Milan. But then the ridiculous happened. It was Robinho who stepped up to take it. Again. That’s twice in four days. And twice in four days that he sent it straight to the keeper. And twice in four days that the keeper saved it. Personally, I think Balotelli should hand his “Why always me?” shirt over to Robinho.

The player we love to hate. Get well soon, Binho!

However, true to Robinho form, just when you thought you couldn’t hate him anymore, one minute later he redeemed himself with a goal, Poli assisting (again.) 1-0 Milan. And true to Robinho form, he pulled up not long after this. Someone passed him the ball, he tried to kick it out to stop play, but he couldn’t even get the ball out of bounds. And here he was being touted as our most fit and in-form player of the preseason.

Well, that ball that didn’t go out ended up in Valencia’s possession, the aforementioned Joao Pareira, specifically, and he passed it straight into the area, where they took a scoring opportunity in the 23rd. Nocerino and Boateng earned yellow cards for their taking issue with the arguably unsporting gesture (also known as a ‘Testosterone Huddle™,” where the young Gabriel was the most effective peacemaker of all, including the ref.) So Urby came on for the injured Robinho in the 26th, pushing Boateng up front.

Poli: the force is strong with this one

After that, Valencia continued their siege, and Rami thought he got the equalizer in the 29th, however it was called off for offside. In answer to that, a few minutes later, Boateng scored a beauty, only to have it called off because Bonera was mud wrestling in the box (only without the mud or the bikinis.) Thanks, Bonera. Poli picked up a decent knock to his ankle and had to be treated in the 35th.

But the 38th was a magical moment. With a Valencia defender’s attempt to clear the ball in front of his goal comically hitting his own hand, the ball was bouncing around the area a bit and Boateng sent it out to De Jong, who sent a missile straight into goal from distance. 2-0 Milan. Forget what you know about De Jong being a tackler or even an amazing passer. And forget that he just came back from a wicked achilles injury that left him rehabbing for 6+ months. He struck that ball with the power of a wrecking ball and the precision of a surgeon. Wow. Following up his player of the tournament recognition on Wednesday with that amazing goal, it doesn’t get any better than that.

A message to those who think he's just a bruiser

The rest of the match was really as bad as that goal was good. Allegri at the half seemed to asked himself “How can I sabotage this 2-0 lead?” and pulled both Abbiati and Poli, two of our most solid players in the first half, for Gabriel and Muntari, respectively. Muntari immediately announced his arrival on the pitch with a horrible studs-up tackle on… you guessed it, Joao Pareira… in the 48th. And instead of giving the yellow or even the red to Muntari, the ref gave Joao Pareira the yellow, perhaps for bleeding too much? (I think it was for complaining too much, but who knows?)

In the 53rd, Parejo pulled one back for Valencia, 2-1 Milan. I liked the nice free kick fake with De Jong and Urby both lined up in the 59th, not a bad effort from Urby, either. In the 62nd, Allegri pulled De Jong and put on Cristante. In the 66th, Djukic, just to troll Allegri, subbed five players on for another five players. Nice troll, Djukic. I think Allegri just had an aneurism. After Allegri could see straight again, El Shaarawy came on for Boateng in the 69th. And later, Zaccardo came on for Bonera. This was a moment of reckoning for me, when I realized that my archenemy, Zaccardo, is still an upgrade to the One Goal Wonder™. And then I also realized that the captain’s armband, having started on the arm of Abbiati, was now on the arm of Antonini. How is such an epic fail even possible? And to make matters worse, Zaccardo made an important goal line clearance, something Milan players have not even been able to do hardly at all under Allegri’s tenure. How will I sleep tonight with this knowledge?

Wrong number, but a decent job tonight.

The last ten minutes of the match, Milan players were the walking dead, and Valencia took advantage of that with all of their fresh legs. Well, and for Milan, Niang came on for Petagna in the 82nd. Fede, in particular had some great shots. But between the crossbar and a couple of surprisingly great saves from Gabriel, Milan held out for the victory. Oh, and Cristante got his 3rd yellow in less than 70 minutes of playing time this week. But when he’s not being clumsy and inexperienced, he had some really sweet moves. So let’s hope he gets over his card hoarding in these friendlies and shows up to play with the big boys come August.

I read somewhere recently that after the first couple of days at Milanello, the players could barely walk to lunch, they were working so hard. But it is apparently not hard enough to be anywhere near properly conditioned just yet. That’s okay, because they’ve got a month to get conditioned before we need everyone in top form for the all-important Champions League qualification matches. Needless to say, I was very inspired by our first 45 min. againstJuventus on Wednesday. Less inspired for our second 45 min. against Sassuolo. If this trend continues, then I should probably become a raging alcoholic sometime after our Audi Cup matches on Wednesday and Thursday. And then, of whomever we face from Wednesday’s match between Chelsea and Inter next Sunday in New York, just look for me face down in a gutter somewhere after that one.

Perhaps the most improved tonight: Allegri's hair
(If he starts growing some stubble, the Guardiola impersonation will be complete)

Maybe those Valencia logos and the Halloween colored kits just made our boys a little batty. But for a couple of brilliant moments, this team did NOT look good tonight. I hope that we can correct the nosedive and have some better play, let the new kids build some chemistry and perfect the prescribed return to the 4-3-1-2 formation. Oh yeah, and no more injuries, please. We have Saponara who is supposed to be fit for Wednesday, as well as the other Italian national team players who were still rested for this match, so we do have better players available to us. Now let’s hope they can go to M√ľnich and get some match fitness and start building that amazing Milan team that we know they can be. Because this one was way too lucky for my comfort.


This post inspired by the music of Ministry’s “Every Day is Like Halloween”


Our next match is the
Audi Cup Tournament
Manchester City vs. AC Milan
Wednesday, July 31 • 18:15 CEST (12:15pm EDT)