Sunday, September 1, 2013

Milan 3, Cagliari 1: For Allegri


There was much news about transfers off the pitch today. In fact, it seemed a distraction for many fans. But on the pitch there was the matter of dispensing with Cagliari. With all of the turmoil of the mercato, Matri and Birsa moving to Milan, Boateng and Antonini moving away from Milan, but most importantly, Traor√© staying at Milan after a failed transfer/loan to both Genoa and Olympiakos, it was a miracle that anyone could focus at all. And while this match wasn’t the prettiest of wins, the boys were able to stay focused and pull it off. A win in the second week of the season for a manager who last year at this time was on his way to the worst start for Milan in 70 years. So it was actually a massive accomplishment for the one we call Slow Start Allegri™, and against his former club, too. So this one should be remembered as a win... for Allegri.

So this is what it feels like to win early in the season!

Who else to start off this important win but one of Allegri’s favorites, Sulley “The Killer” Muntari? One minute in, he had a shot from distance on goal. He would prove somewhat troubling through the first half, but also did not maim or kill anyone, and didn’t even get a card. With a performance like that, Ghana may be regretting not calling him up this week. Although when he stepped off the pitch in the second half to change his shorts on the sideline, that may not have been the kind of performance they were looking for.

It was only a matter of time before Milan took the lead. In the 8th minute, Balotelli was holding up the ball as masterfully as only he could, then he sent the ball in, Montolivo flicked it wickedly across to an open Robinho, who just tapped it in like a boss. 1-0 Milan. Those are the kinds of shots he is well known for missing – and badly. But not today. This one was for Allegri.

"We got this."

Play continued, a little scrappy, and Cagliari tried to make the most of their chances. But it was Milan cleaning it up in the box that made the difference. Next up was Mexes. Yes, Mexes scored a goal. In the 30th minute, Abate sent the ball forward to Robinho, who sent it into the box for Balotelli, who shot, but Agazzi sent it back out, only for Mexes to tap in the rebound. 2-0 Milan.

Milan let their defenses down a little after that, but the goal in the 33rd should have been avoidable. It started from a dead ball, of course, a throw in. It was sent in high and arcing over everyone else straight to Sau And while Mexes was on him and Zapata raced back behind, he wasn’t shut down in time and sent a beautiful curling ball into the net over Abbiati. 2-1 Milan. Goals like this might make fans say “we need another defender,” but they make me say “where was our midfield?" No one else even seemed to worry about Cagliari’s most dangerous player grabbing the ball so deep, and that worries me.

That's right, I'm a central defender, bee-atches

The second half saw Cagliari extra motivated to get the equalizer, but Milan held tight and stayed focus. The double threat of Nainggolan and Sau was met by great clearances and saves from Abate, Mexes, and Abbiati in particular. The latter had an immense save on a Sau shot in the 73rd. Poli took a bit of abuse in the midfield, maybe Allegri can’t stand to see the smaller guys take that kind of punishment, maybe that’s why he prefers the “physique” of his notorious defensive midfielders. And speaking of midfielders, De Jong was an absolute beast and his passing crucial to the win, although he did earn Milan’s sole yellow of the match in the 70th. Whereas Montolivo, played as a trequartista, wasn’t as visible or effective at that role.

Balotelli also took a beating, as usual, and few fouls were called, as usual. But also as usual, he found a way to get his name on the scoreboard, despite playing deeper again due to a lack of support from the midfield. In the 62nd, he punished his tormentors in the best way possible when Abate sent a ball in that a defender just got a head on, only for Balotelli to control it and send it in for the goal. 3-1 Milan.

A lot of love, Super Mario. A whole lot of love.

Allegri did his part. He brought on his bromance BFF, Mitra Matri, in the 65th for Robinho. In the 78th, he ended poor Poli’s beatings by bringing on Nocerino. And finally, he brought on El Shaarawy, whom he said after the match was left out purely for tactical reasons (as Robinho was more familiar with the 4-3-1-2) for Montolivo. Solid subs, Mister. Credit where credit is due.

This match wasn’t pretty, but it was so important. After dropping 3 points in Verona last week, this was a must win. If we are to keep up with the other Scudetto challengers, we had to start earning our points to try to keep up. For me, it was about the team showing hunger for 90 minutes, and staying focused, too. Which they did. Bravo Ragazzi! We got the crucial 3 points, some confidence, and stayed focused despite Galliani Day™ being just hours away. So while it won’t be a game to remember, it was also not one to forget. Well done all. For Allegri.

This post inspired by the music of The Strokes


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