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Milan-Napoli Preview: The Perfect Storm


When the Serie A schedule was released, this match gave me a sense of forboding. Then we qualified for the Champions League, and with that additional schedule to deal with, it seemed even more frightening. Add in the Injury Armageddon™, the way we sneaked by Celtic on Wednesday and Slow Start Allegri’s™ magic so far in the league, and this match is shaping up to be the Perfect Storm.

There's a giant blue and white storm coming, and the eye is over the San Siro

I’m not going to lie. Although Napoli reinvested their PSG (read: Cavani transfer) money better than anyone else, I had my questions that Benitez would be able to integrate the new squad and get them to gel together quickly and efficiently. But I was dead wrong. He has picked up where Mazzarri left off and Napoli are playing very, very well. They sit at the top of the Serie A table, and just beat Champions League runners up Borussia Dortmund midweek, despite giving them an own goal. Not only do they have a healthy squad, but they have a lot of depth and quality, too. Are they unstoppable? Probably not. But do they have the advantage in this match? I think so.

Despite playing at home at the San Siro, Milan have a patchwork team made up of young and old, provincial and quality, and just a hint of Milan pedigree, all managed by a controversial coach who has exceeded his welcome in a majority of people’s opinions, including the owner’s. Meanwhile, De Laurentiis was shrewd and direct in the mercato, using the €64m people said he’d never get for Cavani to buy quality, established players such as Higuain, Callejon, Albiol, Reina, and Mertens and reinforce throughout the team. If they had failed to work together, this could have been a nightmare for Benitez. But instead, he has created the perfect storm.

The halfling scored against Dortmund midweek, the other has 4 goals in 3 starts.

Napoli are unbeaten in Serie A. Chievo gave them the most trouble, by scoring 2 goals on them in Verona, but Napoli answered back with 4 goals. My only solace here is that it was Paloschi, whom we co-own with Chievo and who came up in the Milan youth system, who scored those 2 goals, the only goals they've conceded thus far in Serie A. So maybe there's a little Milan magic? Against Atalanta at the San Paolo last weekend, they won comfortably, 2-0, while Benitez rested a number of players ahead of their midweek Champions League match against Dortmund. Short of Higuain meeting up with some rocks again, Benitez has a completely healthy squad.

Against Dortmund, Benitez fielded a team that would be the envy of any Serie A manager: Reina; Britos, Maggio, Zuniga, Albiol; Behrami, Inler; Callejon, Hamsik, Insigne; Higuain. Granted, they had a little help from Dortmund when Weidenfeller was sent off just before halftime for handling the ball out of the box, and Klopp had been sent off in the first half as well, but they were already up 1-0 at that point. All I’m saying is that if they can effectively handle a squad like Dortmund’s, what do they have in store for our beleaguered squad?

Three goals and an assist in 4 starts. Can Milan stop him?

And as if being beleaguered wasn’t enough, we also have Injury Armageddon™ to contend with. That’s right, Allegri is without: Bonera, De Sciglio, El Shaarawy, Kaka, Montolivo, Pazzini, and Silvestre. Which means that Abate, Niang, and Poli have all returned to training and could be available. But will he start them? In the wake of all of the criticism due to this recent wave of injuries, Allegri is likely to exercise a bit more caution with the returning players. Since Niang’s and Poli’s injuries were minor, I would expect he would have them available if he chooses to start them. But I would be impressed (read: worried and disappointed) if he starts Abate, based on the nature of his injury and the sheer quantity of upcoming fixtures.

Other questions include the Slow Start Allegri™ plan… despite a couple of favorable results even when playing horrible football, Milan still sit ninth in the table, just behind newly promoted side Verona, only one point ahead of where we were last year at this point. And if you have blocked that debacle out of your memory, let’s just say that Milan were on their way to their worst Serie A start in 70 years. That’s s-e-v-e-n-t-y. So pulling up out of this nosedive sooner rather than later will be essential, even if we are only aiming at a top three finish. But the forecast for pulling out of the nosedive this week is not exactly sunny.

Will the Blonde Fury™ be risked?

Another issue is Allegri’s choice of formation. It was decreed when he was re-confirmed as manager at the beginning of the summer that he shall play the 4-3-1-2. And then Saponara had a long term injury, and Galliani only brought him Kaká at the end of the mercato, so Allegri hasn’t really had the personnel to play the 4-3-1-2. Birsa did well enough for the first half at covering the role on Wednesday, but wouldn’t it be more prudent to stick with the 4-3-3 until he has the personnel to play the 4-3-1-2? And what will Allegri have accomplished in just a couple of days to improve the playing style at all? And will it even matter? At this point, injury prevention might just be our greatest victory, anyway.

Before and after our nothing short of miraculous win against Celtic, I gave props to Allegri for being great in the face of crises just like this. But even I fear this storm. Benitez can and likely will rest several of his starters from Wednesday, and they will still be more prepared than Milan. Maybe it’s just that when the going got tough last season, it was against this same opponent that Allegri did everything wrong last season. It was our chance to take second place and not have to qualify for Champions League this year. But instead, he got the lineups and tactics all wrong. Will he get it right this time? With even less to work with? I normally believe in Crisis Allegri™, but even I have to say that this is the perfect storm.

Even Allegri has got to see the storm brewing... 

Whereas in real life, during a natural disaster, people pull together and we see the beauty of the human spirit, my one hope lies in that same human spirit to help and buoy up Milan. Our 12th man can give courage to players who are not 100% fit or maybe simply outclassed in talent. And the grinta that our boys showed on Wednesday, despite playing poorly, it is that same courage and strength that could see us ride out this perfect storm. I hope that it does, and come Sunday night, we will have dethroned the leaders and climbed up the table closer to where we belong. Perhaps it is only a fool’s hope, but after all, only a fool would attempt stand in the face the perfect storm. Forza Milan!


This post inspired by the music of the Lord of the Rings: Two Towers Soundtrack

Milan vs. Napoli
Sunday, September 22 • 20:45 CEST (2:45pm EDT)
This match will be broadcast LIVE on RAI in the US
Check here for stream links ahead of the match