Coppa Italia • Milan 1, Udinese 2: Chillaxin

When there is a coaching change midseason, it is typically done to impact negative results. And it often helps short term, as a squad with a string of poor results is often demoralized and deflated, and a new coach will provide new motivation and ideas to help a team achieve better results. How positive the changes and for how long this “honeymoon” period lasts depends on so many factors. With Seedorf coming in after half a season of frustration and horrible football, it was refreshing to see him bring the smiles back to the squad and to the fans with a win on Sunday. But that newfound joy and relaxed attitude may have proved costly today, as Udinese once again sent Milan out of the Coppa Italia, while Milan was caught chillaxin.

"I thought you were getting the donuts and Doritos"

It didn’t help that a wave of the flu hit the squad like a plague ahead of the match, and Seedorf was left with slim pickins and a whole lot of youth on his bench. But that can’t be an excuse. Even if he is only retired as a player for eight days now, he’s got to learn quickly… and sometimes painfully. Personally, I was thrilled to see him having the team play dodgeball in training the other day. Bringing back the joy and the happiness to the squad is the first step toward making a long-term impact in this team. But did he bring too much joy? Too much relaxation? Maybe a little too much Amsterdam? This match certainly seemed like it with our players caught chillaxin.

It was funny because from the beginning, it was obvious that they were not as organized and compact and able to press a well as they did on Sunday. And then suddenly, in the 6th minute, Balotelli lit up the San Siro with a great goal to punish Udinese, 1-0 Milan. Birsa had sent the ball in, and a fantastic touch from Robinho sent it in to Balotelli, catching Udinese napping. But Udinese learned and tightened up their defense, only allowing Milan that single shot in the first half, and eight shots total with only five on target for the whole game. Despite having a healthy 61% possession, Milan seemed dazed and confused and didn’t remember what they were supposed to be doing with it.

Robinho trying to recreate the magic from Sunday with Seedorf?

They collected yellow cards like a midnight munchie run. Five for Milan in all, with yellows shown to Birsa, De Sciglio, Honda, Mexes, and Urby, all resulting from sloppy tackles. Urby’s was the worst, as it was in the box and resulted in a penalty, which Muriel stood up and took decisively in the 41st. Between that wakeup call and hopefully a good pep talk in the dressing room at the half, one would think Milan could have regrouped and performed better in the second half. But instead, it seemed like the Amsterdam haze grew heavier, and they grew more tired, careless, and allowed even more chances for a very sober and determined Udinese.

Add to that the experience of Guidolin. His tactics were more sound than Seedorf’s from the beginning, and his team knew how to exploit every lost ball, every missed opportunity, while managing to defend quite well, too. And he knew when and how to sub, and it was his substitutions that led to the winning goal by Nico Lopez in the 78th. That was a huge advantage in a knockout match like this and a definite downside to changing managers midseason.

Even their celebrations were chillaxed

That said, despite the result, it wasn’t all horrible. You can see the players playing with a lightness and joy that has been missing, and we still did better at stealing the ball. In fact, Rami led the game with 26 steals. There is an understanding being built between players with the passing, and while looking tired and unfocused, they still seemed to have more morale throughout the game. The 4-2-3-1 system is a work in progress, and with a full and healthy squad and some good old fashioned time and experience, still seems like the right direction to be heading. The squad are also amazingly not fit enough for this system at this point in the year, and with the injuries on top of it, match fitness should be a priority at this point. Also notable was the absence of a couple of key players that make this system work.

I think Mister Seedorf may have brought the wrong kind of "system" from Amsterdam

As for Mr. Amsterdam, however, he is on a learning curve. I suspect he will be given plenty of time, but the faster he learns, the happier everyone is. So here are some Things Seedorf Should Take From this Match:

Substitutions: while I realize he had to use an early sub of Mexes in the first half for Zapata, the other subs should have come earlier. Guidolin brought Pareyra on in the 69th, and he instantly caused problems for Milan. Somewhere between there and when Nico Lopez came on in the 75th would have been an ideal time to make a reactionary substitution, if he hadn’t already made a substitution earlier when the squad were lulling themselves to sleep and lots of people were completely ineffective.

The Formation: the 4-2-3-1 is a system, which is new to everyone. If you get hit by a plague or injuries, it’s okay to change the system to suit the players you have, or to choose players that better fit the system. Since you’re new to all of this, it’s understandable that you would assume, for example, that Nocerino could play next to De Jong. But once it was obvious that he couldn’t, you needed to make a sub or move someone around or change to a different system so that Milan didn’t get caught with their pants down every two minutes.

Mentality: It is so great that the players are smiling and playing with joy and playing more attractive football. But don’t be afraid to fire them up, either. If they start out looking like they just flew in from a long night in Amsterdam, it’s okay to sober them up and inspire them to play effectively, not just calmly. Chillaxin doesn’t win trophies.

It doesn't always have to be smiles

There are many more lessons to take from this match for Seedorf, for the team, and for the fans. But we’ll just start with this. As painful as it was to go out at this stage to Udinese and with such a poor performance after such an encouraging week, I personally think that a season without Europe will improve our chances of getting back where we need to be faster. If Seedorf is as amazing as a Double Rainbow, I trust that he can take the players and the youth that we have and build a strong, competitive team next season even without Europe-level reinforcements. But I also think that whatever expectations there are for him and for this season out there, we have to remember with each result, win or loss, that there is something to be learned from each one. Today, I hope we learned that trophies aren’t earned by chillaxin.

This post inspired by the music of Bob Marley

Our next match is
Cagliari vs. Milan
Sunday, January 26 • 15:00 CET (9am EST)

Coppa Italia • Milan 1, Udinese 2: Chillaxin Coppa Italia • Milan 1, Udinese 2: Chillaxin Reviewed by Elaine on 4:45 PM Rating: 5
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