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Napoli 3, Milan 1: Learning Curves Suck


As a fan, we always want to win. Even when it seems improbable or impossible. So when the worst happens, it’s not easy to take. Even worse when the loss comes via a steep learning curve for both coach and team. For those of us who watch from our couches, it was easy to see that Abate was probably going to be better at right back, for example, or that maybe Essien wasn’t ready for 90 minutes at such a key role. But then again, I might not have started Taarabt, which would have made the game even worse, so it’s a learning curve for us all. Too bad learning curves suck.

This was actually the good part.


Napoli came out firing, with at least three shots in the first 3 minutes. In fact, they would take 27 shots, 14 of them on goal on the night. But then, our self-proclaimed “Moroccan Balotelli” stole the ball from them, dribbled two-thirds the length of the pitch (albeit a bit awkward-looking) and fired one in past Pepe Reina that he may have never seen coming. 1-0 Milan. (I hope Barca and Real Madrid were watching this.) Taarabt ran over and gave Seedorf a giant hug. If I stopped here, life would be okay. But it didn’t stop there. Just four very short minutes later, Inler (with a slight deflection from De Jong) chipped a beautiful one over everyone including Abbiati for the equalizer, 1-1.

I guess you could say that this match, even more than previous matches, emphasized the Tale of Two Teams™. No, not Milan and Napoli. Milan’s attack and Milan’s defense. What made so much sense about Seedorf’s new formation and philosophy was having so many attackers who were also capable of holding the ball and defending. But if they forget to defend, if they get tired, or are just too focused on playing such a high line, they leave the defensive midfielders and the defenders stranded, and they become a Tale of Two Teams™.

At least they were unified in celebration

My theory as to why this was emphasized so much more tonight was because Napoli also play the same formation, only they have the system down, and Seedorf made some unusual lineup choices. Most prominently, Abate, who was a natural winger, seems to have been very effectively converted to the right back position. Or if he’s going to play as a winger again, maybe he needs a little more time in training to refresh his memory. I also wasn’t convinced of Essien as one of the two defensive midfielders. While he had his moments, I was less certain of him, particularly 90 minutes of him at that spot.

The other  bright spot of this match is that Seedorf didn’t just sit there with an increasingly constipated face for the rest of the match. He made some very important tactical changes at the half that changed the way that Milan played significantly. Okay, not significantly enough to fend off the Napoli onslaught, but at least it was a little less painful to watch. He put Kaka on for Robinho, and then sent Abate back to the right back spot, De Sciglio over to the left, and Urby up to the right wing spot. This helped to bridge that gap that results in the Tale of Two Teams™, and you could see the team functioning more as a system than individuals again.

Not even a new haircut could get the ball in to Balotelli tonight

Unfortunately, in the 56th, despite playing better and tightening up the defense, Inler sent in a perfect cross for Higuain to head in perfectly. 2-1 Napoli. There wasn’t anyone or anything that could stop it. This of course was right after Taarabt was officially welcomed to the league by Massa with a yellow card when he apparently said something offensive. So things going downhill for Milan despite Seedorf’s best efforts to right the ship. He also subbed early and well, following up the halftime sub with Montolivo coming on for Urby in the 70th and Pazzini for Balotelli in the 73rd. But in the 82nd minute, right after being subbed on, Callejon sent a ball in to Higuain, who made it 3-1 Napoli. Learning curves suck.

To be fair, this is probably a game that would have been hard to win, even with an established coach and an established system of playing. But after what we have been through this year, and with Seedorf as green as could be, having just retired from playing a short month ago, maybe this was a good match to test some of these things on. Three points more down the drain, and maybe a step backward and a half step forward. I don’t really know, because it’s hard to see the bright side of losing. Learning curves suck.


This post inspired by the music of Garbage


Our next match is
Milan vs. Bologna
Friday, February 14 • 20:45 (2:45pm EST)