Milan 3, Lazio 1: The Power of the Shirt

Berlusconi will tell you it’s because he came to both Milanello on Friday and to the San Siro tonight that Milan won this one. Galliani will tell you that it was his shrewd transfer moves that won the game. But Milan fans know that it was neither. There is only one thing that is truly different this year on this team, and that is the man sitting on the bench. Inzaghi knows about winning, but most of all, he knows about what it means to wear the Milan shirt. And that is something all of the players have reported that he has focused on first and foremost. While this was only one game, it was evident that instilling this simple value had a drastic effect on the mentality of this squad, especially after such a poor preseason. Which luckily also translated to 3 points to start the season. The power of the shirt.

Heroes for a day

Don’t get me wrong, I am so thrilled the guys won this one. Convincingly. But I have to keep my comments a bit reserved, since I have seen what can happen to a team throughout a season. I am celebrating this victory Pippo style in my heart, but my head is full of warning signals. Like the quality, age, and physical condition of some of the players in the squad. Or the fact that there is still 24 hours of the mercato left for players to leave or come in. Or the fact that this management sacked Seedorf after barely five months, even though things seemed great on the surface.

But there was nothing reserved when I saw Honda’s brilliant goal from a perfect cross by El Shaarawy in the seventh minute. 1-0 Milan. Berisha got nutmegged, the ball deflected off of him slightly, but Honda’s strike was sure. And I was sure that I would be grinning from ear to ear all day.

An attacking triad to envy

From there, the hack fest took over, a stat on my screen showed five fouls for each team by the 18th minute. Muntari missed out on a yellow in the 17th by taking out Biglia, a gift from Tagliavento. It was De Jong who claimed the first yellow in the 20th by sending Lulic flying. (Don’t worry, Lulic got revenge ten times over.) Then Lazio’s brute squad leader captain took out Honda in the 24th and saw yellow as well. And in the 37th, Lulic would also see yellow for trying to give De Jong paybacks. I could probably write 1500 words as to who tried to kill whom, so I’ll try to stick to just the cards to spare you.

The second half saw El Shaarawy and Honda making beautiful runs, brilliant passes, and it just felt like there was magic coming soon from one or both of those two. However it was a perfect Abate cross (yes, you read that correctly) to Sulley “The Killer” Muntari in the 56th that made the magic happen. 2-0 Milan. After some sort of epileptic celebration by Muntari, everyone ran over to Inzaghi to hug him as if he had scored. For which he was cautioned by the fourth official, seeing as how he had stepped onto the pitch in his enthusiasm. The passion and heart that he always exemplified was indeed infecting this squad, and I have to admit that I teared up a bit.

The polar opposite of another coach we had, Conte was jealous up in the stands

In the 62nd, De Vrij took down Menez and received a yellow for it. But he didn’t learn his lesson, as a minute later he was shoving Menez again in the box, and Menez went down (albeit a bit theatrically) to earn a penalty for Milan. People seem to think that you need to be maimed or stretchered off to receive a penalty, but this was actually a good call, even if Menez sold it a bit. So he stepped up and easily converted the penalty, 3-0 Milan.

It would continue on with the myriad fouls, some much dirtier than ever, as you would expect from Lazio, who chalked up 20 fouls on the night compared to Milan’s 10. But amidst all of the violence, Lazio became more desperate and started to fight for more chances on goal. So it was in the 67th that Alex attempted to clear one such shot, a bit sloppy, and paid for it when it went in, own goal. Milan 3, Lazio 1. Between that and Muntari actually having made a beautiful, clean tackle in the 61st, Inzaghi decided to take him off in favor of Essien in the 68th. Either Essien is always smiling or he was thrilled that he was going to be seeing some playing time or both.

He knows what's on the back of his shirt

Alex tried to atone for his earlier error by tackling Lulic in the box in the 71st. And Diego Lopez saw yellow in the 71st for timewasting. Armero was subbed on for Honda in the 77th, then Niang on for Menez in the 82nd. Niang came on and instantly impressed, controlling a ball from El Shaarawy and turning and shooting, even if it was straight at Berisha. Lazio were shooting every chance they got, and their best shot was taken by Candreva in the 86th, but Diego Lopez’ brilliant reflex save kept him off the board. Just after that, Cana hacked down Niang, but the Lazio brute never saw yellow. He probably could have been sent off multiple times, but that’s Tagliavento for you.

Lazio had been denied a penalty in the 78th when Abate handled the ball in the box. But in the 94th, Abate made sure they got their penalty by taking Candreva down in the box. Candreva stepped up to take it, it was a good penalty, but not a lot of power. Which was great for Diego Lopez, who guessed right and saved it big in the dying minute of the game, much to the delight of the 36,000 plus who came to the San Siro that day.

Just one of the boys again
(notice Torres in the background, who moved from the VIP seats to be closer to the team & hang w/ Sheva, Maldini,  & more)
So it would finish 3-1, a victory and three points to kick off the Season of Dread™. Many of us Milan fans have been filled with equal parts excitement and dread for this game, and we were surprised in the best of ways to see a squad with cohesion and determination, but also marked improvements. For example, we only took seven shots, but four of those were on goal, compared to Lazio’s wasted nineteen shots with the same number on goal. With only 44% possession, we controlled much of the game, so it was a vast improvement in execution. The same players, playing better… because they have been learning the value of the shirt.

Many are acting as though we have won the Scudetto, and I understand why. This victory is not just a celebration, but a salve for the pain management has inflicted, the wounds of recent years’ performances, and more. It is also easier to see the small victories when we are winning, but still, this just felt great. And to think, although we don’t really have any superstars in our squad, these players with maybe less talent are learning to play with more heart. But it's a squad that is actually deep in its lack of stars, and hopefully even deeper in heart. Because as we have often seen in football, heart can be greater than talent. It is way too soon to plan your Scudetto victory party, but this match is truly one to celebrate. Because Inzaghi is truly bringing back the Milan DNA. The power of the shirt.

This post inspired by the music of John Williams

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Milan 3, Lazio 1: The Power of the Shirt Milan 3, Lazio 1: The Power of the Shirt Reviewed by Elaine on 6:00 PM Rating: 5
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