Cesena 1, Milan 1: Back to the Drawing Board

So Inzaghi dared to try a new formation today, one that Tassotti explained just ahead of the match was meant to support Torres and Menez. Ironically, it all but neutralized those two, giving more scoring and assisting chances to defenders and others instead. But it was a fantastic idea on paper, so maybe with some more tweaking and giving it a few more chances, everything will click. Or, like today, maybe it will further expose our weaknesses and Inzaghi will have to learn the hard way. Some tough questions to answer for him, I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes as he takes everything from this draw and goes back to the drawing board.

Rami definitely had something to celebrate

First I have to remind everyone using social media that before the season began, we were prepared for the very worst. Two wins out of the gate, and all of a sudden Berlusconi expected the Scudetto? (As did so many on social media.) The loss to Juventus seemed to remind some fans of our place. But still the expectation that we should dominate and crush Empoli and Cesena away somehow remained. Of course as a fan I want to win every game. But it’s not a realistic expectation of this team at this time with our recent history. Personally, what I’m looking for is growth and improvement. And for the most part, I’ve seen that in each match. My expectations are simply that we continue on the right path, be willing to try new things, and eventually become that team again that can be expected to dominate and crush in every match.

Until that point, however, I will have to accept games like today. A game that in the 10th minute, Milan conceded a goal by Succi, playing for a newly promoted side. 1-0 Cesena. The goal occurred when Marilungo got a shot off, despite being “marked” by two Milan players. His shot took a wicked bounce just before it got to Abbiati, allowing him to only parry the ball out for the save, only for Succi to tap it in on the follow up, watched (but not marked) by two more Milan defenders. How that is an Abbiati “howler,” I will never know. But what I do know is regardless of where you put the blame, we conceded again. The silver lining being that we have now graduated to conceding from the run of play instead of only conceding on set pieces.

Smells like team spirit

Menez would have had a goal in the 16th, but both Torres and Bonaventura were caught offside on Honda’s original pass in, so the whistle came before the goal. And Honda had his wicked free kick saved in the 18th by the young Leali, once claimed to be Buffon’s heir. But not even Buffon’s heir was a match for Shrek, as Rami headed a beautiful Honda corner in just out of Leali’s reach in the 19th. 1-1 all.

That may have been the final score, but there were over 70 minutes left to play. Which included chances – eleven shots for Milan, with four on goal, compared to ten shots for Cesena, only two of which were on goal. There were cards, too. Menez drew and sold fouls to the tune of three yellow cards for Cesena, the fourth being earned by Renzetti for stepping on Rami in the 57th. Ironically, it was Renzetti that Bonaventura fouled for his yellow in the 44th, and then De Jong got his yellow for fouling Brienza in the 69th. But it was the straight red to Zapata in the 73rd that seemed to erode away at the grinta. It was determined that Zapata had interfered with Defrel’s clear goalscoring opportunity just outside of the box, and thus he was sent off. Gratefully, Brienza’s resulting free kick went over.

Celebrating the equalizer

Inzaghi tried to give Ess a few minutes, subbing him on for Poli right after he brought Pazzini on for Torres in the 71st. It was pretty obvious that he was planning to bring El Shaarawy on, too, but that all changed just two minutes later when we went down to ten men and Inzaghi was instead forced to sacrifice Honda for Alex in the 75th. Pazzini did well enough in his twenty minute cameo, getting forward and getting a few attempts, like the header in the 82nd that went just over. His physicality was also welcome at the end of a match when things were getting sloppy and players were tired. But ironically, it was Ess’ fresh slow-mo legs that lead to the breakaway that Zapata stopped for the red, just two minutes into Ess’ appearance.

Cesena will rue the goal in the 87th that was called off due to a foul before the shot, while Milan fans collectively sighed a heavy breath of relief. And thank you, Guida for doing a great job today. Cesena certainly gave it their best, and especially tried to take advantage of the last 15-20 minutes of being a man up. If you look at my “grinta stat” (tackles,) Milan were lacking a bit in comparison this time, with 15 tackles to Cesena’s 17.

He had moments of brilliance, but was still largely neutralized in the new formation

But still, overall, there was improvement. Sure, Milan started the season with two wins, then a loss to Juve, who have yet to concede a goal. And now we’ve followed it with two away draws to newly promoted sides. But as Steve & Vinny aptly pointed out on the final podcast in August, these are the games that we have to worry about.

The more pressing worries are whether or not to pursue this new formation further. If this is the starting lineup, does that leave El Shaarawy in the cold? And what does Poli do when Montolivo comes back? Speaking of Montolivo, will he come back strong enough to provide the creativity we have lacked in the midfield? And does the 4-2-3-1 further expose our defensive frailties, or can Abate and De Sciglio put in sweet crosses (or even shot attempts) and be effective on attack without compromising the defense? Tassotti said ahead of the match, “We try to place the players where they can give their best.” But Honda is best played in the center, and everyone knows De Sciglio is a right back. They talk about the quality of Menez and Torres, but what about Honda, who has been exquisitely consistent this season this far, scoring three goals and giving two assists in five matches.

We're definitely missing creativity, but is Montolivo going to solve our problems when he returns??

A lot of questions about tactics, personnel, and the general direction of the team. Maybe Inzaghi will get the answers right, maybe not. But despite dropping points, I am satisfied with the improvement and the general direction the team is heading. (Also, because I’m thrilled at Inter’s simultaneous demise today.) It’s too early for harsh judgments on the coach or the squad, even if most fans agree that Bonera, Muntari, and Ess should never play for Milan again based on their collective Milan performances over multiple seasons. If we continue to improve like this, then maybe we can believe that Milan’s DNA truly is repaired someday. Until then, it’s back to the drawing board.

This post inspired by the music of The Cure

Our next match is
Milan vs. Chievo
Saturday, October 4th • 20:45 CEST (2:45pm EDT)

Cesena 1, Milan 1: Back to the Drawing Board Cesena 1, Milan 1: Back to the Drawing Board Reviewed by Elaine on 11:15 AM Rating: 5
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