Milan 1, Sassuolo 2: Dedication

The hopes and dreams of Milanisti everywhere of kicking off the new year with three points and a great performance were dashed, and the optimism beaten out of us like we all got in Essien’s way today. But I think the players were speaking to us as fans today. In fact, I think this loss was actually a dedication: “This one goes out to all of the fans on social media who overreacted to our last three results.” (add your choice of cheesy pop ballad here.)

His first goal for Milan took a backseat to the result

True to social media’s follow-the-crowd mentality, everyone is now talking about how this is the first time that Milan lost the first game of the new year in 17 years. CLAMAROSO! To be fair, the loss hurt for so many reasons. I think that we have been craving consistency or some semblance of form, and this puts us back at ground zero there. Plus, we had managed good results against two big teams before the break, so to come in as the seventh place team and lose to the twelfth place team, at home, no less… well if it didn’t hurt, we wouldn’t be fans.

For me, more than the result, the drop in performance was troubling. True, we were hit with suspensions and a couple of injuries. But if we are to get back to where we want to be, we need to be able to perform well no matter who lines up. Which for me is still our biggest problem. With a lot of determination and grinta, our starting eleven might fool someone into believing they were worthy of European competition. But too many of our bench players are too poor to even pull that off.

Complacency begins with Jeremy and Jack

The game itself started well. For about the first 20-25 minutes, Milan did well, getting forward and creating chances. Like the one in the 9th minute where El Shaarawy was tackled just before taking the shot, but managed to get it to Poli, who sent it past Consigli. 1-0 Milan.

But it wasn’t long before we started getting sloppy, making mistakes, fouling unnecessarily, and finally, conceding. In the 28th, Essien failed to clear the ball and our defense failed to mark Sassuolo’s players, leading to a Sansone goal. 1-1. He was assisted by Berardi, who scored all four goals against us last January and had both assists today. That’s something else no one else is talking about: Last year we lost this fixture 4-1, and today, we lost only 2-1 and played a lot better, too. So there is improvement, even if it’s not enough or quickly enough for our liking.

Goals are so rare these days they must be announced on giant screens in the stadium

The rest of the match was kind of downhill from there. Alex was carded in the 34th, I believe it was for a handball. A minute later, Poli nearly ripped Sansone’s shirt off. Actually, he ripped it well enough that it had to be changed. Players were falling left and right, particularly those who came near Essien. Perhaps if great players are looking for a measure of when to call it quits, they should retire when they inflict more fouls than completed passes.

Certainly, he is no De Jong. And to that end, with De Jong by his side, Montolivo is disguised as a decent midfielder. But without the Dutchman, he is exposed for the average player he really is. Which meant the only decent part of our midfield was Poli, who did his usual start out brilliant and fade into the sunset. Most of the players faded, including Menez, whose main purpose seemed to be drawing fouls and perhaps getting his yellow for protesting in the 59th. I should have liked for him to have been subbed off instead of El Shaarawy, who was quite exciting most of his time on the pitch.

Shows quality, gets subbed off. (sigh)

Speaking of subs, Cerci made his debut in the 65th coming on as a sub for Essien. I couldn’t tell if the crowd was cheering for him or for Essien coming off, but they didn’t cheer long. Bonaventura had a shot that went over, then Cerci had a 1v1 situation with Consigli, but the Sassuolo keeper managed to stop him. He did well enough for a sub appearance, however, I don’t expect him to be the miracle worker that he is being painted as on social media.

Especially when you consider that his substitution and shot were the catalyst as we conceded the second goal on the only corner of the match, which Berardi took well and Zaza sent in for the winner in the 67th. 2-1 Sassuolo. That hurt for so many reasons, one being that it was apparently the first set piece we’ve conceded this year with Alex on the pitch. Also because just a minute later, our very own €11m man managed to score his seventh goal of the season, finally scoring at home for Genoa with a lazy tap in with his knee. It was like adding insult to injury.

Ready or not, here he comes

The subs seemed to help bring back a little quality and some semblance of determination on the pitch for a while. Like Abate coming on for Rami in the 74th. It was clear that neither Rami or De Sciglio were 100% after their respective injuries, and that cost us a lot. Abate showed his worth just five minutes later with a great cross in, but it was unable to be converted.

Di Francesco seemed to sub for mercy for Milan, taking off Berardi, then Sansone, and then Zaza – all of those involved in the goals. But his mercy wasn’t enough and his boys certainly weren’t showing any mercy on the pitch. They were hungry, they wanted to win, and they played with dedication for 90 minutes. They may have only had 37% possession and eight shots, but the two of those shots on goal found the back of the net. Whatever their other errors may have been, they took advantage of their chances.

Cerci tried to leave his mark, but Consigli would have nothing of it

The match ended on a sour note, too. After Zapata took out Consigli, who looked possibly concussed with only five minutes or so left to play, there were no subs, so he pulled it together. Hope he is truly okay. Then in the final minute, Poli was fouled by Biondini, he got up and pushed the redhead, and lots of words were exchanged as teammates did their best to pull them apart. Di Bello was not really interested in stopping anything, he seemed to phone this one in at times, calling some handballs but not others, etc. But I don’t think he did a horrific job, and I don’t think that his calls changed the result, either.

So with a slap in the face of humility and a huge kick in the pants of reality, we have to prepare to go to Torino on Saturday. The reality of this squad and its limitations is the same as when we woke up this morning, only the result reminds us of what that reality is: Milan is still a work in progress, has a squad that is limited on talent and ability, and that it is less painful to remember this instead of indulging in the unrealistic expectations that winning friendlies brings. So this one goes out to all of the fans who expect more than is realistic or practical from this side. Remember that anything this team wins will be from hard work and… wait for it… dedication.

This post inspired by the music of Garbage

Our next match is
Torino vs. Milan
Saturday, January 10 • 20:45 CET (2:45pm EST)

Milan 1, Sassuolo 2: Dedication Milan 1, Sassuolo 2: Dedication Reviewed by Elaine on 10:55 PM Rating: 5
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