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ICC Tournament • Milan 1, Inter 0: Friendly Surprise

I have always loved surprises. Like as a kid, eating Cracker Jacks, a molasses-covered popcorn & peanut confection in a box. But inside the package, there was a little surprise – a game or toy or something. So on a hot and humid night in China, this derby was a lot like digging through the sticky popcorn, but it definitely had its surprises. Standout performances good and bad, good plays and bad tackles, a wondergoal and a red card. And the best surprise of all? A Derby win. Maybe it was only a friendly, but it was also a friendly surprise.

One of Milan's most unlikely heroes with a brilliant goal

When the lineups came out, it seemed like Mancini was trolling us with his B team, whereas Mihajlovic put out pretty much his A team. And with such an intense start from Milan, it seemed like Milan wanted to do what Mihajlovic had said in the press conference: go for the win early. But then it seemed like Mancini’s logic was going to pay off: ride out the first half and prevent them from scoring, wear them out and maybe force them to bring on their B team, then bring on the stars and go for the jugular. Only it backfired on him, because amongst our B team, we have a striker-in-disguise-as-a-center-back called Philippe Mexes.

Mexes is more known for getting carded, sent off, and banned than anything else. But just to keep us all on our toes, he’ll score the occasional goal. And not just any goals, either. They’re usually spectacular, and this one was one of his most spectacular. In the 62nd, Bonaventura sent in a great corner, and Mexes hit it on the volley, sending it curling perfectly into the back of the net, 1-0 Milan. Just exquisite.

Mihajlovic rewards Mexes in kind

Ironically, the red card was not his. That distinction tonight was earned by Nocerino, and he earned it in the most spectacular of ways: by fouling Kondogbia, something a lot of Milan fans wished they could do after he chose Inter after reportedly agreeing to join Milan. But seeing as he was sent off in the 88th, and it was only a friendly, he really couldn’t have planned it better.

As it was only a friendly, there isn’t a lot of weight to be placed on the win, the goal, the sending off, or the performances. But it’s not going to stop me from making a few notes about a few of the performances. Rodrigo Ely is a revelation. If he can keep this up, he should absolutely start at center back. He’s lightning fast, has great positioning, gets forward, and his tackles are sublime. Basically the opposite of every other center back we’ve had the past three years. And if he had scored either of those headers… well, I know this was just a friendly, but he keeps impressing, so is worth mentioning. Also worth mentioning was Poli’s injury, he went up and came down hard on his back, but was able to play the rest of the half, so let’s hope he’ll be fine with no repercussions.

If this guy keeps it up, we are set in his spot for years

Honda was the official MVP of the match. Weird how that would happen when he was playing his natural position. Niang impressed again, was denied by Carrizo, had one go high, took a beautiful free kick that should have been converted, and had the misfortune of being teamed up with Matri. Matri got a yellow in the 45th +1 minute for complaining about an offside call that was as obvious as his tan, but his golden moment was in the 42nd, when he had the ball with Niang wide open, but Matri took his time and sent a poor pass that was intercepted on what would have been a sure goal from Niang. And he even stayed on after the half, despite no appearance from Suso. But both Matri and Niang were finally subbed off for Bacca and Luiz Adriano in the 60th. Speaking of whom, despite fitness concerns, their first 30 minutes looked promising as well. We shall see as the friendlies go on and the season starts. But it certainly seems like have some options at many of the positions.

30 min. is not much to judge by, but if you have to, he looked solid

How refreshing to have a win and some good performances from many of our players. It may be just a meaningless friendly, but it always means something to me to beat Inter. And of course, winning breeds winning, as Antonelli said the other day. As long as we truly take that to heart when the season kicks off, we definitely stand to do much better this season than we have the past two seasons. But for today, let’s just enjoy the ridiculous goal, the derby win, and the friendly surprise.

This post inspired by the music of Paul Oakenfold

Our next match is
The ICC Tournament
Real Madrid vs. AC Milan
Thursday, July 30 • 20:00 CST (8:00am EDT)
Shanghai Stadium, Shanghai