Mihajlovic has got to be feeling pretty good tonight. He beat his old team and that crazy ex-boss Massimo Ferrero. He also beat his ex-teammate, Montella, who is also the coach who seems to follow him everywhere – taking the jobs at Catania, Fiorentina, and Sampdoria right after Mihajlovic left. He should also be happy because Milan scored four goals for the first time in over a year. But most importantly, having finally been able to implement his preferred system of 4-4-2 with this group, he has to be thrilled at how convincing the system was. So not only has he got to be thrilled with the win, he’s got to feel a little giddy about showing the naysayers who said this wouldn’t work. Told you so.
|Brilliant victory, and well-deserved smiles. Bravo.|
Mihajlovic had to wait so long to play the 4-4-2 because he needed enough healthy strikers to be able to have at least one sub. That striker whom he waited for was Niang, who proved himself more than worth the wait with two goals and an assist. He was everything so many Milan fans knew he could be, and he finally scored in Serie A in a Milan jersey. Not just once, but twice. He also made Viviano soil himself, not just once, but a whole lot of times. Serves him right for that hair/facial hair combination.
The game wasn’t perfect, though. It started out with a Donnarumma error that led to a Soriano shot. But the young keeper, totally unfazed by his error, saved the strike and moved on without any jitters or other blunders. Like a veteran… except he’s 16 and this was his sixth Serie A match. The game would have another big blunder in the 87th, when Poli conceded a really stupid foul in the box, giving Sampdoria a penalty and claiming our clean sheet. But the awesomeness more than compensated for the blunders, so we took all three points.
|Great job, Jack|
The opening goal was actually Bonaventura’s, assisted by Niang in the 16th to make it 1-0 Milan. I have previously said that I like Bonaventura in the midfield proper, but in this formation, he was simply amazing. As was his counterpart on the right, Cerci. Yes, you read that right, Cerci had a fantastic game. He ran so much in the first 30 minutes, even denying Mesbah in the 14th, having run all the way back. Poor Mesbah. And while he burned out a bit and let Niang play wider and do more of the running later in the match, he put in a lot of great crosses, had a couple of decent shots, and even got an assist at the end for all of his efforts.
In the 37th, De Silvestri would contribute to history by pulling Bonaventura down in the box to give Milan a penalty. That penalty would be taken by the incredible Niang, his first ever Serie A goal for Milan. 2-0 Milan. A few minutes later, Romagnoli would make a huge clearance in the 45th, but just like his young teammate Donnarumma, he looked as casual as could be about it. I remember thinking “When was the last time that we went into the half up 2-0 and looking very, very comfortable?” While much of that was Sampdoria playing so very poorly, I was still so excited for the second half.
I had every right to be excited, too. After Niang’s backheel attempt was somewhow foiled by Viviano in the 49th, Niang came back not even one minute later and shot straight in the center with power Viviano simply could not stop. 3-0 Milan. It’s weird how when you play players in their proper position, they play better. Huh. Niang is a center forward, not a winger, and just look at what he did today from that position. (Although I’m sure Berlusconi would have something to say about him not staying in the box and such. But he didn’t even bother to attend this match, did he?)
Niang was subbed off in the 74th for Luiz Adriano, to a hero’s ovation. But Adriano wanted a little of that action, too, so in the 79th, he chested a cross from Cerci, controlled, it and shot it to make it 4-0 Milan. Brilliant. Who knew the timid Milan that went to Juventus stadium last week could play like this? 23 shots with ten on target. Viviano had a very bad night. But Poli’s silly foul not eight minutes after that fourth goal would dampen the high when Eder converted the penalty to make the final score 4-1 Milan. Bummer. We still shoot ourselves in the foot when it comes to keeping a clean sheet, even at our best.
|Scoring horizontally? Not a problem|
Since Mihajlovic started, he’s said he wants to play more attacking football. And the 4-4-2 with this group really helps make that happen. At least it did with Sampdoria, who didn’t do much to trouble us. It will be interesting to test the system on a team that has some bite. But it is a system that complements the traits of the players we have available. Kuco was a bit of a weak link today, but Poli was even weaker. The system takes some of the pressure off of Montolivo, which really helped reduce the number of long balls and also the number of times he is dispossessed, so good on both counts. Basically, if Cerci and Montolivo can look good in the system, you know it is working for us. There is some discussion about Bacca, as he did more providing and less shooting, but for sure for the first 40 minutes or so, he and Niang looked better together up front than anyone else we’ve seen this season, and I think the goals will come for him again in this system, too.
|Told you so.|
I don’t want to get carried away. Again, Sampdoria were woefully poor. But Milan did play well, not just in contrast. We actually did play really well as a team. But funny how Mihajlovic midweek was discouraging people from using phrases like “turned a corner” and is now saying that we could “beat anyone” if we play like we did today. That might be a little too much celebratory drinking speaking. It is definitely our best system so far, especially for the starting 11 he’s chosen. And we should win a lot more games and score a lot more goals if we play like that, too. But to “beat anyone,” we need to rid ourselves of the dumb errors, and have a starting eleven who are all match fit for 90 minutes, amongst other things. And we need to have more depth on the bench, players who can fit into this system interchangeably so we don’t lose games on substitutions. So while we can’t let one good game go to our heads, I think that for all of the grief Mihajlovic has received about his 4-4-2 talk from Berlusconi and others, for today he can definitely say “Told you so.”
This post inspired by the music of AC/DC’s “Back in Black”
Our next match is
Coppa Italia Fourth Round
Milan vs. Crotone
Tuesday, December 1 • 21:00 CET (3pm EST)