The scoreline does not do this game justice. Milan never really dominated, they only escaped their own doom because of substitutions, and still needed added extra time to come out on top. Crotone, on the other hand, were truly like sharks… first they showed interest, and when they smelled blood, they struck… again and again, fearlessly. In a game that they were serious underdogs, they showed Milan’s every weakness and forced Mihajlovic to sub on three starters and Milan still needed thirty extra minutes to earn a score that does not give i Squali (the Sharks) enough credit. Or show Milan’s bench players for what they are: sharkbait.
|More relief than celebration|
The original callups featured exactly zero starting midfielders, which was immediately alarming. Our starting midfield is enough to raise the hair on fans’ necks, but looking at the combination of inexperienced youth and players who were benched for a reason, it was not a surprise that Milan struggled. The first half was a combination of Milan actually taking somewhat rash shot attempts, but also giving up way too many shots to the Serie B side. And for the record, Abbiati should definitely be our third string keeper. After one particular shot from the sharks in the 20th, I appreciated our young phenom even more. The most noteworthy event of the first 45 minutes was when Budimir was subbed on for Palladino, as Budimir was the one with the deadly strike later in the match. The entire first half was kind of tense, and it seemed like Milan was just one error away from conceding.
The second half started with a bang, as Poli, who brought his worst game, somehow managed to earn himself an assist. That’s right, his foot touched the ball, the ball went forward, and Adriano, undoubtedly equally surprised at this turn of events, had no choice but to score the goal so Poli could get his assist. 1-0 Milan. So this was like every other bad version of Milan we’ve seen in the past three years, as with only Mauri playing in midfield (with Poli and Nocerino being serious liabilities,) not only could we not hold the ball, but we got tired/lazy/reckless/all of these things and worse. In the 54th, the bearded shark, Martella, gave a big scare with a shot that went just over the crossbar. Nocerino answered that with an attempted bicycle kick in the 59th, but that is more likely to make a blooper reel than the highlights.
|As usual, Adriano worked hard, this time he finally got the goal after the half|
Mauri got the first card of the game, a yellow in the 65th, perhaps because he was the only one who cared by this point. Which was even more obvious when the previously mentioned Budimir equalized for Crotone in the 67th. 1-1. Realizing that these sharks, who had been smelling blood for some time now, could actually bite, Mihajlovic made two important changes in the 70th. He took off Suso, who had actually been playing reasonably well, for Niang, and also took off the marked down €500.000 man, Nocerino, to bring on Bonaventura in his place.
How Zapata did not see red for taking down Budimir in the box in the 80th I call “the miracle of streaming,” because at such a low-res, buffered image, it seems to me that Fabbri may need to see an optometrist sooner rather than later. Or he hates sharks. Zapata was full of errors, but still shone compared to the performances of Poli and Nocerino. And why Honda, a trequartista, was playing on the left was beyond me, but it certainly did not enhance his performance. Twenty minutes of two starters being on the pitch wasn’t enough to resurrect this shipwreck, though, so the game went into added extra time.
Mihajlovic waited until the 99th to pull off Mauri, who had arguably been our best midfielder, even if he faded a bit, and bring on Montolivo, who, along with Bonaventura, were late additions to the callups. That seemed to turn the tables enough, as Adriano was fouled in the 105th minute, earning a free kick. Bonaventura took the free kick beautifully, and scored, making it 2-1. That also was like a sucker punch to Crotone, who had the early sub and this goal seemed to take what was left of the wind out of them. It got ugly, there were fouls and cards, and then in the 115th, Niang sealed the deal, with the assist by Montolivo. 3-1 Milan. That was Niang’s third goal in about 48 hours, and it was ironically assisted by the man who came on and played more of a Fairy Godmother role for about twenty minutes. But it was a collective sigh of relief from Milan fans to not be humiliated by the result as much as the performance.
Why were Milan so poor after such a dominant performance on Sunday vs. Sampdoria? Because a fear of sharks is definitely not the reason. And while Mihajlovic going back to the 4-3-3 after such success with the 4-4-2 may have impacted the poor performance, the real reason is that Milan’s bench are simply sharkbait. It’s not enough that we cringe at the quality of some of our starting 11. We talked about it after the friendlies this summer: there is a massive chasm between the level of talent in our first team and our bench players. It’s not just that they don’t get playing time, because Mihajlovic has tried hard to use them when he can. It’s just that individually, there may be some real potential, like with youngsters Calabria, Mauri, and Suso. But collectively, I’m not sure they could win a game if there were literally sharks on the pitch.
|"Now guys, this team is from Serie B. B is not for "bench players," unless you want me to talk to Galliani for you"|
We scraped by, playing the extra time and producing a very respectable scoreline. But as well as Crotone played, we should have dominated them and sealed the game in the first half. At least that’s what our bench should be able to do. Which means that we are an injury or two away from disaster in the league. Imagine if enough midfielders are injured that we have to start Poli and Nocerino every match? Can you imagine what that would do to our results? Between those two and Zapata today, we were lucky to finish on 11 men and only concede the one goal. The midfield especially is worrisome, and we’ve seen other teams smell that blood and circle waiting to attack, too. And that’s just our first team midfield. Imagine how much worse off we’d be on the table if we had to rely on our bench? As it was an injury to Niang in a friendly left us short attackers for too long, plus Balotelli’s injury, too. It is a complete nightmare, and one that Galliani is unlikely to address anytime soon, seeing as how he’s left it for over four years now.
So other than having to watch the match on a stream that kept buffering and freezing, a performance that was unnecessarily nailbiting and brought with it the realization of how much more we suck than what we see every week, Milan are through and will again face Sampdoria, this time in the next round of the Coppa Italia in just two weeks. I just hope that Samp perform as poorly as they did on Sunday and that we play as well as we did, because otherwise, we’ll end up as sharkbait for them, too.
This post inspired by the music of Ludo’s “Love Me Dead”
Our next match is
Carpi vs. Milan
Sunday, December 6 • 20:45 CET (2:45pm EST)