Just like the children’s story where the littlest engine was the hero, Lega Pro side Alessandria have done what the bigger Serie A sides Palermo, Genoa, and even Roma couldn’t: get to the Coppa Italia semifinals. And I have to guess that Alessandria fans are just like the children on the other side of the mountain when the train brought their toys. For them, this is more than they could have hoped. Yet Milan’s inconsistency has got to have them dreaming even bigger now, and who could blame them? They are the little team that could.
|Everything to gain and nothing to lose|
This first leg will be played in Torino at the Stadio Olimpico, as Alessandria’s stadium only holds about 5,000. In fact, to put this match into perspective, you could almost fit Alessandria’s entire population in the San Siro. But that doesn’t mean we can count on a victory. In football, anything can happen in 90 minutes. Or even in 180 minutes, since they will be coming to San Siro in early March for the return leg of this semifinal. If we could pull off a convincing win tomorrow, it would certainly ease our minds. But I would never count this team out, as they are the first Lega Pro team to reach the Coppa Italia semifinals since Bari did it in 1984.
Alessandria currently sit in second place in Lega Pro. Their league record coming into our match is D-D-L-W-W. But in the Coppa Italia, they beat Altovicentino, Pro Vercelli, Juve Stabia, Palermo, and finally Genoa to earn a matchup with us. Maybe they got a little lucky to have not faced bigger teams up until now, but they did knock out two Serie A teams. (And Milan have been even luckier with our path to the semifinals.)
|Gregucci literally flying high after the win vs. Genoa|
They are coming off of a 1-0 win vs. Cuneo on Saturday. For that match, coach Gregucci lined up Nordi, Manfrin, Sirri, Sosa, Morero, Mezavilla, Nicco, Loviso, Marconi, Fischnaller, and Boniperti. Yes, that’s right, they have a defender called Sirri. Which leaves the door wide open for jokes like this one:
#Alessandria have a defender named Sirri - presumably you have to speak slowly to him, and he doesn't understand accents... #CoppaItalia— footballitalia (@footballitalia) January 18, 2016
Milan, on the other hand, knocked out Perugia, Crotone, and Sampdoria to get to the semifinals, which must truly be one of the easiest paths to the semifinals this year. However, we didn’t always play that convincingly, simply got the job done. Which is more than I can say for most of our league performances. Saturday’s less convincing draw against Empoli being one case in point. However, in the grand scheme of things, it was just a step backward from the more convincing win vs. Fiorentina the week before. Milan are still playing better than last year, or even earlier in the season.
|"I've pulled some of you out of storage, but I need you to play like you're a starter"|
The real question is which team will Mihajlovic field tomorrow? Traditionally, the Coppa Italia is a chance for some of the bench players to get some time, especially the backup keeper. And it would make sense to do that this time, considering we just played on Saturday and have the Derby coming up on Sunday. However this is also a game that Mihajlovic needs to win, as winning the final would give us an automatic Europa League spot. Then there is Alex, who went off injured at Empoli, and Honda, who was subbed off after a head wound. Ely, Mexes, Lopez, and Menez are all still listed as injured, with Mexes ruled most likely to return soon on that list.
Whomever Mihajlovic lines up, the most important starter will be a positive mentality. This team has shown what it is capable of doing a few times, but the rest of the time, they left all or most of their mentality behind. And it’s going to take a lot of mentality to beat a team with everything to gain and nothing to lose. I have so much respect for Alessandria, but my team desperately need this win. They may be the little team that could, but tomorrow I really hope they can’t.
This post inspired by the music of Frou Frou’s “Holding Out for a Hero”
Coppa Italia Semifinals First Leg
Alessandria vs. Milan
Tuesday, January 26 • 21:00 CET (3pm EST)
This match is not being televised LIVE in the U.S.