People say that a coach is measured by results. But this season, Mihajlovic has been measured by his bench. For the first half of the season, any time he had to go to his bench for any reason, whatever the starters were doing was nullified by the bench players. For the second half of the season, it has gradually gotten better. But today’s match showed that our bench may not be weighing us down as much anymore. With two bench players starting ahead of two typical key starters, we held off a tough Torino attack and got the win, even if it wasn’t pretty. No bull.
|Celebrations included the hero's kiss to the sky, a sweet dedication for a necessary goal|
Earlier this season, without our “playmaker,” Montolivo, and our most capped center back, Romagnoli, we could have easily collapsed, conceded goals, and generally given up three points. And as much as so many people hate Montolivo, his losing balls, strolling around, and passing to the opposing team is how our team is used to playing now. They are also used to having Romagnoli behind him to cleanup as much of his mess as possible. Instead, today we had Bertolacci, whom the jury is still deliberating on, though I think most people agree we overpaid for him. But he was under a lot of pressure to do all of those things Montolivo does that are really unlike anyone else playing that position. And instead, he tried to actually play football, so that made it difficult for everyone. Zapata, however, deputizing for Romagnoli for the second match in a row, did not disappoint. In fact, he was key in keeping Torino off of the board, and clearly had taken his concentration meds for the second game in a row.
Torino came out like a bull from a bull pen, and Milan had to respond in kind. Especially Zapata and Donnarumma, who should share whatever spoils come from a clean sheet. In the 27th, Honda took a beautiful free kick that hit the cross bar, such a shame. Honda had another great match all the way through. My favorite moment may have been when, in the 34th, Glik came sliding toward him, and he just jumped over him and kept on dribbling. Brilliant. Then there was a sweet backheel from Bertolacci a minute later that led to a great shot from Bonaventura, but unfortunately also a great save from Padelli. Things were building, we were creating a lot of chances but I wasn’t comfortable thinking we’d score anytime soon.
|You'd think Glik had never seen a ninja before|
Then in the 42nd, there was a string of events that seemingly set things in motion. Kuco taking the ball in the middle of the field, taking out a defender in the process, then getting fouled by Glik, who got the yellow card in addition to giving up a free kick, which Honda took, but was deflected by the wall. Kuco got to the rebound, though, but another deflection sent it over. On the ensuing corner kick, Kuco headed it, but it was Antonelli who was able to send it in past Padelli for the goal. 1-0 Milan. And if that didn’t make you cry (tears of joy,) then Antonelli dedicating it to his uncle, who passed away last week should.
After such a tough first half, albeit incredibly encouraging the way we increasingly attacked and stopped allowing as many chances for Torino, it was difficult to imagine how we’d play in the second half. But I was pleased that the intensity remained, even if it still wasn’t the prettiest football. Milan would take 19 shots, with only three on target, so clinical wasn’t the name of this game for sure. But consider Bacca’s header in the 61st that was called back for offside, and you’ll know that they were definitely at least fighting. Even Abate, wearing the armband tonight, emulated Montolivo with a shot from distance in the 64th, although his shot may have actually gone in, had it not been deflected.
|Sorry, Immobile, that you couldn't even score on a child|
The comedy moment was in the 68th, when Niang took the “ride the bull” phrase literally, with Moretti having fallen down, Niang tried to step over him for some reason, and Moretti grabbed him and wouldn’t let him go, giving the appearance of riding him. And the next minute, Abate, again emulating the holder of the armband, got a yellow card for a tough foul, and will be suspended vs. Sassuolo for card accumulation. So after Niang’s bull riding incident, Mihajlovic pulled him off in the 69th, replacing him with Boateng. Or as @Kriskor pointed out, “we went down to 10 men.” Although I know Boateng was on the pitch, because in addition to his embarrassingly horrible performance, he earned himself a yellow in the 80th.
Not even our old friend Maxi Lopez could hurt us, though. Certainly Immobile sure tried for all 90 minutes. But what he didn’t know was that while he was on a break from Torino, Milan promoted this wonderkid named Donnarumma as their first string keeper. You know the one who just turned 17? Yeah, Immobile, they don’t make them like that in Germany or Spain. Or anywhere else, really. So sorry to keep your incredible shots out of our net, but it’s just what he does. And he did it incredibly again today. Grazie, Ragazzo. The whole team had to be encouraged by most of the Curva’s banners, the most prominent one which read, "With blood and sweat we're regaining our love. Strength always, guys!!" See, even the Curva have gone from miserable failures to approaching actual fanhood again.
|Everyone is falling head over heels in love with Milan again|
This won’t be a game where people talk about the amazing tactics or supreme skills or breathtaking action. But it should be a game where fans realized that Milan are actually waking up from their horrible nightmares of recent years. Not just the starters, but some of the bench players, too. We played hard for 90 minutes, we kept it together, did not bow down to individual errors costing us anything, and we got the three points. At home, in front of whatever fans have started to return to the stadium. And even though it was virtually written in the stars, as Torino haven’t beaten Milan at the San Siro since 1985, Milan stopped shooting ourselves in the foot, and not even Boateng could derail this one. It was all work, no bull.
This post inspired by the music of the Kings of Leon “Mechanical Bull” album
Our next match is
Coppa Italia Semifinal Second Leg
Milan vs. Alessandria
Tuesday, March 1 • 21:00 CET (3pm EST)