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Napoli 1, Milan 1: Don’t Mess With Milan

Napoli got a little surprise today, as this was not the Milan they met back in October. No, this Milan had something new… what is it called? Oh yeah, a spine. And a whole lotta grinta. And while a win would have obviously been ideal, Milan fans worldwide are celebrating this draw as if it was a win. Because for us, it was. In terms of performance, holding out for 90 minutes, coming back to equalize after going down a goal, and defenders who did that thing… what is it called? Oh yeah, defend. Even wearing those hideous third kits. This was not at all like the Milan who was lucky to escape the pummeling at the San Siro from this same Napoli team with a 4-0 scoreline. No, today Napoli learned that you don’t mess with Milan… at least not anymore.

Drawing blood at the San Paolo

This match got real. I know, because I have lots and lots of notes from it. Lots. Over the past couple of years, simply jotting down cards, subs, and goals seems to have been all there was that was noteworthy. But tonight, I got writer’s cramp. And the number one note that was repeated over and over again? Zapata clearance. That’s right, the Zapata we all knew existed somewhere inside showed up big... and almost error free. No, he showed up massively tonight. And his timing was perfect, with Romagnoli on the bench due to fitness concerns, we needed someone to step up. And Alex was great, too, one of his best performances this year. As was Abate, whom @WhoScored dubbed man of the match, and Antonelli did well, too. How long has it been since our entire defense has been so solid in a match? And these are the same players who we have had all season, too. It was a thing of beauty to watch. Well except that they were wearing those disgusting kits.

Some might bemoan the lack of chances we took as a step backward, with only seven shots and only two of those on target. But I credit that more to Napoli for dominating possession at 66% and for things like sending at least two defenders to mark Bacca every time he touched the ball. While our aim is to play attacking football, every opponent creates challenges to that philosophy. Like Napoli taking 19 shots, for example, despite being blinded by those kits. Maybe we weren’t able to impose our game on them, but we didn’t let them impose their game on us, either. And from such a strong team, that is amazing.

Catch me if you can

When so many Milan players stepped it up to have excellent performances, it can be difficult to choose a man of the match. Not only were our defenders amazing, but Bonaventura was simply incredible in addition to the goal, for example. But I feel like it would be taking for granted the incredible gift we’ve been given to name anyone besides Donnarumma. The kid singularly kept us in the game… again, despite an amazing performance by the defense, including point blank saves like the shot from Koulibaly in the 60th. Did he concede a goal? Yes, actually. But having watched the replays over and over from every angle, Insigne’s 39th minute shot actually deflected off of Abate’s leg, the ball changed direction. I really don’t know of a keeper who could have stopped it.

Meanwhile, instead of the old Milan side that would have been deflated after conceding, Milan fought back. Immediately. Within five minutes, Bonaventura took a cross from Honda (that was actually assisted by Koulibaly), and found the back of the net to equalize, 1-1. But that wasn’t even the victory for this match, it was the fact that we performed well… maybe even better… in the second half, and not only held out, but kept taking chances when we could. It was almost as if they felt if they played well enough, maybe they wouldn't have to wear those awful kits anymore. And the strength and unity of this squad looked very frustrating to the Napoli side, especially to Sarri, apparently, as he was sent off in the 73rd. However the strength was a most welcome sight to Milan fans, and Mihajlovic looked just about as happy as he might have with a win.

Behold, Napoli fans... the goal stole 2 points from you, but the kit stole your soul (and your eyesight)

Speaking of fans, I have to address the fact that Napoli fans were reportedly outside of the hotel where Milan fans were staying all night last night. They were singing, chanting, blowing horns, and generally making a lot of noise in an effort to prevent the Milan squad from sleeping. Specifically, they had the audacity to sing anti-Balotelli chants. This about two weeks after their own player, Koulibaly was racially abused, and they took great offense to. It’s okay for them to abuse Balotelli, because his own club president admits he’s had too much sun for an Italian. But it’s not okay to abuse Koulibaly, because, you know, he’s French Senegalese. It’s also not okay for other clubs to sing chants about Napoli, because they whined enough over the years and got the FIGC to protect them under the auspices of “Territorial Discrimination.” But Napoli fans can clearly say or do whatever they want about any other teams or cities or players they want, because, you know… wait… I don’t know why. Why is it that one set of fans has a completely different set of rules?

Well the moral victory may still be out of reach, but the draw today was like a victory for Milan. The momentum that has been building is transforming into an actual style of play, a strength of character, and a sense of team that is finally unyielding. Every game there are improvements now, instead of the roller coaster ride of levels of performance we have been subjected to all year and also in recent years. We are unbeaten in eight matches, something that was merely a dream at the beginning of the season. And if we can pull off wins against Torino and Alessandria at home, I might just be able to break out the word c-o-n-s-i-s-t-e-n-c-y again. That’s something I haven’t been able to do in way too long. But for tonight, I expect that the Napoli squad and fans aren’t sleeping so well, after having been had to watch those terrible kits for 90 minutes. And also having been taught a lesson on the pitch today that they probably didn’t enjoy: Don’t mess with Milan.

This match inspired by the music of Black Flag

Our next match is
Milan vs. Torino
Saturday, February 27 • 20:45 CET (2:45pm EST)