Sure, Milan are in the Coppa Italia final, and they earned their ticket convincingly. And while the first leg of the semifinal was poor at best, they made sure to compensate and play like lions yesterday. But with all of the self-congratulations happening for ourselves, I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge our opponents. They are a Lega Pro side who made it all the way to the semifinal, something that no other Lega Pro team had done in 30 years. Despite an insurmountable deficit yesterday, they fought to the end and played with so much heart, it was inspiring. The little team that could in the grey kits brought 13,000 fans with them to the San Siro, fans who kept cheering for them for 90 minutes. That’s 13,000 fans from a town of 90,000 people. The total San Siro attendance was only 28,000 in a city of 1.3 million. Amazing. So while we are excited to play in our first Coppa Italia Final since 2003, let’s not forget to honor a worthy opponent, Alessandria. Because grey matters.
|Amazing fans, Alessandria. Hope Milan fans can learn something from you.|
Also in attendance was Milan legend Gianni Rivera. His heart was split on this matchup, as he hails from Alessandria, and only ever played for these two clubs. He also, ironically, helped lift the Coppa Italia for Milan the last time Milan won six straight Coppa Italia matches in a single season, which they have done again now for the first time since 1966-67. At least for him, whomever won, he had to be happy for them. Certainly, despite his hometown club finally crashing out, he had to be proud to be from Alessandria for their Cinderella run all the way to the semifinals.
Alessandria never gave up from kickoff to the final whistle, and they troubled our defense and Abbiati over and over. In fact, for a while there, I thought our defense forgot that Donnarumma was not behind them. But Mihajlovic wisely started a strong back four of De Sciglio, Zapata, Romagnoli, and Antonelli, who did well enough to contain most of the threats. Not missed at all was Montolivo, struggling with fitness. Kucka had an amazing first half, then was subbed off for Mauri who did well, too. And while I am not sure if that midfield would fare so well in a league match, they did enough to help keep the clean sheet.
|Is this a double-double?|
The forwards were the focus for most fans, of course, with Mihajlovic saying that neither Balotelli nor Menez were fit, the former was given 90 minutes and the latter 76 minutes to prove their worth. While Balotelli’s performance will be overly scrutinized as anything with his name on it is, he definitely was not the beast we’ve seen before. However in his defense, he was literally the last Milan player back at least once, standing next to Abbiati, and he did manage to get on the scoresheet, on the run of play, even. Menez started out quite shy, not the beast we knew, either, but he seemed to maximize opportunities with bursts of activity and speed, and thus got two on the scoreboard on the night. What a comeback for a player who hasn’t started for Milan in like a year or something. He had to be thrilled with his performance.
Menez’ first goal was in the 20th, and many thought he was offside. But the replay I saw shows that the referee got it just right, actually, 1-0 Milan. Just four minutes later, Romagnoli scored his first ever Milan goal from a Honda corner. Zapata was there, too, and it almost seemed as if, in a split second, he kindly offered Romagnoli the opportunity, then was the first to congratulate his young center back partner. 2-0 Milan. Menez scored again in the 39th, making it look easy, from a Poli assist. 3-0 Milan. The fourth goal came in the 80th, and was credited to Romagnoli, however some sources are saying that it was a Sabato own goal. Still, 4-0 Milan. And finally, in the 89th, minutes after Bacca had just made a very out of the ordinary miss on a similar play, Balotelli got on the scoreboard in the 89th to make it 5-0 Milan.
|Only a shadow of the beast we've seen before, but still got on the scoreboard|
With Balotelli’s penalty from the first leg, that’s 6-0 on aggregate for Milan to put them into the final in May. But what I loved about this match was not just the scoreline. The ease and success of Milan’s passing from just the first leg until this one has improved so much. The growth we’ve seen coming week after week in the league was punctuated by the difference in play from the first leg to this one, specifically with the bench players. Before, when the starters had played well, there was a significant dropoff when Mihajlovic used so many bench players, and now it is dramatically less different. This will be one of the most important things going into the rest of the season, especially with Niang out and other injuries possible from our starting eleven.
I also hope that Alessandria feel the respect of a 5-0 scoreline. While to some it may seem the opposite, for me, it shows that we did not play our worst players or try to “give them a chance” by playing down to their level. No, we played like a Serie A side, and invited them to join us. And they had a number of chances to tarnish our clean sheet, certainly they fought to make their mark. But I have so much respect for how they played and also for their amazing fans. So despite sending them home and being happy to have been gifted an easier road to the cup final ourselves, I am also in awe of the Lega Pro side in the grey kits with the heart of a lion. Well done, Alessandria, you deserve your moments in the sun. Grey matters.
This post inspired by the music of Oingo Boingo’s “Grey Matter”
Our next match is
Sassuolo vs. Milan
Sunday, March 6 • 15:00 CET (9am EST)