Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Friendly Fumbles


Let me preface this with the fact that I know we have only played two preseason friendlies, and that they literally don’t matter at all. Except maybe to fans. Friendlies are an opportunity to try new things, play some players that you might not otherwise give playing time to. They are not to be taken seriously, or as any indication of how the season will go. Still, one has to wonder if Montella hasn’t already made some friendly fumbles.

Are the poor performances in friendlies justifiable? Or should Montella be worried?

We saw last year how it took a while for the team to understand how Montella wanted them to play. But so far, this year in both friendlies, one gets the impression that no one has any idea what is wanted of them. Despite the 4-0 win against Swiss side Lugano, the team played quite poorly throughout. And the fact that the eleven that had more returning players actually played a little better in that match shows that even with the level of quality coming in, it’s going to take a while for them to find their groove.

Borussia Dortmund’s 3-1 win over Milan today was a more appropriate score. Most of the way through the first half, Dortmund had 86% possession. That means Milan had 14% possession. After Montella coming in last year raving about possession, then conceding it wasn’t so important after all, only 14% possession is an epic fail. Particularly when you consider that Dortmund handicapped themselves with the legendary ex-Milan defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos. What the score doesn’t show is that by changing two key players, bringing in Calhanoglu and Musacchio (and probably a “pep” talk at halftime influenced play significantly and both possession and playing style improved. That both second halves were much better than the first halves is at least comforting.

Poised and well spoken, but are they in over their heads?

Lots of options for a coach playing a preseason friendly:
• give playing time to bench players or those who may be sold
• experiment with formations, pairings, lineups, etc.
• ease new players into the squad
• allow players to play, but not so much that they get injured
• prepare the team for the Europa League matches

Looking at that list, it’s easy to see why these friendlies don’t matter. However, there is also the marketing standpoint:
• Milan just bought 10 new players, need to play well
• The owner is Chinese, the team are playing in China, need to play well
• Because of both of the above, the world is watching Milan, need to play well
• We need every cent of revenue we can manage, including sponsors, need to play well
• Against Dortmund, we were courting Aubameyang, and such a poor performance could not have been convincing.

"Don't bite the hand that feeds you"

From that standpoint, it might have been better if Montella had lined up a more competitive starting eleven. At least for one half. I know our new captain, Conti, Silva, and Biglia had not arrived yet. And we were desperately missing our former captain, Montolivo, to a “sprained ankle.” (I just like saying “former captain.”) But still, fans who wait years for Milan to play near them can’t have been thrilled with these performances. And Montella's response was not only to express concern about the upcoming Europa League matches, but to talk about changing formations. Which would mean these first two friendlies were a virtual waste of time.

It begs the question: is Montella in over his head?  Or has he got this? Once the Bonucci deal was agreed upon, the media, fans, and the footballing world in general switched their gaze to Montella. Like the eye of Sauron, he became the subject of scrutiny. After the coaching merry-go-round at Milan, Montella was largely given a break last year, due to the lack of reinforcements he received. But now, they are not going to go so easy on him. It’s a situation where he’s damned if he does and he’s damned if he doesn’t. Either he’ll prove himself a genius down the line, or he’ll be lambasted from the start for his friendly fumbles.


This post inspired by the music of Andrea Bocelli


Our next match is
The ICC Tournament
Bayern Munich vs. AC Milan
Saturday, July 22 • 5:30am EDT

-->