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Sampdoria 2, Milan 0: Frustration

We knew it wouldn’t be easy. Playing at the Marassi. Playing at lunchtime. And playing a reasonably impressive Sampdoria to date. But I don’t know if anyone expected it to be this difficult for Milan. Sampdoria shut us down in ways that we didn’t know we could be shut down before. And Zapata finally got to assist his cousin, even if he was on the other team. When the final whistle blew, it was all about frustration.


The players were nervous when they came out on to the pitch. If you don’t believe me, go back and watch. The Marassi has powers that are not explainable. Our Zapata was whistled for a handball in the area in the third minute and a penalty was awarded. But Valeri listened to his assistants and used VAR to review the play and reversed the decision. Zapata also made an incredible save on his cousin Duvan in the 37th, stopping a ball that actually went past Donnarumma. So far, it seemed that luck was on his side.

But luck was not on Milan’s side. Sampdoria pressed harder than a millstone in an oil mill. I felt the pressure sitting in bed here in California. But even still, even when Sampdoria schooled Milan players again and again by stripping them of possession, their actual scoring opportunities were limited to maybe two or three, such as the other Zapata’s header in the 13th. If you are truly the optimist I am always told that I must be, then you would see that at least Milan shut them down despite all of Sampdoria’s possession in the first half.

Two Zapatas too many

Also encouraging was the way that players like Bonucci and Bonaventura fought for every ball and exemplified the mentality and grinta the rest of the team needed. Most encouraging was after having had so many terrible second half lapses in previous games, the team came out with more heart and determination in the second half than the first half. Unfortunately, playing Milan’s game was a weakness, not a strength.

I have criticized Montella’s obsession with the 3-5-2 repeatedly, and while we won a couple of games with it against weaker sides, when we were tested against a Serie A side from the top ten, its weaknesses were exposed. The three man backline was tested repeatedly because the midfield was nullified. While Milan tried to maintain possession (54% for the match) and attack more, they only got one shot on goal, six shots in all. Montella’s theory simplified is that the best defense is a great offense, only his offense isn’t that great just yet.

"You see, there's this thing called the ball. It's about this big...  you should get it."

It’s not so simple as just tactics or even the lineups or the very late subs that had little to no impact. But Montella will be criticized for all of those things and more because we failed. For example, Giampaolo’s substitutions were even later, but no one cares because Sampdoria won.

Speaking of winning, let’s go back to our dear Cristian Zapata. The football gods were shining favorably on him until the 72nd minute, when he passed the ball straight to cousin Duvan, who said “Thanks, Cuz,” and put it into the back of the net. 1-0 Sampdoria. The gods of football turned their back on Cristian and said “You’re on your own.” Despite Sampdoria losing a lot of steam in the second half and giving up more possession, they did what Milan couldn’t: capitalize on an error and put the ball in the back of the net. Oh, and Gigio got himself booked for dissent after that goal. My guess is that he was asking Valeri to whistle for nepotism, and Valeri wasn’t having any of it.

He fought for the ball when others gave up

Even at 3:30am, I still had some hope that Milan would break through, despite no evidence whatsoever to the contrary. At least, I thought, a 1-0 loss wasn’t too bad. But then Giampaolo made a change, taking off Praet in the 90th +1 for ex-Inter Ricky Alvarez. And in that same minute, Alvarez broke through and doubled the score, 2-0. Why do I wake up for these matches again?

Montella’s subs would have been decent if they were 20 minutes earlier or something. Cutrone came on for Bonaventura and Calhanoglu came on for Suso in the 78th. But after that, he apparently just gave up, bringing on Borini for Abate in the 82nd. No surprise then, that Bonucci would be booked for dissent just one minute later. I mean I get why Valeri wouldn’t care that our coach considered Borini a sub or even a player, but Bonucci needs to be careful with those cards.
Montella counting the excuses for his late and not impactful subs

Now then, to the quickly growing #MontellaOut contingency… I have criticized him, but I wouldn’t sack him. At least not yet. Fassone’s criticisms of the team were all about numbers and facts on paper. Only football isn’t played on paper. It’s played on the pitch. There is no data for the grinta and teamwork Sampdoria showed today, nor is there a calculation that shows why Milan didn’t show up today. Well other than being a new team, playing every three to four days, and using a tactical system that they’ve played what ten days now? Fassone says there are no excuses. But he’s a numbers man.

I am not about numbers at all. I watch football. I’m a fan. And, to show my age, I remember when fans supported their teams through tough times and didn’t give up on a coach, a player, or their team because of 90 poor minutes, or someone else’s 140 character synopsis of what happened on the pitch. To shed some perspective on Milan right now, both on paper and on the pitch, this team is trying to do something virtually unprecedented, at least in Serie A. And that is dig themselves out of a five plus year hole of backwards progress and introduce all new ownership and management, while at the same time assimilating eleven new players. Oh, and while we’re at it, why don’t we just finish top four? If Fassone is a numbers man, why doesn’t he look at how many times that has been done before? I can tell you pretty confidently that it is zero.

Sometimes football isn't won on paper
We were away to the Marassi. A comparably rested Samp side who have played together longer and have consistent (albeit crazy) ownership took advantage of the situation. Sometimes football can’t be broken down to mere tactics or numbers. Sometimes, the human side and the emotional part of the game makes numbers irrelevant. But that doesn’t mean we sack Montella for 90 poor minutes. That would be like amputating your arm for a bug bite. Maybe down the road if it gets really infected, you’ll have to. But for now, it would be ridiculous to overreact and have to start all over just because of a little frustration.

This post inspired by the music of Morrissey’s “Spent the Day in Bed”

Our next match is
Europa League Group Stage
AC Milan vs. HNK Rijeka
Thursday, September 28 • 21:05 CEST (3:05pm EDT)