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Milan 0, Benfica 1: Evolution



Evolution isn’t always easy. Or comfortable. It takes time and patience to evolve, and watching a summer friendly is also not the best indication of how a team will evolve, either. But while everyone acknowledges an overall improvement in playing style in the few short weeks Giampaolo has been with the team, there is still so much work to be done. The mentality of not scoring goals is a powerful one, and will take more than a few weeks to change. So even if this result doesn’t represent the match we saw, there were at least more signs of evolution.

Maybe Milanello could score one for us, he seems to have a positive mentality

There was no shame in losing to Bayern, they are the giants of the Bundesliga, which is generally counted amongst the top four leagues in Europe. Benfica have also dominated the Portuguese league, but it isn’t even in the top five European leagues, so we had a decent chance at this one. Or at least we took a lot of chances. If the game were won on chances, we would have taken this one. Against a weaker team than last week, Milan looked better.

But better is not good enough. You have to score to win. And even though technically, Milan did that, too, Benfica won the game. The goal was a shot from our old pal Taarabt, who had been trying to make things difficult for us the entire game. Biglia’s leg was feeling generous, I guess, and the ball defected into the net in the 70th minute. 1-0 Benfica.

The big guy coming up big again

Certainly that made the crowd happy. Although many Milan supporters from many North American clubs represented, the stadium was largely Benfica fans. That made them very happy, for example, when Odysseas saved pretty much every single Milan shot. Or when Borini didn’t save the world, not even playing as a central midfielder. They were relieved when Piatek sent it into the side netting in the 34th, for example, or Calhanoglu’s rocket in the 17th was deflected onto the post by their keeper. They were likely equally disappointed by Gigio’s heroics, including two massive saves on Gabriel in stoppage time of the first half.

The first half was stronger from Milan, even though, just like vs. Bayern, they came out very timid and allowed Benfica to start stronger for the first 15 minutes. With some of our starters returning, Giampaolo lined up a pretty strong lineup to start, plus Borini. Which reminds me, I need to let Giampaolo know that Borini’s best position isn’t a starter, a winger, a fullback, or a mezzala. Borini’s best position is a professional diver. If an opposition player walks within a meter of him, he throws his body down on the ground and rolls around, grabbing his face. Not sure if he learned that in England, or if it’s just a natural talent, but that is what he is truly best at.

Not as manly as the last guy, but I'll take the better football

It’s clear to see that Giampaolo is changing the playing style, which is very refreshing. But changing the mentality is going to take longer, and it remains to be seen if he is even capable of doing that. Not only was Gattuso’s playing style very defensive, it was quite negative in that it produced so few goals. This seemed to be more of a mentality issue than anything else, and he was unable to fix it. Rather, it appeared that his very efforts actually made it worse. With Giampaolo’s playing style, they are starting to play the ball forward more, and indeed had a lot of chances in this match. However, finishing is 90 per cent mental, and that still seems to be missing in this team. Until we can score… in our own net… we won’t win. And winning never really matters in friendlies, but it’s disappointing that Milan are the absolute worst team in this tournament, with one game left against a more prepared team in Manchester United. There is also the mental conundrum of winning producing better mentality, but one needs to have mentality (or a bit of luck) to win.

Sucks to be Milan

This was just a friendly, sure. Milan are evolving, sure. But we did lose… again. And that takes the fun out of any match, friendly or competitive. Change is happening. It’s refreshing to watch the new system take shape. With all of our starters, there is a case to be made that we could actually win a match, maybe even a competitive one. But this was not that day, and the spoils went to Benfica, who are ironically at the very top of the table in this tournament. The deflection was unlucky, having to watch Taarabt play and then win against us was even more unlucky. But in spite of the scoreline, the overall feeling is that there is an evolution taking place.


This post inspired by the music of Imagine Dragons’ “Evolve” album


Our next match is a friendly
International Champions Cup
Manchester United vs. AC Milan
Saturday, August 3 • 5:30pm BST (12:30pm EDT)