AC Sparta Prague 0, AC Milan 1: The Bench

This match terrified me. There wasn't much to play for, although it turns out the win gave us top spot in our qualifying thanks to Lille's loss to Celtic. But the starting lineup featured no regular starters and so very much youth. I was concerned about this team giving away a loss, and about potential injuries that might leave us stranded, while several key starters were left at home, as well as a number of injuries. A loss at this point in the season could have really impacted mentality, and I was worried. I should have taken my own advice and trusted in Pioli, though. He knew these backup players were mentally prepared. His secret weapon was the bench.

Even our bench knows how to win

Sparta Prague saw the age and inexperience and came out attacking, but to my great surprise, Tatarusanu was up to the task. Not only was he up to task, he had a couple of phenomenal saves and kept a clean sheet. A far cry from the player we had seen in goal preseason and against Roma and Sparta Prague, a far cry from the goalkeeper who conceded five goals in his last two matches for the Romanian national team before retiring. I must give credit where credit is due, and I am thrilled that he had a great match.

However the real credit for this match rests on the shoulders of our new Norwegian wonder, Hauge. We thought stealing Tonali from Inter and getting an amazing payment plan was the steal of the mercato, but it turns out that paying only €5 million to Bodø/Glimt for Hauge is a deal that has already brought us an additional €.5 million just for qualifying for the Round of 32 in the Europa League.

Flying high

That is nothing compared to the incredible goals, assists, and celebrations. In the 23rd minute of this match, he did what is becoming commonplace whenever he is on the pitch, dribbled around his man, took the shot, and scored. From a Dalot assist. 1-0 Milan. While we saw at other times in the match some of his room for growth, and Pioli talked about that a little bit, too, to keep him humble, he is the name that is on the tip of everyone's lips, even if they can't all pronounce his name correctly.

The match was difficult, though. Many times, the condition of my heart was tested by errors from Milan players and solid plays by Sparta Prague players. Our starters would have handily won this, with more goals, but the opportunity that Pioli took to give the bench the spotlight and trust in them, as well as let them earn our trust, was priceless.

Dalot killed it on offense and defense

For me, other standout players were Dalot and Kalulu, with the first providing the assist and many clearances, and the second playing in his secondary position of center back. I had been curious to see him there, having read that the fullback could also play in the middle, and I was very impressed. He had a solid match and has that amazing pace that makes him exciting to watch.

Our other young players got more of an introduction into European football. Colombo tried to shake hands with Plechaty after mixing it up a bit, and Plechaty gave him the cold shoulder. Ouch. A shame that such poor sportsmanship caught up with Plechaty in the form of Karma when he was shown a straight red for a very dangerous tackle on Leao in the 77th. This also caused his captain, Heca, to also earn a yellow for disssent in trying to defend him to the ref, and left his team on ten men.

Kalulu very much impressed at CB

Daniel Maldini received a yellow card for a poor tackle in the 47th, you have to wonder if he got a lecture from his father on the way back home. Paolo Maldini was rarely ever carded. It was a great learning experience for our young players, even if we are used to seeing higher quality football, and it afforded the opportunity for some much needed rest for our starting players, as well. 

Everyone is talking about Milan having only lost one match since March, and fielding the youngest average aged squad in Europe. Now they are going to be talking about how our younger, less experienced players can also hold their own and win. They were already crying for Hauge to start regularly, and now even more so. Pioli's mentality has forged this team like steel, and now he has shown us that he has another weapon: the bench.

This post inspired by the music of U2's "Seconds"

Our next match is 
Serie A week 11
Milan vs. Parma
Sunday, December 13 • 20:45 CET (2:45 EST)

AC Sparta Prague 0, AC Milan 1: The Bench AC Sparta Prague 0, AC Milan 1: The Bench Reviewed by Elaine on 11:38 PM Rating: 5
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