Atalanta 0, Milan 2: Homecoming

It's difficult to put into words what this win means. After ten years of turmoil, three ownership changes, ten different coaches, dozens of mediocre players in and out, Milan finally finished top four. The second place league finish means Champions League qualification for the first time in seven years. For every hopeful win, every dissatisfying draw, and every mind-numbing loss over the years, Pioli and this team finally broke the curse. Milan fans' hearts have been abused and dragged through the mire by owners and management until they were barely beating. For those of us who masochistically watched every game, this feels like the most delicious freedom from all of the pain. For the club as a whole, qualifying for the Champions League is like a homecoming.


Coming home

The match was intense... well at least it was very tense. Saelemaekers took the first shot in the fourth minute, one that went just over. That was a theme for the night, with two penalties converted and only one save from Gigio Donnarumma on the night. Atalanta would take 13 shots in all, but with only the one on target, whereas Milan only had 30% possession and thus only six shots in all, including the penalties.

Mariani would end up making the calls that determined the game, which VAR would support, even if there were also calls he got wrong. The first decision was when Theo was fouled by not only one, but two Atalanta players in the box. Kessie took the penalty, cool as you like. 1-0 Milan. Despite being up a goal, my tension did not ease up. Neither did Gasperini's, who was shown a yellow in the 45th minute.


Incomparable

Cards were the theme in the second half, with Freuler earning one in the 47th for a foul on Calhanoglu. In the 54th, it looked like Gosens may have accidentally caught Saelemaekers in the place that shall not be named. Ouch. In the 61st, Atalanta players appealed for a Tomori handball in the box. Yes, it did hit his arm, but Mariani judged it to not be in violation of handball rules, so no penalty for Atalanta.

For his part, Kjaer was an impermeable force, and the main reason Gigio Donnarumma did not have to work very hard this time. The defense was very solid, which was important against such an attacking side, and remarkable that Atalanta were held to only 13 shots, really. Also, ironic that Kessie and Kjaer were our two best players, and both are ex-Atalanta players as well.


Impermeable

I was wondering who Pioli would sub on to make a difference, and first he brought on Krunic and Meite for Bennacer and Diaz. I was a little worried, but they turned out to be great subs. in the 68th, Calabria spotted Gollini off his line and fired a shot from distance, but like all of the other shots from the run of play in this match, he missed. De Roon saw yellow in the 69th for fouling Leao. Then Pioli brought on Dalot and Mandzukic for Saelemaekers and Leao. Not as impactful, but at least Mandzukic made it onto the pitch in time to get a yellow in the 82nd. 


He made all the right calls
(and happy 34th wedding anniversary to Pioli and his wife)

Tensions were building and things were heating up as time was running out. Toloi got a yellow for dissent in the 86th, and then tensions spilled over in stoppage time. Gosens conceded a penalty for a handball in the box in the 92nd. Despite being on a yellow, De Roon was shown a straight red for violent conduct. The broadcast did not show exactly what happened, but it seemed he did something to Krunic, who also got a yellow, so was probably not so innocent. Mandzukic was seen pushing De Roon in a replay, but missed out on being sent off for a second yellow as well. De Roon pushed the ref before leaving the pitch, not the brightest move.

The handball stood, though. Replays showed it definitely was a handball by Gosens, so Kessie stepped up again. Gollini (aka Gollorius) went the wrong way, and Kessie slotted in his second penalty of the night. 2-0 Milan. There was only a minute or so left to play after the wild celebrations, and then Milan won, finishing second place, and most importantly for Milan fans, qualifying for the Champions League. This wasn't just five straight clean sheets or 16 away wins in a single season, both records. This was all about that elusive Champions League qualification.


Achievement unlocked

The pics, videos, live Instagram streams and other social media posts could never capture the emotions for players and fans. Watching at the end of the match, Gigio Donnarumma may have been the most overwhelmed with joy. Maldini was also the happiest I've seen him since returning to the club. He was asked afterwards about Donnarumma's contract, to which he replied that it wasn't appropriate to talk about at that time, but that Gigio was perhaps the happiest of all. If rumors are correct, that means he should be staying, but only time and Raiola's big fat paycheck will tell.


Euphoric

For now, it is time to sing "Pioli's on Fire" or "Milan's on Fire," and to celebrate by listening to the Champions League Theme over and over. It still feels surreal, and much work will need to be done to improve the squad to be remotely competitive in that competition next year. But tonight is all about celebrating the sporting director, coach, and players who gave everything they had and maybe then some all year... and finally broke the curse. This match wasn't just a win, it was a homecoming.


This post inspired by the music of Tony Britten's "Champions League Anthem"


Atalanta 0, Milan 2: Homecoming Atalanta 0, Milan 2: Homecoming Reviewed by Elaine on 11:55 PM Rating: 5
Powered by Blogger.