Milan 3, Roma 1: Defying the Odds

Going into this next month was frightening enough knowing that we would face three of the top six teams without two of our best midfielders. Then we were hit with five COVID-19 positive cases in the three days leading up to this match. Meaning that with injuries as well, we were missing 11 players, with five or six of them starters. Roma's squad were not as impacted because most of their missing players were bench players, and thus seemingly had the upper hand in this match. But they shot themselves in the foot, and Milan also refused to give in for 90 minutes. Tempers flared, Roma were called for 20 fouls, two yellow cards, and two red cards, ending on nine men. Milan just kept fighting, and in doing so, defied the odds.

Celebrating defying the odds

With so many defenders and the heart of our midfield missing, Milan had no choice but to come out attacking. So they did. Florenzi had a shot deflected, then Theo Hernández had a shot that Rui Patricio initially saved. However, there was a VAR review because it seemed to have deflected slightly off of Tammy Abraham's outstretched arm, and Chiffi awarded a penalty to Milan for a handball. Giroud converted the penalty to make it 1-0 Milan. Still not enough to take the edge off of a fan's nerves, though, with so much stacked against us.

First blood

Maignan made a save on Mkhitaryan, then Ibañez made a poor back pass which Roma were punished for. Giroud took what looked like a lethal strike, only to hit the post, but Messias was there to take the rebound and made no mistake. 2-0 Milan. Very comforting start to be up two-nil in the 16th minute, yet still a lot of game to be played. 

Messias making it 2-0

Luckily, Maignan came up huge for us when it mattered, including in the 24th and again in the 40th. But as Roma pressed harder toward the end of the first half, they would eventually be rewarded. Right after that save on Zaniolo, Pellegrini took a shot from distance that Maignan had covered, were it not for Abraham right in front of him, who produced a sweet little backheel to deflect it past him and give Roma the goal. 2-1 Milan.

Maignan - epic, Kalulu - amazing, Gabbia - surprisingly not horrific

Things really started to heat up then. Krunić was fouled really hard during a free kick, and left on the ground while Milan continued to play on. Not sure if they knew he was down or were trying to play to the advantage, but eventually, they kicked it out. Something happened and  Karsdorp and (captain) Theo Hernández mixed it up a bit, almost inciting a brawl. Both players received yellow cards for their efforts. Meanwhile, Krunić was still down all by himself, waiting for treatment, it was pretty sad. Eventually, he received treatment and play resumed, but two minutes later, Karsdorp was at it again, this time with Saelemaekers, although this time the Roma player did have a bloody lip to show for his troubles. Chiffi decided to let him stay on at that point.

Was Pioli asking Mancini to get sent off later?

While this fight was being calmed down and Karsdorp received treatment, something interesting happened on the sideline in that Pioli had his arm around Mancini, almost looking like he was coaching him or something. I would be curious to see what he was saying to the Roma player, because they looked calm while everyone else were still a bit escalated. That included a Milan staff member, who was very shortly thereafter shown a red card by Chiffi and sent off. Roma wanted a penalty called a minute after that when Zaniolo pushed off of Tonali in the box, but Chiffi rightly did not give it. (Let's be fair, when do they not cry for a penalty?)

While Milan had dominated for much of the first half until the final ten minutes or so, the second half started out a bit more even. Then Brahim Díaz pulled off a rocket of a shot, only to have it hit the bottom of the crossbar and ricochet down, but not in. How that ball did not go in is still a mystery. Five minutes later, Krunić made a "tactical" foul on Pellegrini, which, in Bosnian seems to translate to "take him out." He received a yellow card for his efforts, and the Roma player received some treatment.

Proudly wearing that captain's armband

That seemed to have angered Roma, as Abraham forced a big save on Maignan. Three minutes after that, Maignan had a brilliant double save on both Mkhitaryan and Ibañez. Several players had great performances, but Tonali in the midfield and Maignan in goal really took it to the next level to defy the odds. Kalulu was actually great a center back, perhaps making the pressure to replace Kjaer slightly less urgent.

Pioli decided to pull Krunić off before he killed someone or at least got a second yellow, although he actually did well in place of our missing AFCON players. But his replacement was Bakayoko, who is typically more of a liability and would now have 30 minutes to try not to get sent off or concede a goal himself. To his credit, he had his best performance of the season, which is a low bar, but something I was still grateful for.

How do you spell beast? T-O-N-A-L-I

The other sub was a super sub. Saelemaekers had not been able to replicate his prior performance on the left, so was taken off for Leão, who was just coming back from injury. About ten minutes later, Karsdorp, who could have been sent off a couple of other times for a second yellow, made a dangerous two-footed tackle on Theo Hernández just outside of the box. I don't even think he waited for Chiffi to pull out the second yellow and red card, he just started walking off the pitch because he knew what he had done. Roma were on ten men.

Florenzi took the free kick from that call, and it was a beautiful, curling free kick that just hit the corner of the bar. So impossibly close. That was the third time tonight that Milan were denied by the woodwork, so unlucky. A few minutes later, Ibrahimović and Conti were subbed on, the latter making his first appearance of the season (although heavily linked again with an exit to Empoli this month.) Ibrahimović was only on the pitch for a few minutes before he chested the ball backward toward Leão, who took it and used his brilliant speed to burst past the Roma defenders and run all the way to goal, slotting it past a helpless Rui Patricio. 3-1 Milan. 

Leão came back with a vengeance

Mancini would receive a yellow in the 84th, and Roma wanted a penalty again for a perceived foul from Ibrahimović in the box, but it was not given. Daniel Maldini came on and Ibrahimović almost connected with him early in stoppage time, but Mancini blocked it. That was his final act of heroism, though, because two minutes later, the Roma defender also received a second yellow for taking down Leão in the box. Roma were on nine men and Milan were given a penalty. Ibrahimović took it, but Rui Patricio saved it, making the final score Milan 3, Roma 1.

In addition to Florenzi's solid performance against his parent club and also the team of his heart, Cristante and El Shaarawy coming on and not being able to perform well against their former club were positive emotional storylines for the fans. There was one more storyline that was really interesting. With Tatarusanu out with COVID-19, a young 17 year-old Primavera keeper called Lapo Nava was called up for this match. He has not even signed a professional contract yet, but here he was called up to the first team at the San Siro.

A young goalkeeper makes his first callup at the San Siro, rides the Metro home

As noted commentator and Milan presenter Patrick Kendrick pointed out ahead of the match, Nava's father, Stefano, subbed on for one Paolo Maldini in the 1994 European Cup Final against Barcelona. Tonight, both former Milan players had sons on the bench in Lapo and Daniel, which was really amazing. What made this story a fan favorite was thanks to a photo circulating via journalist Nicolò Schira of the young Nava taking the Metro home after the game, just like a fan.

On the flip side, Roma fans were as ugly as ever. Despite their Curva being on a suspended sentence for racially abusing Kessié and Ibrahimović in October at the Stadio Olimpico, their fans reportedly once again abused Ibrahimović, with Mourinho having to plea for them to stop. Additionally, Roma supporters threw firecrackers into the Milan supporters sections. I will be curious to see if they are sanctioned, despite the suspended sentence, because for one, they were the away fans this time (that is just Lega Serie A logic for you.) Secondly, with stadiums already reduced to 50% capacity and heading for closure due to the outbreak of COVID-19 cases, closing their Curva for one match would not even be a punishment.

Roma fans behaving badly again (via Luca Maninetti)

This match was huge for Milan considering what is at stake and the challenges we face this next month. Both in terms of performance and result, the mentality factor was so needed. Roma did not have a great night, with Milan capitalizing on their many errors. But you don't need to look further than one stat to get an idea of how the two teams really played: Roma were whistled for 20 fouls, while Milan were only whistled for six. That wasn't poor reffing, it just shows how desperate Roma were against a team missing so many important players, while Milan largely kept their composure and played as a team to defy the odds.

This post inspired by the music of Muse's "Butterflies and Hurricanes"

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 21
Venezia vs. Milan
Sunday, January 9 • 12:30 CET (6:30am EST)

Milan 3, Roma 1: Defying the Odds Milan 3, Roma 1: Defying the Odds Reviewed by Elaine on 11:59 PM Rating: 5
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