Lecce 2, Milan 2: No Excuses

With luck, they say, the third time is a charm. But Milan's week was not about luck, nor was their third game in seven days. The 2-2 draw away to Lecce was about the mentality, and a subtle shift that has happened that could change the fortunes of the team and possibly Pioli's future as well. That shift was in Pioli's comments, in his refusal to take any of the responsibility for his own mistakes for the poor results, which clearly impacted the team's mentality. Everyone from Pioli on down are feeling the pressure of the lack of reinforcements from the club, and their continued "no excuses" policy when it comes to averaging 6-9 players out for months on end. The lack of support from the club has thrown the players under the bus and left them publicly culpable for things that are beyond their control. The "no excuses" policy has literally become Milan's downfall.

The pressure affects everyone differently

Some fans have this ridiculous misconception that because players are professional footballers and make a lot of money that they should always be able to play at their mental and physical best in every match. Or that they are also deserving of any abuse that comes their way via the fans, the media, or social media. This is the most ridiculous ideology I have ever heard. Players are human beings, just like you and I. They are just much better at playing football, and are rightfully compensated for it. 

They are still impacted by mental and physical lapses due to many different factors. Fans still speak of the "banter era," which was actually named after a bunch of trolls online who justified their abuse by claiming it was just "banter." But think of how little support those players got, or really how much abuse they took online and in the media. How many coaches they went through, the injuries, the transfers, and so many uncertainties. There were never the conditions for success.

Tatarusanu makes saves, but he doesn't do a fraction of what Maignan did for this team

Milan's success last year, and since Pioli arrived, was based on the club, and Pioli especially, shielding them emotionally and supporting them 100%. Fans supported them unceasingly. They built a family, relationships based on trust and accountability. But the mentality has been eroding due to so many injuries. This has required so much extra mentally and physically from the entire team. It is difficult to be in an environment with so many injuries, to watch your teammates be out for so long like that. What many forget is that a fear of injury also develops, which can greatly affect mentality and even impact the level of play.

We have seen this effect for some time now, but the club and Pioli have refused to speak about it. They have literally said that they have a "no excuses" policy about this subject. That, too, erodes on the players. They are out there every week with the same expectations, but with this giant, gaping wound that no one is allowed to speak about. They are giving more than 110%, yet not being given credit for it. They are suffering for their teammates, but not allowed to show it. Eventually, that impacts the results.

It can be hard to stay on your feet without the proper support from your club.

This week, however, it got significantly worse. From the outside looking in, it appears that trust was broken. Pioli absolutely made errors in his lineups and formations that impacted results. We all saw it. Only he did not acknowledge it, at least not publicly. He called out the team for their errors, but was not accountable for his. Those same players, already handicapped by injuries and the "no excuses" rule, were thrown under the bus by their manager, their father figure, the one they trusted most. And the mentality was visibly broken.

The defeated mentality was visible in the body language of the players as they left Milanello to travel to Lecce. It was on display as they took the pitch today. And it was blatantly obvious for the entire first half, when they looked absolutely lost and miserable in the pouring rain against the 12th place side. That broken mentality led to Milan scoring an own goal in just the third minute off of Theo Hernández. 1-0 Lecce. The second was, of course, a set piece, when Baschirotto scored from the cross sent in on that free kick in the 23rd minute. 2-0 Lecce.

With barely 2 weeks off since July, Theo made a costly error

Something changed at halftime, I like to believe that Pioli said the right things. He also pulled off Theo Hernández and Saelemaekers and replaced them with Dest and Messias respectively. He said his choice was to change the dynamics on the wings. Within five minutes, Brahim Díaz, for whom this was his 100th match with Milan, had a decent chance, although it went over. Five minutes after that, he was taken down by the elbow of Umtiti, but he is used to the abuse and carried on like the tiny soldier that he is. It was only a few minutes later that Leão finally put the belief back in the team and in the fans. After a great Giroud chance that was somehow punched away by Falcone, Leão took the rebound, teed it up, and punished Lecce with his quality. 2-1 Lecce, game on.

The performance was far from perfect, but Milan clawed their way back into the match. Origi came on to replace Brahim Díaz in the 69th, which then saw Pioli playing two strikers. Although Origi did not participate in the play, just one minute later, Giroud provided the perfect assist for Calabria to slot it home for the equalizer. 2-2 all. Despite Milan having played 120+ minutes on Wednesday, and Lecce having fresh legs, it was Milan who turned up the intensity and Lecce who were looking tired now.

Back in the match, but no time to celebrate

Messias hit the post in the 79th, and Giroud's rebound was miraculously cleared off the line by Baschirotto. There were still errors to be made, as Tatarusanu tried to hit away a Gallo shot in the 83rd, only to hit it directly off of Tomori, which was nearly another own goal. Bennacer was inexplicably given a yellow card in the 85th for a collision that looked far more Hjulmand's making than his. Then we got to see about five minutes of Kjaer, who returned from his injury and came on for Calabria, as well as Vranckx on for Pobega in the 86th minute.

Unfortunately, there was simply not enough time to pull out the win. Showing up in the second half to a 2-0 deficit makes winning that much more difficult. But I was actually very proud of the guys for dragging themselves out of the mental black hole and at least pulling off the draw. And Pioli seemed a lot less angry in his postmatch press conference, which gives me hope that he realized his errors and hopefully mended some fences ahead of our midweek match.

The Captain pulled us level and got straight back to work

Pioli alone is certainly not to blame. He is also in a very difficult position, being asked to perpetually make wine from recycled water with almost no transfers. Worse still, when he is the one being asked by the media about reinforcements every press conference, and he has to tell them that no, the club has spoken. No excuses. Maldini's hands are tied by the budget limitations and the new ownership, as well.

Furlani flew back from the U.S. to be with the team for this one, and as he is also a fan, I can only hope he also has enough influence with Cardinale to make something happen before the deadline. Of course, players would have to leave, as well. The other problem with having seven players out today is that those are seven players we do not have at our disposal, but cannot replace in the transfer market, either. The problems are many and no one person is to blame.

After signing a new contract, he worked hard to make an impact

As fans, we should resign ourselves to the fact that this team will not be making lightning strike twice to win back to back Scudetti with such a depleted squad. They have an incredible mentality, have forged an amazing team dynamic, but have also been given a dreadful lot in life. Between the absurd injuries and the beyond miserly transfers, the sale of the club, and now some missteps from the manager at a crucial time that have impacted both results and mentality, we will all be grateful to reach any type of objective this year. The belief is there, but the resources simply are not.

Diamonds may formed by high temperatures and pressure, but the players are only human. With enough pressure, something has to give. The club may have a policy of "no excuses," but it is the human beings who actually win the trophies. If Milan win anything this year it will be our players, not the Club that threw them under the bus and let them take the blame when things were tough. If you grant no excuses, then you will get no recognition, either.

This post inspired by the music of Muse's "Time Is Running Out"

Our next match is the
Supercoppa Italiana Final
Milan vs. Inter
Wednesday, January 18, 2023 • 20:00 CET (2pm EST)

Lecce 2, Milan 2: No Excuses Lecce 2, Milan 2: No Excuses Reviewed by Elaine on 9:00 PM Rating: 5
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