Milan 1, Torino 0: Third Time's A Charm

Milan have faced Torino twice this season, and lost. The second time knocked us out of the Coppa Italia, in front of our own fans at the San Siro. Then we went for five more matches without a win, something Ibrahimović described this week as simply a "moment" that would pass. As you would expect with deity, his mere presence returning to the bench after over eight months seems to have put an end to that "moment." So, while he did not even feature, we finally managed to both defeat Torino 1-0 and keep a clean sheet doing it. Apparently, the third time's a charm.

What the doctor ordered.

This was Milan's 3,000th Serie A match. Gratefully, it will not go down in history as a disaster. When Theo Hernández, wearing the captain's armband, got a shot off within the first minute or so, it was clear that this performance would at least be better than Sunday's nightmare in the Derby. (To be fair, that is a very, very low bar.) But Torino were still the better team for much of the first half. Milan's only yellow card was shown to Kjaer for a foul, but the ref, Ayroldi, missed a foul from Singo on Leão just ahead of that which looked much more yellow to me. 

There were a couple of chances, like in the 28th, when Leão had a fast break, but was blocked. Theo took a wild volley just a couple of minutes later. In the 36th, Saelemaekers had a brilliant run and sent a nice ball into Giroud, but he was unable to make anything out of it. Tatarusanu was forced into a big save on Sanabria after Kjaer slipped and fell. Then Saelemaekers took a non-Champions League Saelemaekers shot into the stands in the 41st minute. But he was actually quite good otherwise on the night. Stats would show five shots with one on target for both teams at the half, which was a massive improvement for Milan's zero shots at the half in the Derby.

Having Leão back made the game watchable.

I can only assume that Ibrahimović had words with the guys in the dressing room at the half. That and Pioli's 3-4-3 and inclusion of Leão was so very much better than his constipated 3-5-2 on Sunday. While the stats show that Milan finished with only nine shots in all, four on target, they were much more dangerous in the area, creating opportunities for scoring instead of hiding in our own half, defending the whole time. 

Vanja Milinković-Savić had to stop Leão in the 54th after a brilliant team play. Then he nearly conceded in the 56th minute when he bobbled Giroud's shot, but with his 6''8" (2.03m) frame, he was able to reach and grab the ball just before the goal line. Substitute Vojvoda somehow slipped through and was one vs. one with Tatarusanu in the 60th, but he shot wide. 

Yes. It felt exactly like that.

Then, in the 62nd minute, it happened. Theo Hernández sent in the perfect cross, and Giroud headed it past the giant Serbian keeper. 1-0 Milan. The San Siro exploded. My head exploded. Everything exploded. This was the goal Milan needed, the feel-good goal of the season. One goal to remind us of who we are, one goal to give us back our confidence. And one goal to give us the win.

Because more than just winning this one, Milan held on and got the clean sheet. Our first clean sheet since our dreadful goalless draw with Cremonese in November. And Cremonese still haven't even won a league match this season. The clean sheet was perhaps even more important than the three points. Stopping the fatal hemorrhaging of goals was the tactical first aid this team needed most. This was another crucial product of Pioli's changes. So grateful he was not too arrogant and was willing to see what did not work on Sunday. 

He tweaked his ideas from Sunday. And it worked.

Pioli replaced the cautioned Kjaer in the 71st with Gabbia, who made his 50th appearance for Milan, another product of your youth teams. This normally might have frightened me a little, given Gabbia's inconsistency, but Kalulu was in fine form, and Thiaw was excellent after getting his first start in a while. Tatarusanu punched away a dangerous corner in the 76th. We survived eight corner kicks without conceding. That might even be the biggest victory of this one. Eight corners and still a clean sheet. Wow.

In the 76th, Kalulu sent a great ball forward to a speeding Theo Hernández, who basically had an open goal, but his hasty shot was just wide. De Ketelaere came on for Brahim Díaz in the 79th, who had a difficult time hanging onto the ball against such a physical Torino side. Torino had 20 fouls to Milan's 10, and four yellows to Milan's one. That was another improvement for Milan, the discipline. With Brahim Díaz constantly being overpowered in matches like this, I would love to see the young Belgian get more time.

It was a battle to the end, with even 6'8" Vanja Milinković-Savić coming up for the corner.

Pioli brought on Calabria, Origi, and Pobega in the 89th minute, so they got about six minutes with stoppage time. Milan held out for one last corner in the 93rd that was headed over, and the final whistle was music to my ears. Not because it put me out of misery for once, but because it symbolized a very sweet, timely, and much-needed victory. Watching the guys be able to smile in front of the Curva Sud again felt like home.

Was it a great performance from Milan? Absolutely not. The first half was utterly nauseating, and it wasn't just those hideously traumatizing "military green" kits. But getting the ugly win and a clean sheet was everything right now. (Plus the goal was beautiful.) Also, having Ibrahimović on the bench instead of as a spectator was just reassuring, even though he did not play. As Pioli said in his postmatch interview, this was an important win, but it was just the first step. And finally, after facing Torino three times this season, they got it right. The third time's a charm.

This post inspired by the music of The Cranberries' "Salvation"

Our next match is 
Champions League Round of 16
AC Milan vs. Tottenham Hotspur FC
Tuesday, February 14, 2023 • 21:00 CET (3pm EST)

Milan 1, Torino 0: Third Time's A Charm Milan 1, Torino 0: Third Time's A Charm Reviewed by Elaine on 11:30 PM Rating: 5
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