Udinese 3, Milan 1: Disconnect and Drama at the Dacia Arena

Even last year when Milan won the league, we did it by the slimmest of margins. It seems that winning outright or giving ourselves a comfortable lead in a match or especially in a competition is simply not our thing. That tendency has turned into a nearly self-destructive mindset this calendar year. Well, that, and there seems to be a disconnect with Pioli's tactics and ability to predict when this mindset takes hold, as well as his ability to compensate for those issues. Add to that a healthy dose of drama, playing away to the 10th place side, and you get a 3-1 loss to Udinese. It was a night of disconnect and drama at the Dacia Arena.

Captain Ibrahimović was at the center of some of the drama, of course

First things first, the Curva Sud are to be commended for their performance. In a stadium with a capacity of 25,000 that was reportedly sold out, only 3,000 of those fans were Milan fans. Yet their voices could be heard singing nonstop throughout the match, louder than the Udinese Ultras and fans. Their endless support of the team through this self-made crisis of results has been heartwarming and inspiring. Also heartwarming was the players choosing to give Ibrahimović the armband in his first start after injury.

Secondly, when will Silvestri lose the cornrows? They were awful from day one, and are an unfair distraction for the opposition team. I mean, Milan were more clinical, with 10 shots, six on target, but they couldn't get one past that glaring white scalp and those hideous braids. In fact, if you look at the official match report, statistically, Milan look much better than they actually did on the pitch. For example, we had 85% pass completion, with 426 completed passes, compared to only 73% completion and 211 passes for Udinese. So obviously, it was The Cornrows.

Obviously, it was The Cornrows.

Udinese struck early, after Tomori missed a long pass from Bennacer in the middle of the pitch, turning the ball over to Samardžić, who then went on a run, beating him, and sent it in to Peyrera, who even scuffed his shot between a seemingly frozen Milan defense. 1-0 Udinese in just the ninth minute. Five minutes later, Ibrahimović's free kick would go just over the crossbar. Saelemaekers and Leão would both have shots saved just a few minutes after that.

Bennacer's free kick was blocked. In the 36th minute, Brahim Díaz played a back-and-forth with Ibrahimović, resulting in the number 10 taking a shot that was saved, but he also managed to handle the ball in the process, so it would not have counted anyway. But it was in the 43rd minute that things got dramatic.

Give him two chances, and he won't miss. Not even against The Cornrows.

Leão was in the box, and was pulled down by one player, while the ball was handled by Bijol. That wasn't immediately obvious, however, it required a VAR review before Doveri awarded the penalty to Milan. Ibrahimović took the penalty, and The Cornrows saved it. Play continued for a minute or so, and after play stopped for a foul on Tonali, Doveri was told about an encroachment on the penalty. The news that the penalty would be retaken was too much for Udinese's manager, Sottil, and he did something to earn a straight red card, so was sent off, still shouting.

The replays showed that Beto had, in fact, encroached on the penalty kick, and as he was the one to clear the ball after Silvestri's save, the kick definitely should have been retaken. So four minutes into a two or three minute stoppage time, Ibrahimović stepped up again, and this time, he made no mistake. Cornrows be damned. 1-1 all. Also an historic goal for him. The irony in all of this was that last year, Udogie equalized against Milan by scoring with his hand, costing Milan two very valuable points, and VAR did not revoke the goal. Of course, our nightmare in this match returned, when six minutes into stoppage time, Beto scored a second goal from Success' cross, beating Thiaw. 2-1 Udinese at the half. That was the gamechanger, as Ibrahimović pointed out in his postmatch comments.

Thiaw is still making it difficult for Pioli to choose only two center backs

Thiaw made up for that in the second half with a solid header in the 52nd that was unfortunately stopped by The Cornrows. A few minutes later, Becão pulled Ibrahimović down in the box, but no penalty was given, and Ballo-Touré's header was stopped by The Cornrows. Apparently, Doveri assumed that letting Ibrahimović retake the earlier penalty was enough. Either that, or having given Milan our first penalty since September 10th of last year, despite numerous opportunities, he decided our quota had been filled. 

Kalulu earned one of Milan's two yellow cards in the 61st for a foul on Udogie. Then Pioli brought on Krunić for Bennacer and Rebić for Saelemaekers. Ehizibue's goal from Udogie's ball forward looked to be offside, but was reviewed by VAR. After watching it again, it looks as though Kalulu's late attempted challenge on Success left him on the ground across the pitch, technically keeping Ehizibue onside. So unlucky. And so painful. 3-1 Udinese.

Pioli took responsibility, but does he know what for?

In the 76th, Pioli threw on Calabria, De Ketelaere, and Origi for Tomori, Ibrahimović, and Brahim Díaz respectively. This for me completed the disconnect, as I feel like Pioli is slow to realize when things aren't working. For example, when we drew in London against Tottenham, Maldini mentioned he had never liked the new tactics. Two Serie A matches later, Pioli has stuck with them. This match, especially, he did not have the same players. He said they were prepared for this match, but I am not even sure that he was. Ballo-Touré had never played as a wingback this season, for example, leading to plenty of confusion on that side in the defensive phases, and a lot fewer opportunities created in the attacking phases. When Saelemaekers is less effective defensively and Messias and Dest are both out injured, Pioli doesn't really have anyone else for that right wingback position.

Throwing on those players was literally just putting on some fresh legs for tired players and hoping for the best. They weren't tactically inspired changes, or at least they did not have an impact, tactically or otherwise. He took a poor system and made it worse. I do feel like he could be faster at realizing when things are not working tactically and more bold, or at least flexible at trying different systems within a match. Being down two goals, this was the equivalent of throwing in the towel. Sure, things got a little testy in stoppage time, with three yellows, including a yellow given to Tonali for a foul on Becão. The Udinese player should have received an Academy Award for the show he put on afterward. Instead, his anger and protests only earned him a yellow card.

Too much talk about and too much pressure on one player

Much is being discussed about Leão, who made his 150th appearance for Milan tonight. I am not one to measure a player's performances by goals, and we have seen him perform more timidly for periods of time in the past, then he explodes with brilliance. This is not new. With such a bizarre season, the World Cup, and the pressures of the media and social media surrounding his contract talks, I cannot criticize him. Nor can I say anything about a player who was isolated on that side without Theo Hernández. Although I will say that he was merely a spectator tonight defensively, particularly on the goals.

There is some consolation in that after the break, Udinese will face Bologna without their manager, who was sent off, and three of their starters who were cautioned tonight, due to card accumulation. But Milan will also be traveling to the formidable Diego Maradona Stadium to face Napoli for the first of three times in 16 days. And we will be doing so on the back of a loss, draw, and a loss in the league. If this international break is anything like the one in September, with injuries galore, then who even knows who we will have available? 

Not the way we want to see our players leave the pitch

There is really not any consolation for the heartbreak of another three points dropped when we are so desperately trying to just stay in the top four. Ideally without pushing things so closely or waiting until the final day of the season. It was an evening of disconnect, drama, and disappointment.

This post inspired by the music of Garbage's "Empty"

Udinese 3, Milan 1: Disconnect and Drama at the Dacia Arena Udinese 3, Milan 1: Disconnect and Drama at the Dacia Arena Reviewed by Elaine on 11:58 PM Rating: 5
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