AC Milan 1, SSC Napoli 0: Our Destiny Is In Our Hands

Milan's Curva Sud shone once again at La Scala del Calcio, with an incredible coreo featuring the words "Our destiny is in our hands." The images were of a devil's hands surrounding Pulcinella, a famous Neapolitan character that dates back to at least the 1600's. Little did they know that it would literally be Maignan's hands that would keep our clean sheet, stopping Napoli's every chance. Although the character that unfortunately took center stage was the referee, Kovács. Still, with the 1-0 victory at the San Siro, and Napoli with two players suspended for the second leg next week, Milan's destiny is in our hands.

Il Diavolo taking Pulcinella into his hands

The Goal

Despite the Kovács performance and discipline in general stealing the limelight, I have to start with the goal, because it was a beautifully worked piece of magic. In the 40th minute, Brahim Díaz took possession of the ball in our half, then dribbled the length of the pitch. When he hit traffic, he effortlessly laid it off to Leão on the right, who sent it right back to him in the center. Brahim spectacularly spun as he passed it to Bennacer, who was open on the left, and Bennacer fired it into the back of the net. 1-0 Milan. Absolute magic, and a joyful celebration, too, as the stadium erupted in ecstasy.

Bennacer's first Champions League goal

The Referee

I could probably easily write at least 1500 words on how poor Kovács was tonight. The game was rough early on, and he gave far too many warnings instead of cards, clearly losing control of the match within the first 30 minutes. Spalletti was upset in the moment, and complained afterward as well, about Leão not being carded for shattering a corner flag. After a near miss from 1v1 in the 25th, the Portuguese star kicked the corner flag in frustration, causing a delay of game while it was replaced. Despite being a Milan fan, I have to agree, an act like this should be considered unsporting. If managers are carded for kicking water bottles, and players are often carded for kicking the ball away in anger or frustration, why is a corner flag not given such protection?

While I failed to note all of the potential cards that were missed in the first 30 minutes, there was a foul from Krunić on Zieliński that may have been carded by a lot of refs in the 32nd. I don't know if Kovács was aware that Krunić was in danger of being suspended due to a previous card, but that warning-only seemed to be the last straw for the players. Zieliński retaliated against Krunić about five minutes later with an even more blatant foul, for which he earned the first yellow card. While it was absolutely deserved, I can understand why the players (and staff) were frustrated by now. They are used to Serie A refs, too, who call a much tighter game.

Kovács managed to even rattle the usually zen Pioli 

Pioli actually earned the next card, in the 43rd minute, for something he said. Tensions continued after the halftime whistle as a couple of Napoli players argued with the Milan manager as they walked off the pitch. Even after halftime, Mário Rui was seen heatedly discussing something with Pioli's assistant, Murelli as they came out of the tunnel.

Just two minutes into the second half, the match was stopped due to apparent technical issues with Kovács' equipment, after which he called both captains over and said something to them. Calabria later revealed that the ref had told them throughout the match that there were problems with VAR, which led him to question a non-penalty call after the final whistle, earning him a card, despite it being his role as captain to interface with the referee. Just terrible and unprofessional from Kovács all the way around.

"The VAR is not working. But if you protest, I will card you"

Bennacer saw yellow for a foul on Anguissa in the 60th, then Anguissa saw yellow ten minutes later for a foul on Theo Hernández.  Also, Di Lorenzo was shown a yellow, apparently for dissent. The Anguissa card was a point of controversy, because Napoli felt that Tonali should have been called for a challenge on Kvaratskhelia just ahead of this foul in the same play. Replays show that, while in real time it may have appeared that he got the ball, in actuality, he did not, so once again, Napoli did have a point here.

This is a crucial point, as Anguissa received a second yellow just three minutes later, for a dangerous foul on Theo Hernández once again, so was sent off. This not only left Napoli on ten men for the last 15 minutes, but means Anguissa is suspended for the second leg next week. Four minutes later, Kim Min-Jae also received a yellow card for flying into Saelemaekers from behind. I read somewhere someone calling it a "soft challenge." I don't know what match they were watching, his elbow and knee were out as he literally clattered into Saelemaekers full force from behind, knocking him over. It was a textbook yellow card, which will also see him miss the second leg.

Kovács' performance made everyone see red

The final controversy was in the 93rd minute, when Lobotka shoved Saelemaekers down in the box. Saelemaekers and other Milan players appealed for the penalty (which apparently was not VAR reviewed because VAR was not working?) and Rrahmani came over and shoved Saelemaekers multiple times. Saelemaekers was smart enough not to shove the 6'4" (1.93m) Albanian back, instead getting into a general shouting match, leading other players to separate them. Of course, Kovács carded them both, but most refs would have sent Rrahmani off for blatantly attacking another player like that. 

It was absolutely dreadful refereeing, and there were poor calls against both sides that impacted the match. Of course, it was the journalists from Napoli who were the ones who insulted both Kovacs and UEFA referee observer Roberto Rosetti at the end of the night. Perhaps Anguissa might not have been sent off, perhaps other cards should or should not have been given, and perhaps Milan should have had a penalty. In the end, it is impossible to say how the match would have gone had it been reffed fairly. Maybe now Napoli know what it is like to have horrible ref calls in the Champions League, because Milan certainly know all about it.

It was all smiles until kickoff

Pioli and Spalletti

In our last league match with Napoli, Spalletti had words with Maldini and came out looking poorly. This time, it was Pioli's turn to lose his cool, a rare occurrence. The yellow card clearly affected him emotionally, and he was not his normal self for the rest of the night. In fact, he only used two subs, both fairly late in the match. With Milan playing three matches in seven days, this lack of player management could really come back to haunt us. 

Meanwhile, Spalletti saved most of his venom for the postmatch, where he spent so much time 'not talking about the ref', I am not sure what else he actually said. Oh, except that he would quit if the Napoli fans protest again like they did last time at the Maradona. He pointed out the incredible atmosphere at the San Siro, then pointed out that in their stadium, all he could hear was their fans fighting with each other and 1,000 Milan fans chanting. I am not sure how his quitting is any less ridiculous than the fans' protest, or why he would quit when he is finally about to win his first Scudetto, but he is an emotional man, so he probably just got caught up in the moment.

Calabria kept Kvaratskhelia mostly quiet again

Napoli's Attack

Much was said about Napoli missing Osimhen and Simeone, with Raspadori also starting on the bench due to fitness. With a lack of a true striker, many expected Napoli to struggle in attack. While Kvaratskhelia was mostly neutralized by Calabria and friends once again, Napoli had plenty of other options and took 16 shots, with six on target. Stats say they only had 53% possession for the match, but it definitely seemed like more for much of the match. Sure, many pundits talked about missing Osimhen and his ability to break through defenses, but Napoli could have easily drawn or won this match if it were not for the heroics of Milan's amazing goalkeeper.

Our destiny is in Maignan's hands


That brings us to Maignan. While Brahim Díaz was awarded UEFA's Player of the Match, Maignan astounded once again, making massive saves throughout the match to keep the clean sheet once again. We talked so much about how much we missed him for the five months he was out, and his performances for both club and country since his return have only put exclamation marks on those claims. 

His counterpart, Meret, was only credited with one save, but did concede the goal. He probably did nearly have a heart attack when Leão came at him 1v1 and then just sent it wide, and Kjaer had a header at the end of stoppage time in the first half that hit the underside of the crossbar and miraculously bounced out. Napoli certainly created more chances, but Milan were simply able to capitalize on the singular goal.

The Little Spaniard that Could was UEFA's Player of the Match

The Fans

What can I say about Milan fans in the stadium that they did not chant, sing, drum, shout, scream, jump, or otherwise will their team to victory on their own? The coreo was absolutely spectacular. Not just the fantastic Diavolo and Pulcinella in the Curva, but there was also red, black, and white coreografia that wrapped around the entire stadium that read "This is Milan" and outlined a Champions League trophy with the number seven on it. The entire stadium was deafening with chants the entire match, Calabria even said the players had a hard time talking to each other, it was so loud. It was spectacular from a TV screen, I cannot even imagine how incredible it was to be there in person.

This IS Milan.

Despite Milan being up 1-0 and Napoli missing two starters heading into the second leg, nothing at all is decided in this tie. Milan absolutely could and should have done more, especially with the man advantage, while playing at home. Now Milan have to go to Bologna Saturday evening in the early game, then travel to Naples on Tuesday and face the League leaders once again at the Maradona. Napoli could have Osimhen back, and Raspadori could also be fully fit by then as well, both of whom would make them even more dangerous. They will have their fans, as well, and the Maradona can be every bit as intimidating as the San Siro when their Ultras are not protesting. However, as the Curva Sud so wisely pointed out, our destiny is in our hands. 

This post inspired by the music of The Rolling Stones' "Hand of Fate"

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 30
Bologna vs. Milan
Saturday, April 15, 2023 • 15:00 CET (9am EDT)

AC Milan 1, SSC Napoli 0: Our Destiny Is In Our Hands AC Milan 1, SSC Napoli 0: Our Destiny Is In Our Hands Reviewed by Elaine on 11:58 PM Rating: 5
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