Bologna 1, Milan 1: Upping the Ante

No surprises here, Milan drew 1-1 away to an in-form Bologna. Well, Pioli had some surprises. Ten surprises, to be exact. He made ten changes to his starting lineup from midweek, something that had been widely rumored he would do. That experiment went better than expected, actually, because if it were not for conceding a goal in the first minute, Milan might have actually won this one somehow. Well, that and the referee. Pioli has gone from the classy manager who would not talk about the referees to that guy who is whining about not getting penalties when he made ten changes to his starting lineup. He took a huge gamble, again, and it did not pay off. Shocking. That is what happens when you go upping the ante.

Stefano "The Gambler" Pioli

Perhaps one of the reasons Pioli was fine gambling Milan's next season in the Champions League away once again was because of the fact that Motta was missing his best scorers to injury and suspension. Except Sansone, who loves scoring against Milan. He took advantage of Pioli changing his entire outfield by catching everyone off guard and scoring in the very first minute. 1-0 Bologna. 

Good News: Kalulu is back. Bad News: No one woke him up at kickoff.

Five minutes later, Soumaoro stomped on Rebić's foot in the box. Massa waved play on. Florenzi insisted it was a penalty and didn't know why the fans did not boo the ref. Motta said that if it was a penalty, "we are not respecting the spirit of football." For me, the final result had a lot more to do with Milan's ten bench players starting and having 19 shots with only five on target. But sure, let's blame a split second referee decision instead of 90 minutes of play.

The rest of the half continued to get physical, although Milan did still dominate play for the most part. Then, in the 40th minute, Pobega found the ball at his feet, and sent it screaming past Skorupski with one touch from the top of the box. 1-1 all. One moment of brilliance in an otherwise disappointing match.

Pobega the Equalizer, hero of the second team.

The second half was far more eventful, with Massa handing out seven yellow cards, four of which went to Milan. Florenzi got one for a foul on Schouten, then Calabria, who replaced him, received a card in the 80th for a foul on Lykogiannis. That was key, because it means he will be suspended for our next match against Lecce. Sure, we got Kalulu back, and Florenzi is healthy, but ironically, the club just released Dest this week for a national team friendly, leaving us short of subs on the right. The other Milan cards went to Pobega and Vranckx.

In addition to Calabria, Pioli brought on Messias for Saelemaekers in the 57th. He only gave 20 minutes to Leão and Brahim Díaz to take over for Origi and De Ketelaere and try to make a difference. And Gabbia replaced Thiaw in the 81st, who seemed to have taken a knock of some kind. But none of them really made an impact, because what coach changes ten outfield players and expects a win? Like even in teams who are winning in their league? Milan have had one good away match since January fourth this year. Pioli had no right to gamble, let alone up the ante.

Ante was up for it, but he needed more than 9 bench players to get the win.

Speaking of Ante, Rebić, who wore the captain's armband today, had the closest chance of the second half, in the 74th. His claim for a penalty in the first half was probably the second best chance. The other non-penalty complaint that Pioli had was in the 89th minute, when the ball struck Lucumi's body and then ricocheted off of his arm. I am sure that is why the referee and any possible VAR review by Di Bello ruled it out as a handball, because that technicality is the current interpretation – if it hits the body first, it is considered unintentional. However, if we are going back to the purpose of the handball rule, which is to gain an advantage by controlling the ball or scoring with a player's hand or arm, then this would be a good penalty to give, as Lucumi was only able to control and clear the ball because of his handling of the ball.

Calabria's suspension will not be the worst, but it is also not ideal timing.

But how did we become that team? Just midweek, Milan fans and pundits were mocking Napoli for complaining about the referee, but UEFA reportedly suspended him. And he made calls that harmed Milan, too. Now Pioli, Florenzi, and all of the pundits are going to act like we were robbed because Pioli's ten changes in outfield only got a draw away to Bologna? I mean the bench players did surprisingly well, but in the end, it was still a horrific choice by Pioli. Lineup your starters, kill off the game early, then rest your players. It's not rocket science.

Pioli has become obsessed with Napoli this season. He complained all year about the first loss. He was right, Milan could have won that match. But we did not. So he poured all of the team's energy into playing the perfect game when we played them at the Maradona. And they pulled it off, with a massive 4-0 win. But the form ahead of that match was abysmal. Then there was the dreadful Empoli match, sandwiched between the league meeting with Napoli and our first Champions League match with the Partenopei

Penalty or no penalty? Massa may have made an error or two, but Pioli made at least ten.

It is not clear whether it is just Napoli, or his bald twin and frenemy, Spalletti, or not repeating the Scudetto, or progressing in the Champions League at all costs, or any combination of those that Pioli is obsessed with. He has been under pressure since the turn of the year with the poor results. But this is different. We are seeing an ugly side of him that we never saw in his first three years at Milan. He is petty and unaccountable and showing horrific judgment.

Take his team management. After only using two of his five subs on Wednesday, he made ten changes to his starting lineup today. Only two of those ten had even played at all on Wednesday, both as late subs. In contrast, league leaders Napoli, also drew today to Verona. But Spalletti used all five subs on Wednesday, and only made five changes to his starting lineup today, with three of those starters having seen playing time on Wednesday as subs. While the results may have been the same today, Spalletti's man management involves sanity, and speaks to his club's consistency and excellence this season.

Instead of going all in, Pioli took ten players out of his starting 11.

There is a significant amount of money on the line in the Champions League, and I understand that winning one trophy increases the bloodlust for winning more. But is it realistic to think Milan could win the Champions League this year? Let's say that Pioli's obsession does not interfere and we somehow magically get past Napoli in their house. Our next opponents are most likely to be Inter, given their lead in that tie. They have trounced us enough times in 2023 for me to not want to face two more legs against them, let alone stomach two more UEFA referees whistling for them. 

Let's just fantasize, momentarily, that we then somehow make it to the final. Who in their right mind thinks this scruffy young team can beat Manchester City or Real Madrid in a final? And does Pioli know about Milan and Istanbul? Maldini does. It is just not good Karma. And it would be a shame to gamble our entire next season's opportunity of playing in the Champions League in hopes that we somehow overcome all of those odds.

"Did I ever tell you about Istanbul?"

This is what Pioli was gambling on today. If Milan were not still in the Champions League, there is no way in hell that he would have started those ten outfield players today against Bologna or any other team in the league. But just because we are still in the Champions League, he still needs to remember that we need to make it back there next year. The field is too tight at the top of Serie A. Juventus could have their 15 point penalty overturned this week, and then we are suddenly battling Roma and Inter even more tightly for that fourth place spot. No ref calls alone change that. But taking a gamble by lining up ten bench players in your outfield, after having been unsuccessful making five changes last time does. That is the problem when you are upping the ante.

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

Our next match is 
Champions League Quarterfinals
SSC Napoli vs. AC Milan
Tuesday, April 18, 2023 • 21:00 CET (3pm EDT)

Bologna 1, Milan 1: Upping the Ante Bologna 1, Milan 1: Upping the Ante Reviewed by Elaine on 11:59 PM Rating: 5
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