Napoli 0, Milan 4: Champions League Declaration

This was a statement win. Milan were stating that they were going to finish in a Champions League spot by finding their identity again and focusing on just this match, one match at a time. They were also sending Napoli a message: that their progression to the Champions League semifinals is nowhere near a guarantee, and they could not take anything for granted against a team like Milan. This 4-0 win over the Serie A leaders was a Champions League declaration.

Leão surfing through this one with his teammates

Since our first meeting in September, I have pointed out the importance that missing Leão due to the controversial refereeing in the previous match played in that result. He proved that theory correct by taking advantage of a brilliant Brahim Díaz pass in the 17th minute and scoring a perfect cucchiaio ("spoon," or as we say, "chipping the keeper.") 1-0 Milan. Likewise, I did not believe that their missing Osimhen would affect them tonight, but his presence easily could have changed their approach as well. Missing players do impact a team.

The media has said SO much about Leão in the past few months, here is what he had to say to them

Brahim Díaz, who was playing out of his mind by being allowed to roam free on the right, scored the second goal after a bit of a scramble in the box in the 25th, albeit with a bit of help from a deflection. 2-0 Milan. Pioli said that everyone in the team gave 120%, and Brahim Díaz may have actually given even more than that.

This picture is everything that went right for Milan and everything that went wrong for Napoli

The game was intense, with numerous incidents of physicality, including Kjaer getting kicked in the face and Calabria getting kneed in the groin. But it was Giroud who got the first yellow card, in the 35th, for stopping Politano, a running theme in this match. There were a lot of calls Rapuano, the referee, could have made, such as perhaps a foul by Brahim Díaz on Mario Rui just before Lobotka was given a yellow card for fouling Díaz instead. But again, those calls went both ways.

This matchup surprised everyone, and despite a dirty foul, Kvaratskhelia was kept quiet.

Zielinski finished off the first half with possibly Napoli's best chance at that point, saved by Maignan. Then Giroud had a chance to get himself on the scoresheet at the beginning of the second half, but sent it just wide with his left foot. Mario Rui took a shot in the 56th from close range that Maignan seemed to stop with his face, worrying fans, as he was down for treatment for a while, but he powered through.

Maignan always had our backs, but there was a worrying moment when he was flat on his.

It is not as though Napoli did not take their chances, they had 20 shots, but only four of them were on target, whereas Milan were clinical, with eight of 14 shots on target. Our little super Spaniard was subbed off in the 56th as a precaution because of potential issues with his adductor muscles, replaced by Saelemaekers. 

A kiss for Milan fans everywhere.

Shortly thereafter, Leão scored his second goal, a brilliant one after taking a pass from Tonali, who had stolen the ball in the midfield. 3-0 Milan. Tonali had an exceptional performance as well. While it was overall a great team performance, he was one of the players who really played particularly well. Both players came off of excellent performances for their national teams, and you had to know what was coming after the break.

Tonali had an absolutely epic performance, including the assist on Leão's second goal.

Krunić earned a yellow card in the 63rd minute for – you guessed it – fouling Politano. Then Giroud had an attempt that was stopped by Meret point blank. And speaking of players who played on another level, Mr. Champions League, Saelemaekers, was apparently under the impression that we were actually playing in that competition. He dribbled in and scored a fantastic solo goal in the 67th to make it 4-0 Milan.

Saelemaekers clearly thought this was already the Champions League.

Saelemaekers also had another fantastic chance a few minutes later that forced Meret into a big save. Pioli started subbing more, with Rebić and Origi on for Giroud and Leão. Then, throwing caution to the wind, he brought on Bakayoko for Bennacer, and also gave De Ketelaere about ten minutes for Krunić. Napoli looked quite dangerous in the final 15 minutes, but were unable to convert any of their chances.

They look so unassuming here, but they were so badass tonight.

There had been a couple of incidents that tried to detract from the match. The first was when Spalletti was scolding Leão for something in the tunnel just before the second half. While Leão remained calm and respectful, Spalletti did not realize that Papa Maldini was right there, and Maldini shared some very rare angry words with the Napoli manager. While the accounts vary as to what was said, at least Spalletti was wise enough to show a little respect to Maldini in his postmatch interview. 

Maldini was not in the mood for Spalletti messing with his player.

Another incident that occurred was the further irony of the Napoli Ultras. Not only did they pick the worst game of their team's season to have a silent boycott, because their team truly suffered without their support, they also emphasized their own point. One of the things they were boycotting was being sanctioned for violence, and they literally got into fights... amongst themselves. Twice. You cannot make this up. As beautiful as Napoli have played for most of this season on the pitch, their fans have been every bit as ugly off of it.

The captain unites his team once more.

When the whistle blew at the end of the match, it was a very quiet Maradona stadium, save for the very loud traveling Milan supporters. Milan had smashed all kinds of records, scoring four against the league leaders, winning against the league leaders, handing Napoli a giant home defeat, and more. In short, Milan played a near perfect game, and poor Napoli had a night to forget. It seems the current Scudetto holders taught the future Scudetto holders a little lesson in winning.

Saelemaekers reminding Napoli that they do not wear this patch... yet.

What a great way to welcome back our captain, and bring back the tactics that we all know and love. Milan players were brimming with confidence, a confidence they desperately needed to kick off this intense month. Whether or not that stays remains to be seen, but tonight, they certainly made a statement to Napoli, Serie A, and potential future Champions League opponents. And that statement was a Milan Champions League declaration.

This post inspired by the music of The Smiths' "You Just Haven't Earned It Yet Baby"

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 29
Milan vs. Empoli
Friday, April 7, 2023 • 21:00 CET (3pm EDT)

Napoli 0, Milan 4: Champions League Declaration Napoli 0, Milan 4: Champions League Declaration Reviewed by Elaine on 10:16 PM Rating: 5
Powered by Blogger.