Milan 2, Lazio 0: Statement Win

Some wins are important, some feel good. This one was both. Milan came into this match in second place in Serie A, tied with Inter on points after six matches. But to hear the Italian media speak about Milan, Pioli, and especially Rafa Leão, you would think we were Mourinho's Roma or something. Then there is the upcoming difficult stretch of fixtures that sees us play Dortmund, an in-form Genoa, Juventus, PSG, and Napoli this month, with an International break in between. This 2-0 win over Lazio was so needed, and having the goals come from the new guys, with the assists both coming from Rafa Leão could not have been more perfect, either. This wasn't just another three points and a clean sheet to boost confidence. This was a statement win.

This statement may have been "Happy Birthday" to Giroud on his 37th birthday.

The first half was shaky, I'm not going to lie. Lazio created a lot of their chances early on, and set the tone for what was a very physical match. For example, in the 23rd minute, Guendouzi's foul on Reijnders would have normally warranted a yellow card, but Massa, the referee, only gave him a warning, apparently because it was so early in the match. However, he continued his laissez-faire style of refereeing for much of the match, reluctantly handing out five cards necessarily in the second half to prevent serious injury. 

A fiercely contested match by every definition of the word.

Other notable fouls in the first half included Calabria getting elbowed in the face by Zaccagni, as well as Pulisic being fouled quite hard by a masked Romagnoli in the 31st (although he lost the mask shortly thereafter, as many players do for comfort reasons.) Oddly, I have struggled to reconcile seeing Romagnoli on the opposing team wearing a different shirt after our former captain left on a free transfer shortly after lifting the Scudetto just over a year ago. But that pleasure he took in his fouls on our players this time helped a lot with that reconciliation. It's definitely different when he's on the other team.

A giant surrounded by mere mortals (even a masked one), Loftus-Cheek's injury is worrying

What was not helpful was seeing Musah subbed on for Loftus-Cheek in the 29th minute, who left the pitch with yet another muscle injury. Apparently, he saw his former coach, Sarri, on the sideline, and thought he needed to repeat his injury issues he had at Chelsea when coached by him before. He apparently felt pain in his lower abdomen, and is awaiting tests as of this writing. These injuries will prove even more costly this season, as management chose to shrink the squad size to offset the higher salaries of the new players and renewals, so there are even fewer backups available.

If Rafa Leão is looking back at you, you are in trouble.

Lazio may have created a number of chances, in particular Felipe Anderson, but the few Milan chances in the first half looked more dangerous, including a shot from Rafa Leão in the 33rd that forced a Provedel save. The big chance, however, was a double chance right at the end of regulation, when Giroud took a shot that was rebounded, then he managed to get the ball to Reijnders at close range, whose backheel effort unfortunately did not go in. The Dutch midfielder is getting closer and closer to scoring in every match.

Reijnders is dangerous in every match.

The second half was where all the action was, though. Massa was finally forced into giving Marušić a yellow with a very dangerous tackle on a speeding Theo Hernández which saw the Frenchman go flying. Marušić nearly saw yellow again a few minutes later for fouling Rafa Leão, but there was a handball first that saved him. Pulisic tested Provedel in the 52nd minute, who needed a fingertip save to keep it out. But in the 60th minute, the goalkeeper was not so lucky. Leão saw the American making the run and sent in the perfect assist to Pulisic, who was completely unmarked, and slotted it home from about the penalty spot to open up the scoring. 1-0 Milan.

Sucks to be Lazio.

A few minutes later, the aforementioned Romagnoli saw yellow for elbowing our other American, Musah, in the neck, and I was able to further distance myself emotionally from our former captain as he seemed to take even more pleasure in that foul. Apparently feeling left out, Leão earned a yellow just a minute later for a foul on Luis Alberto. Although to be fair, his foul was more like an eager child wrestling to get to the ball first. 

Leão salutes Captain America.

The 70th minute saw Pioli sub Okafor on for the birthday boy, Giroud; Pobega on for fan favorite, Adli; and Florenzi on for our current captain, Calabria. Milan were looking more dangerous, and while Sarri's subs attempted to make an impact, Milan continued to attack, with Musah forcing a save and Pulisic almost getting another one, were it not for the heroics of Provedel. Reijnders slammed it into the side netting, as well, just a minute or two later. Then Pioli brought on Chukwueze to replace Pulisic in the 82nd as his final sub.

Four cards in seven games, it may be some kind of record for him.

If it is not injuries, then it is discipline that will hurt Milan this season. To his credit, Theo Hernández made it to game seven before earning his fourth yellow card, but we are at a point now that we cannot afford to have him suspended. And even Maignan, who triumphantly returned for this match, earned a yellow card for timewasting in the 86th minute.

Release the Okafor: he scores his second goal in two matches. 

On the bright side, in the 88th, Leão outdid himself, mercilessly toying with the Lazio defense and sending a perfect left-footed cross in for Okafor, who had the enviable job of just tapping it in from close range. 2-0 Milan. And that made two assists for Leão, whose mercurial reviews in Italy are bizarre, considering he has three goals and three assists in the last five matches (one of which he only made a 20 minute cameo appearance.) There was a heart-stopping moment in the final minute of stoppage time when Pedro scored a stunning goal, but it was rightfully called back for offside, and Maignan kept his clean sheet. That also protected the win, which is only the third time Milan have won six of their seven opening matches in the past 30 years or so.

Making a statement on the pitch.

This match wasn't just about winning or earning another three points. This was about triumphing over Lazio fans who cannot seem to go a match without displaying some type of despicable behavior (luckily, it seems that no one was hurt.) This was about silencing the unfounded hate from the Italian media. This was about regaining trust again from fans who were too quick to criticize Pioli after a single loss. This was about the team gaining confidence ahead of a tricky fixture list. This was about Leão showing the world how much he has grown and just how consistent he can be. This was not just another feel-good victory, this was a statement win.

This post inspired by the music of Julian Cope's "World Shut Your Mouth"

Our next match is 
Champions League Group Stage
Borussia Dortmund vs. AC Milan 
Wednesday, October 4, 2023 • 21:00 CEST (3pm EDT)

Milan 2, Lazio 0: Statement Win Milan 2, Lazio 0: Statement Win Reviewed by Elaine on 4:00 AM Rating: 5
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