Napoli 2, Milan 2: Frustrations

Between the shock firing of a club legend, then the massive €134 million summer spend, a great start to our Serie A campaign, followed by a goal drought and the possibility of going out of the Champions League group stage, emotions of the Milan faithful have been all over the map this past five months. Then the team traveled to Napoli, where the Napoli fans once again did not disappoint, throwing fireworks and objects at traveling fans and the Milan bench. In spite of the tense atmosphere, Milan went up 2-0 with a Giroud brace in the first half, only to concede two goals and drop points in a disappointing 2-2 draw with Napoli. Giroud uncharacteristically lost his temper when subbed, and the pressure of the season added to the chaos in the stadium led to an escalation of frustrations.

Giroud scored a quick brace, but was left disappointed when Napoli equalized.

The match started off quickly, with several chances for Milan and a couple for Napoli as well. But in the 14th minute, Elmas fouled Kalulu, and by the 17th minute, the latter could not continue. This was bad news, as Pioli was already scraping the bottom of the barrel for center backs. So, under the worst of circumstances, Marco Pellegrino made his debut, subbing on for Kalulu in the 19th minute. And he was everything you would expect an unknown, unproven 21 year-old center back on his senior debut for a European club in an away match at a very hostile stadium – very shaky. You could see Tomori trying to help him, but there is only so much he could do.

Pellegrino did have a headed shot on target, but also made the error for a goal on his debut.

To distract us from that, Pulisic brilliantly put the ball in perfectly for Giroud in the 22nd, who headed it in so powerfully that, although Meret got a hand to it, he could not save it. 1-0 Milan. It was so unexpected and such a relief after yet another injury. Unfortunately, the Napoli fans did not care for it and started throwing objects at both the Milan bench and the Milan away fans. They were also lighting fireworks, and reportedly threw those at the Milan supporters, as well. I have never seen a group of Ultras less interested in football and more interested in just wreaking havoc and violence everywhere they go.

Their douchebaggery caused Orsato to stop the match for a few minutes, and afterward, it seemed like maybe Napoli benefited from the delay. Kvaratskhelia sent a great ball across the face of goal, but Politano was unable to connect. Mario Rui also tried to catch Maignan off his line with a chance from distance, but it went over. But their efforts were in vain, and in the 31st, Giroud headed it in once again, this time from a Calabria cross. 2-0 Milan. The Rossoneri captain was once again Kvaratskhelia's kryptonite, keeping the Georgian off the scoreboard after four goals and two assists in his previous four matches.

Not only did Calabria keep Kvaratskhelia in check, Musah had a great game.

Reijnders had a couple of very near misses. He seems to have watched De Ketelaere's season last year, because he has had so many chances where he was so close to scoring, bud just has not yet. Napoli had a couple of more chances, but Milan mainly dominated the first half, and closed out the first 45 minutes with chances from Giroud, Pulisic, and Musah that all went wide or were blocked.

There is a lot of hyperbole around Milan's performance in the second half, but it wasn't so much their performance as it was Napoli's that changed the game. Rudi Garcia boldly made three substitutions at the half and switched to a 4-4-2, and the effect was immediate. While Pioli had to bring on Romero because Pulisic was suffering from muscle fatigue, Napoli were like a totally different team after the half.  And, also thanks to some 21 year-old debut defending from Pellegrino, Politano scored in the 50th minute. Now it was 2-1 Milan.

The second half presented more obstacles.

Whether it was the overwhelming atmosphere or the fact that he had a new defender in front of him, Maignan seemed a little less sure of himself, as well, making a couple of uncharacteristic errors. And while he also made big saves, such as the one point blank on Di Lorenzo in the 58th, there was nothing he could do when Raspadori's amazing free kick came through the wall and into the back of his net for the equalizer. 2-2 all. 

Leão had a couple of chances, including forcing Meret into a good save, and even Pellegrino attempted a header. Maignan and Østigård collided, and while Maignan seemed to get a boot to the leg, the Norwegian defender looked like he got the worst of the collision. In the 73rd minute, someone I did not recognize who was apparently part of Pioli's staff got sent off for something he said, apparently. 

A worrying collision for both players, but not Maignan's best performance.

Pioli's subs in the 80th minute drew angry reactions from Giroud and Leão, both of whom just wanted to stay in the game and get the win, I'm sure. Giroud especially was upset, and apologized afterward, saying "I'm only human," and reiterating that he had simply wanted to stay on the pitch to help his team get the win. 

Yellow cards flowed as frustrations grew, with Reijnders, Luka Romero, and Musah all receiving cautions, as well as a number of Napoli players. This became significant in the 89th minute, when Natan fouled Luka Romero and was shown his second yellow of the night, so a red card, being sent off and leaving Napoli on ten men. Stoppage time was nail-biting, with Calabria sending a header just wide and Kvaratskhelia seeing his final shot saved by Maignan.

Hopefully hindsight will help celebrate Giroud's brilliance.

The media made a big deal about Leão and especially Giroud's outbursts when they were subbed off. They are also taking certain comments Giroud made and taking them out of context and blowing them out of proportion, as they are known to do. But everyone has noticed that in the space of a week, Calabria and Giroud have both publicly displayed frustration with their situation and Pioli had to answer questions about it. 

Some are saying that Pioli has lost the team, but it seems more like they are just frustrated with the situation. After firing Maldini and selling Tonali for blood money, this management made it clear that no one is safe. Then very publicly posted a video of a not-very-family-like barbecue with the players and Furlani cruising around in a shirt and slacks taking selfies trying to show that they were all a family. That is a horrible environment to be in. 

Imagine having a performance like this, getting subbed while dropping points... he's only human.

Then came the injuries, for which no one has any answers for. Milan have addressed this in every way possible, bringing in new personnel each year previously and changing training methods, all to no avail. To make matters worse, the results in the Champions League put everything at risk financially, and are likely making players question their decisions to stay even further. 

Losing the core players that this squad is clearly dependent upon would be devastating for this "project," as you cannot buy talent like that for €20 million each, nor will Milan have that spending availability without the Champions League results. With the team spiraling the way they are, that will also impact the selling price of these players, further limiting their potential replacements. Then there is the issue of replacing so many players at once, the price of which we are already seeing this season.

Rudi Garcia is a perfect example of how new coaches are not always better options.

The question of Pioli gets raised with every poor result now. Yet replacing him at this point could be the final straw in destroying this team. He is the only source of consistency and familiarity these players have after so many exits this summer. There is an art form of knowing when a manager is losing the team vs. when you might lose the team if you change managers, and I would definitely not trust this management to recognize it. They are still trying to get Ibrahimović to return to replace what they had in Maldini before Cardinale's narcissism got the best of him in June. Then there is also the fortune of finding the right replacement who happens to be available for the right price at the right time. None of those conditions seem to exist right now. Except the tired Pioli Out hashtags from misinformed, delusional fans, of course.

A moment of joy for these 3, who have sacrificed so much for this team, hard to blame them for being frustrated.

The frustrations in this match were more than what happened in the second half of an away match at a hostile stadium. They are frustrations about things off the pitch, of years of sweat and blood for a project they signed onto that no longer exists, of working for a lower salary in a team that was credibly working toward goals, but now is being run by inexperienced people. Not to mention being constantly subjected to the constant barrage of negativity that is toxic Italian media. All is certainly not lost. The qualities are there to build a winning team. Pioli has gone through this and passed the test for four years now. But after a tough week with results that did not always represent the performance, and slipping from first place to third place on the table, frustrations simply boiled over.

This post inspired by the music of Dionne Warwick's "What the World Needs Now"

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 11
Milan vs. Udinese
Saturday, November 4, 2023 • 20:45 CET (3:45pm EDT*)
*Note the time difference due to Daylight Savings ending in Europe on Sunday.

Napoli 2, Milan 2: Frustrations Napoli 2, Milan 2: Frustrations Reviewed by Elaine on 8:01 AM Rating: 5
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