Milan 1, Napoli 0: Back in Black

Milan extended their unbeaten run in Serie A to nine matches on Sunday with a 1-0 win over Napoli. What is most extraordinary about that is that Milan had not managed to beat Napoli at San Siro in a league match in ten years. What made it even better was winning wearing the new fourth kits, because nothing is better than winning while looking your best. Not only do Milan truly look to be back in form, but they are back in black.

When you look good, you feel good, and it makes winning that much better.

The match began with a number of physical challenges, and referee Doveri made it clear that he was not going to be calling anything. That set the tone for plenty of violence in this one. But the first thing anyone really had that was close to a chance was in the tenth minute, when Kvaratskhelia battled through and sent the ball in nicely for an approaching Simeone, only to be shutdown by our Viking defender, Kjaer the Enforcer.

Kjaer the Enforcer has given us all he had during our injury crisis.

The battle continued, with both teams struggling to maintain any consistency in possession, let alone create any opportunities. Until the magical moment in the 25th minute, when out of the blue, Theo from the middle of the field sent the ball forward to Giroud and began his ran, Giroud quickly passed to Leão, and Leão set the ball up perfectly for the incoming train that was Theo Hernández, who slotted the ball behind Gollini without really any resistance. 1-0 Milan. Epic goal. Epic celebrations. Epic kits.

That goal made Leão hungry, and in the 28th, he went rapper v rapper, Way 45 sending a stunning curling shot in from outside the box that forced Gollorius into a big save. Gabbia also tried to test Gollini by chipping the ball from distance, but it was an easier save for the keeper. Then misfortune struck once again when Calabria went down with an apparent muscle injury. Milan's run of form has coincided with fewer matches and fewer injuries, and now, in the first of five matches in 15 days again, a new injury. Florenzi replaced the captain in the 37th, but could he keep Kvaratskhelia quiet the way that only Calabria has been able to?

A speeding Theo approaches Leão's rap nemesis, Gollorius, aka Gollini.

The first half ended with more physicality, as even a collision with Doveri himself seemed to nearly injure Zambo Anguissa, and then in the 44th there were bodies everywhere. It seems that Loftus-Cheek had connected with Lobotka's face in a perhaps less-than-ethical way, and Leão was also fouled hard, both of which could have been in contention for yellow cards in a match with a normal referee. But not Doveri. He was apparently allergic to cards for this one.

The second half opened with Mazzarri pulling off his Viking defender, Østigård, and replacing him with Politano, who seemed hell bent on scoring against Milan all on his own, if necessary. But it was actually Florenzi who had the next big chance, after Adli sent the ball in, he took the shot, which nearly slipped under Gollini and he struggled to get control over, so Giroud got to it and tried to tap it in, but the keeper managed to finally stop it. 

Florenzi's Roma roots showing facing hated rival Napoli, his personal Derby della Sole.

There were a couple of plays that could have been penalty calls, but I don't think were properly looked at, such as in the 49th minute, when Loftus-Cheek was taken down in the box. I assume Doveri had been reading all of the Milan fans complain about Loftus-Cheek all season and his apparent inability to stay on his feet, even after he scored five goals for us. The heart attack shots that were just wide began, including the one from Simeone that came after a random Bennacer error in the 54th, we were so incredibly lucky that Simeone missed.

Florenzi also had to come to the rescue for Kjaer in the 59th, who tried to tackle Kvaratskhelia and missed, forcing the Italian to sprint across and just push the ball out at the goalline to avoid the worst. Doveri's blind refereeing continued as Giroud was very dangerously shoved in the back by Rrahmani with zero intention of getting the ball, but no card still. This made me question whether Doveri had been reading Milan fans online after all, since they all say Giroud is so old, surely Doveri would have taken that into consideration and protected the elderly.

In a twist of fate, Scudetto holder Kvaratskhelia looks on as last year's outcast Adli controls the ball.

Theo channeled his inner Giroud in the 62nd with an attempted acrobatic shot that was saved. Then Pioli replaced a maxed-out and possibly injured Kjaer with the young Simić, and brought on Musah for Bennacer. Gabbia, who was an absolute beast again in this match, made a huge block again in the 67th, then Leão sent another one just wide in the 70th. Florenzi was mixing it up with a much bigger Juan Jesus, that man is fearless, but Doveri did have a little chat with them to try to calm them down. 

In the 80th, Jović replaced an exhausted looking Giroud and the young Alex Jiménez replaced Pulisic. Shortly after, Maignan sent a ball forward that should have been an assist, as Florenzi received it and was basically 1 v1 with Gollini, but he waited just too long to settle it, and lost his opportunity. Disaster nearly struck as Simić tried to make a block from a Lindstrøm shot in the 89th minute, but instead nearly scored an own goal, however, he was spared by the ball hitting the post. The rebound shot from Di Lorenzo was also saved by a great Maignan save, tipping it over the top of the bar.

Gabbia was heroic, Florenzi a workhorse, and Maignan got his first clean sheet in a while.

As if that wasn't exciting enough, right after that, there was a VAR review for a potential penalty. Di Lorenzo went down in the box, so the review was for the foul. But replays also showed that the ball came off Musah's arm after that, so technically there were two incidents Napoli players were upset about. But after the VAR review (although, of course, Doveri did not go look at the screen,) it was determined that there was no penalty. The tension continued through more than six long minutes of stoppage time, during which Doveri finally showed Theo Hernández a yellow card, on the second card in a match that could have had many cards. But the final whistle blew, and Milan had done it.

The goal was scored early, but it did not make the rest of the match any less intense. Milan played confidently against a Napoli side who were missing their star striker, starting goalkeeper, and more. Ironically, Osimhen was playing with Chukwueze and Nigeria at the AFCON final simultaneously to this match. Chukwueze was given the large speaker duties, as well as a place in the starting lineup. He played 56 minutes, and when he was subbed off, Nigeria were winning. Shortly after he was subbed off, Ivory Coast's Kessié scored, then they scored again to take the title from Nigeria. So obviously, Nigeria missed out on Chukwueze's Milan winning ways.

Reasons to smile. 

But back to the San Siro, despite Milan missing our starting center backs and losing our starting right back to injury, we finally managed to keep a clean sheet again. Milan also have 52 points on the table after week 24, having only done better in 2003-04 and 1995-96 seasons in the three point era, according to OptaPaolo. Despite Bennacer's one glaring error, you have to thank him for helping us defensively in the midfield as well. The injury situation is a bit worrying, but Thiaw will be back this week, and Tomori and Kalulu are a few weeks away as well. And at least the kit situation was phenomenal. Just in time for our Europa League Playoff matches, we are back in black.

This post inspired by the music of AC/DC's "Back in Black"

Our next match is 
Europa League Playoffs
Milan vs. Rennes
Thursday, February 15 • 21:00 CET (3pm EST)

Milan 1, Napoli 0: Back in Black Milan 1, Napoli 0: Back in Black Reviewed by Elaine on 9:36 AM Rating: 5
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