Good form comes and goes at AC Milan lately. One week, the Rossoneri get beaten by teams like Bologna and Genoa. Later, they rebound nicely with a whopping 4-1 against Lazio and derby win over Inter Milan. Then later still, we get back to abysmal displays against modest teams, such as Sunday’s 0-0 draw vs. the last-ranked team of Serie A, Cagliari.
What gives, Mr. Ancelotti?
(From Gazzetta dello Sport): Was it a nice evening? That depends. The team held down at Sant’Elia Sunday was without a doubt one of the ugliest ones in Milan’s recent history. The Rossoblu stopped their opponents’ victory march (Milan were on 5-game winning streak since September 19) with a 0-0 draw, one that was more detrimental to Massimiliano Allegri’s squad on account of their vast amount of scoring chances. For Cagliari it was a small step forward, as the Rossoblu obtained their first Serie A points of the season. For Milan however, it meant a big step back on recent progress and a missed chance to get close to the top of the board.
Cagliari’s manager set aside traditional tactics and defensive barriers tonight, selecting a 4-3-1-2 line-up with Cossu supporting Joaquin Larrivey and Robert Acquafresca. The home team desperately needed points just as much as the Rossoneri needed continuity, and mindful of the good outcome of the derby, Carlo Ancelotti selected again the Ka-Pa-Ro Brazilian trio in attack, namely Kaká and Dinho behind Pato. Clarence Seedorf occupied the midfield Pirlo-style.
Cagliari were the most threatening team in the initial minutes, getting a truly fierce start directly proportional to Milan’s defensive flaws (which included leaving acres of open spaces for their opponents). 3 minutes into the game, Fini overtook every single one of his opponents on the right wing and crossed from the end-line; there was no Cagliari player in the right place to tap it in though.
Cossu, a technical and intelligent player, was the anchor of the Sardinians. Every move revolved around him and just like his team-mates, he was ready to withdraw and stay behind the ball when Milan had possession. Allegri asked everyone to make sacrifices in order to create numerical superiority in all areas of the pitch, and his strategy worked. It also proved successful when the squad was supposed to launch quick vertical moves that sliced the Milan lines in half. In sum, Cagliari did what they could but also knew how to flare up, and when ignited they inflicted severe pain on their guests.
A good example of that was Cossu’s move in the 20th minute, when taking advantage of a hole in the opponent’s lines, the midfielder left the ball to Larrivey, who dribbled Maldini and Abbiati, but wasted his shot from a difficult angle. What did Milan do in the meantime? Without open spaces and 360-degree pressure, they tried to move the ball around but without many resulting shots on net (with the exception of a Pato chipped effort deflected by Marchetti). In other words, it was the usual AC Milan: notoriously slow and affected, trying academic solutions that proved useless in a maze of Rossobu legs. The 34th minute of play brought bad news for the Sardinians: Larrivey had to come off the pitch with a serious injury, forcing his replacement with Jeda, but all in all (and despite the mediocre first half) this was an energetic Cagliari team opposed to a spark-less AC Milan. Ronaldinho was definitely not in derby-mode tonight…
In the second half the Rossoneri showed more conviction in their attack, with Seedorf moving on the right wing and Gattuso taking position as a central midfielder. Faster and more concentrated than in the first period the Rossoneri dominated, but despite a lower ball possession the Cagliari danger kept lurking. Acquafresca was continuously caught offside, but at least he tried and it was only a slight error in aim that prevented Michele Fini from shooting the ball past Abbiati in the area in the 61st. Let’s not even mention Alessandro Agostini‘s chance 3 minutes later, who managed to sending the ball long off the end-line in front of a wide-open goal.
Ancelotti realized that there was no covering work being done in the middle, and made Gattuso and Seedorf swap places again. Also, and this despite Alexandre Pato’s two good opportunities to score (a diagonal shot and a header), the Milan coach decided he wasn’t going home without the three points today, thus throwing on Inzaghi and Shevchenko for Pato and Ronaldinho. Until the final whistle however, even though both teams had very good opportunities of grabbing a late win (notably through Ambrosini, Fini and Conti), the ball refused to enter the net. 0-0 FT, with president Silvio Berlusconi not hiding his disappointment.
| CAGLIARI (4-3-1-2): Marchetti – Pisano, Lopez, Bianco, Agostini – Fini, Conti, Biondini (90’ Lazzari) – Cossu – Acquafresca (76’ Matri), Larrivey (34’ Jeda). (bench: Lupatelli, Matheu, Canini, Astori). Coach: Allegri.
| MILAN (4-3-2-1): Abbiati – Zambrotta, Bonera, Maldini, Jankulovski – Gattuso (80’ Flamini), Seedorf, Ambrosini – Kaká, Ronaldinho (72’ Shevchenko) – Pato (72’ F.Inzaghi). (bench: Dida, Darmian, Antonini, Emerson). Coach: Ancelotti.