AC Milan‘s stay on top of Serie A standings lasted merely a week, as the Rossoneri drew 1-1 away to Lecce, the home side making use of the one thing that still continues to be the bane of Carlo Ancelotti’s team: defending set pieces.
The 93rd minute goal scored by the Giallorossi, after Milan had dominated proceedings in their best away display so far this season, looks like a slap in the face for Ronaldinho & friends, especially since Borriello and Kaká had contrived to miss a flurry of chances for the visitors. The positive news for Galliani & Berlusconi, while they still wait for Shevchenko, is that their bet on Ronaldinho seems to be really paying off, the ex-Barcelona forward scoring the Rossoneri’s only goal from an assist by Pato (just on in place of Mathieu Flamini).
(From Gazzetta): Lecce manager Mario Beretta chose to field his side in a very orthodox 4-4-2 formation with the aim of countering Milan’s attacking verve. Beretta also replaced Andrea Esposito with Antunes in defence, while upfront the Lecce tactician put his faith in Daniele Cacia as partner to Simone Tiribocchi. On the other end, Carlo Ancelotti’s reply was to field his usual 4-3-2-1 Xmas tree formation, preferring Favalli to Kaladze in defence and Flamini to Ambrosini in midfield. Upfront, Borriello was chosen as the lone striker in front of Kaká and Ronaldinho.
And Borriello, in spite of an overall good performance, will have to take a large share of the blame for Milan’s goalless first half (and by extension, for the final scoreline) as the forward was twice guilty of failing to score from just a few yards out. After the first miss in the 13th minute, even more incredible was the second one in the 34th: the ex-Genoa striker somehow managed to fail to hit the target from just a few yards out, after receiving a great set-up by Ronaldinho.
On top of creating their scoring chances, Milan dominated the first half of the game and especially the first 20 minutes, when Lecce players hardly had a touch of the ball. This was also perhaps due to Lecce’s fearful start to the game as Milan made very few errors and forced the Giallorossi to defend deep in their own half. Kaká was also in fine form, generating his team’s best play and allowing his clever movements to give Milan a numerical advantage in more than one occasion.
The game eventually did up in tempo, when the Lecce players finally began to play further up the field (heeding their manager’s orders) later in the half . This did not bring any change to the flow of the game but Lecce’s greater pressing of the ball made life more difficult for Milan, who in spite of their totalitarian grip of the game (61% ball possession in the first 45 minutes) could not inspire any more real scoring chances on Benussi’s goal.
Milan’s domination essentially continued in the second half, even though Lecce’s counterattacks did cause the Rossoneri backline some trouble, especially in the 51st minute when Giacomazzi should have scored with his head, in what was a similar miss to Borriello’s earlier in the match. Kaká, in spite of his good performance, was also guilty of missing a gilt-edged chance when the playmaker shot over the bar whilst one-on-one with Benussi.
At this point, Beretta substituted Munari with Ardito in order to give new impetus to his midfield, but the Rossoneri’s grip of the game was not to be relinquished; the only difficulty for Milan was in the final third of the pitch where they repeatedly came up against a cluster of Lecce players, the majority of whom were now permanently stationed deep in their own half. There was another substitution for Lecce with Caserta coming on for Giacomazzi, but once again the change did not have any sort of impact on Milan’s dominance.
The Giallorossi were nonetheless resisting Milan’s siege of their goal, also due in no small part to the Rossoneri’s inability to put away their chances and who once again had Borriello to blame for missing a sitter with 15 minutes to go. Andrea Esposito then came on for the injured Polenghi, later proving to be a very wise substitution, just like Ancelotti’s, who replaced Flamini and Borriello with Pato and Inzaghi.
The deadlock was finally broken with less than 10 minutes of the game to go, Pato collecting the ball on the right and crossing in the centre, where Ronaldinho was at hand to put an unstoppable shot past Benussi. 1-0 Milan. Pato could have himself doubled his side’s lead minutes later, just before Ronaldinho was replaced with Emerson in order to give added steal to Milan’s midfield, as Lecce failed to muster any sort of response to the Rossoneri taking the lead.
As the saying goes however, never say never, especially against a defence renown for periodically losing their concentration on set pieces. And so it was to be 3 minutes into stoppage time, when Zanchetta’s hopeful ball in the box met with Andrea Esposito’s noggin and flew past a helpless Abbiati for a share of the spoils. 1-1 the final score.
|GOALSCORERS: 79’ Ronaldinho (M), 93’ A.Esposito (L).
| LECCE (4-4-2): Benussi – Polenghi (78’ A.Esposito), Stendardo, Diamoutene, Antunes – Munari (58’ Ardito), Giacomazzi (66’ Caserta), Zanchetta, Ariatti – Cacia, Tiribocchi. (bench: Rosati, Konan, Fabiano, Castillo). All: Beretta
| MILAN (4-3-2-1): Abbiati – Zambrotta, Bonera, Favalli, Jankulovski – Flamini (79’ Pato), Gattuso, Seedorf – Kaká, Ronaldinho (84’ Emerson) – Borriello (79’ Inzaghi) (bench: Dida, Kaladze, Antonini, Shevchenko). Coach: Ancelotti.