Champions League preparation wasn’t the same ballpark game for Milan, as it was for Roma: while the Giallorossi will be travelling to Madrid with a confident feeling, the Rossoneri will be coming from a rather bleak week of Serie A matches: 1-1 vs. Catania Wednesday, same score vs. Lazio today. Granted, Milan will be playing their second leg vs. Arsenal at home, defending a good 0-0 result obtained at Emirates stadium (while Roma will have to keep a potentially troublesome Madrid away goal in mind), but absences in the roster may be starting to take their toll on Ancelotti’s team. They certainly did today.
For today’s match-up, AC Milan had two objectives: keep their forces fresh for Wednesday’s fixture against Arsenal, while staying close to Fiorentina in the Serie A standings. In other words: win with the least amount of effort against Lazio. Easier said than done for Carlo Ancelotti, when players like Nesta, Kaká, and Pirlo aren’t even on the team sheet. The Milan coach was thus forced to field a rather unique 4-3-1-2 formation, with Gennaro Gattuso, Emerson, and Yoann Gourcouff providing thickness to the midfield, and Clarence Seedorf supporting strikers Alexandre Pato and Alberto Gilardino. On the other end, Lazio manager Delio Rossi emulated the tactics of his Rossoneri colleague, fielding Goran Pandev supporting the Rolando Bianchi/Tommaso Rocchi duo, and the Dabo-Ledesma-Behrami trio in midfield.
Rather unsurprisingly, the first half of the match was (litterally) quite painful to watch. No scoring chances, and sometimes even no playing chances worthy of that name. Without Pirlo, Milan proved essentially incapable of finding vertical space for their strikers, a situation usually by the velocity and agility of Kaká. Whoops I forgot: he wasn’t there either. And as far as expecting Gourcouff to step into the Brazilian’s shoes, well… keep dreaming. Not today.
To make matters worse (for Milan and for play), in minute 25 Clarence Seedorf picked up a knock and was forced off. Fortunately for Ancelotti, the injury was of a muscular nature and should not prevent the Dutchman from missing the Arsenal match, but it effectively meant that for today, the last glipmse of playing elegance disappeared from the field. What about Pato? He was playing well, trying his best to make something out of nothing, but it is rather hard when you have zero playable passes made to you. What about Lazio? Worse than Milan: slow movements, slow counters, speculative long-range attempts. 0-0 at the half.
How to change the situation in the second period? Ancelotti attempted the all-or-nothing strategy: off with Jankulovski and Emerson, replaced by Digão (Kaká’s younger brother) and Massimo Ambrosini. The age average of the Milan players dropped considerably (~25), and if you count the entrance of Alberto Paloschi in the first half (on for Seedorf), the Rossoneri ended up playing with a 4-3-3 line-up, and a 61-year cumulative age for their striking trio (Pato-Paloschi-Gilardino). Youngn’s on the field…
But were the youngn’s… good’ones? Nope. The period between minutes 51 and 55 saw Zeljko Kalac wearing the hat of miracle worker, as he stopped in quick succession shots by Rocchi (twice) and Pandev. Good shots. In fact, I really couldn’t distinguish if that was Kalac today or the fusion of Buffon, Cech and Casillas into one über-keeper. Unfortunately, there was little the Aussie international could do when a delightful Lazio collective move (stemming from Dabo to Rocchi inside the box) was finalized by Rolando Bianchi with a sliding flick of the boot. 1-0 Lazio in minute 54.
The reaction of AC Milan was almost immediate, and you may call it ‘youth rage’: Gourcuff finally pressed the ‘ON’ switch and provided an excellent assist for Pato in the middle, but the Brazilian youngster’s effort was wide of the mark. Intensity dropped somewhat after that, and one had to wonder whether it was going to revert to its previous first half level, or if the Rossoneri were going to fight for survival here, in their home stadium…
Give it the name you want (fighting spirit or lady luck), the draw eventually arrived: in minute 66 following a corner-kick delivery, Sebastiano Siviglia upended Kakha Kaladze inside the Lazio box, causing a penalty kick. Massimo Oddo transformed the spot-shot, and brought Milan level. 1-1.
Fortunately for their supporters (as well as neutral spectators who don’t particularly enjoy passes going nowhere), the tying goal revitalized Milan who were now pushing forward in numbers. Pato was playing cat & mouse with the Lazio backline and showing off his skills, Paloschi was showing off his energy, while Gilardino was showing off… well nothing. A ghost. The Rossoneri really had the chance to go for the kill, when Lorenzo De Silvestri picked up a straight red for preventing a flash Pato counter-attack, but alas they did not seize it. In the remaining 6 minutes, 10-men Lazio entrenched into their box and kept the opponent at bay.
At the end of the day, the 1-1 final scoreline will be a good result for Lazio and a mediocre one for Milan. Milanisti worldwide, do not despair though: you should get some consolation in the fact your keeper had an awesome match today. In fact, in the last month Kalac has turned his status of benchwarmer into that of ‘insurance policy with excellent payouts’. Under these terms, who the hell needs Dida? Hopefully, the gloved giant will repeat his performance on Wednesday, and keep Milan’s doorstep safe from Adebayor & colleagues. We shall see.
|GOALSCORERS: 54’Bianchi (L), 66’ pen. Oddo (M)|
|MILAN (4-3-1-2): Kalac – Oddo, Bonera, Kaladze, Jankulovski (46’ Digão) – Gattuso, Emerson (46’ Ambrosini), Gourcuff – Seedorf (36’ Paloschi) – Pato, Gilardino (bench: Fiori, Maldini, Gianola, F.Inzaghi). Coach: Ancelotti.|
|LAZIO (4-3-1-2): Ballotta – De Silvestri, Siviglia, Cribari, Radu – Dabo (60’ Mudingayi), Ledesma, Behrami (89’ Rozenhal) – Pandev – Bianchi (76’ Manfredini), Rocchi (bench: Muslera, Kolarov, Meghni, Tare). Coach: Rossi.|