He’s done it again!! After single-handledly giving AC Milan their 7th Champions League in history, Super Pippo Inzaghi has struck twice, the same number of times he did last May 23rd in Athens, against Liverpool FC. This time the victim is called Juventus, and the venue the much anticipated first “serious” tournament of the Serie A season, the Trofeo Luigi Berlusconi.
Indeed despite this is still a friendly encounter (now at its 17th edition), many Serie A fans regard this match as the first pre-season trophy worth fighting for, both because of its prestige and because it’s always nice to beat one of your biggest rivals before the season starts! Created in 1991 by Milan president Silvio Berlusconi in memory of his father Luigi, the competition was supposed to to feature AC Milan against a different club every year, preferably the one that had won the Champions League the previous year. However, after the match-ups against Inter, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich (1992-1994), the decision was made that Juventus be the Rossoneri’s opponent at every competition, and since then the trophy has become classic hallmark of Serie A pre-season events.
If you were to ask the players however, some will perhaps say that they’d gladly let their rivals grab the victory! Why is that? Well, for those of you that don’t know, winning the Berlusconi is associated with a bit of a funny curse: whoever wins it will not be winning the Serie A. Over the last decade, this has often proven to be accurate, so the players and managers jokingly want to avoid the “cursed victory”. These are of course only superstitions though, and when the time comes to step down on the field, every AC Milan and Juve player will usually give their heart out to beat their opponent. This year was no different.
The game started with both teams taking precautions in studying their opponent: this was no 45-min encounter like the Trofeo TIM, and we are rapidly approaching the intensity of the full 90 minutes of important matches (Serie A is only a week away!). Just like a couple of days ago, Juve was the team taking more initiatives in the first part of the half, controlling ball possession better and advancing often in AC Milan’s danger zone. Molinaro‘s movement on the left wing gave the Milan defenders a few worries, and a very inspired Alessandro Del Piero seemed to transform everything he touched into magic.
Despite Juve’s domination however, there were few actual chances recorded in this first period. Almirón had a nice effort from long-range receiving a Del Piero assist, but his shot was a good 2-3 meters wide. Inzaghi gave the Juve supporters a few shivers, first on a close-range headed cross that Buffon did well to deflect, then through a mid-range effort following a defensive mistake (a dangerous aerial backpass from the Juve midfield) that was too central to worry Juve and Italy’s nº1 in net. However, you can never trust Inzaghi to miss too many chances in a row: eventually, he will sting!
Following a ball lost in midfield by the Bianconeri, the play was picked up by Massimo Ambrosini on the left side, who looked up and spotted Inzagol making a run to the first post from the center. In came the cross, Criscito (up until then very good) forgot what man-marking was all about, and Inzaghi had no trouble adjusting the header from close-range. 1-0 for AC Milan.
That was effectively the last chance of the half, as referee Luca Banti sent everyone to the changing rooms for half-time. Just like in Trofeo TIM, despite Juve had dominated for most of the game, AC Milan had been incredibly cynical and adept at pushing on the gas pedal at the right moment. The result was a 1-0 lead for the Rossoneri.
Back from half-time, to borrow a French expression: “on prend les mêmes, et on recommence” (we take the same people, and we start over). AC Milan corner from the left, Criscito deflects the ball over to the 2nd post and boy, is it a gift for Super Pippo: no trouble beating Salihamidzic in close duel, and it’s 2-0 for Milan!
What a bummer for Juve who at this point, decidedly doesn’t agree with the current scoreline at all! Immediate reaction from the Bianconeri: corner kick by Olivera, and spectacular volleyed effort by Nedved on the edge of the box! Unfortunately, the Czech international’s effort is off target and doesn’t bother Dida in the least. Following Ranieri’s substitutions (Tiago in for Almirón and Palladino in for Iaquinta, once again, disappointing), Juve’s verve gets however a solid boost. Palladino may not be a pure striker like Iaquinta, but his movement (and more importantly: match form) are far superior at this time of the month, and Juve begins immediately to create danger from the right wing. A run on the far right by Juve’s young striker sends Bonera spinning, and opens the path for a solid shot, but Palladino isn’t left-footed and his central effort is deftly neutralized by AC Milan’s Brazilian keeper.
Onto the other end: imitating Nedved a few minutes earlier, Seedorf exploits a cross from Pirlo and throws himself in a spectacular bicycle kick! The effort is right at Buffon however, and the bounce off the ground takes a lot of power off the shot, allowing Juve’s keeper to handle the ball easily.
There are about 15-20 minutes left at this point, and the rest of the match is only Juve: Nedved finds himself with an excellent chance on the left side of the box, following a deflected cross from the opposite end, but his jumping effort is horribly wide. You’d have expected much better accuracy from the Czech midfielder in that position! Del Piero tries to surprise Dida with a sverwing free kick from 25m, but the Milan keeper takes no risks and parries the ball away. Then in the final minutes, Tiago has a great effort from 25 yards and blasts a powerful shot below the bar, but Dida is once again on the trajectory and tips it over.
Nedved has a few more goes from mid-range, but they’re the last plays of the game: Milan wins yet another Trofeo Berlusconi (bringing their total to 9, compared to the Bianconeri’s 8). Man of the match: predator of the penalty box, Mr. Pippo Inzaghi.
|GOALSCORERS: 43’, 46’ Inzaghi (M)|
|MILAN (4-3-1-2): Dida – Oddo (46’ Cafu), Nesta (67’ Bonera), Kaladze (88’ Digao), Favalli (46’ Serginho) – Gattuso (46’ Brocchi), Pirlo, Ambrosini – Seedorf – Gilardino, Inzaghi (58’ Gourcuff). (bench: Kalac, Simic, Bonera, Aubameyang). Coach: Ancelotti.|
|JUVENTUS (4-4-2): Buffon – Grygera, Andrade, Criscito, Molinaro – Salihamidzic (67’ Olivera), Nocerino, Almiron (46’ Tiago), Nedved – Iaquinta (46’ Palladino), Del Piero. (bench: Belardi, Novembre, Zebina, Boumsong, Legrottaglie, Zalayeta). Coach: Ranieri.|
Concerning Juve, no surprises: this match revealed what has now become the all-too-evident weak spot of the Bianconeri’s side: their back-line. I’ve been saying this for a while now: Juve is severely lacking the presence of a re-assuring central back to hold the defense together. Andrade has shown some very good things, but he can’t do everything himself. Grygera can’t always play in the center (in fact, he’d prefer taking the right-back position) and Criscito, who undoubtedly has a lot of potential and will become a good player in the future, is still very inexperienced and made two mistakes today that cost Juve the goals. Ranieri says that Juve won’t be back on the market, but quite honestly he’s either bluffing, or shooting himself in the foot. Where is Cannavaro when you need him?
Concerning AC Milan, one can only agree with the analysis of Mr. Riccardo Pratesi (Gazzetta dello Sport) who said it best: on top of showing off a top-form Inzaghi, Milan demonstrated the strength, calmness and expertise of a great team: one that knows how to distribute their efforts across the full 90 minutes, and that knows when to push forward and strike where it hurts at precisely the right time.