When it comes to AC Milan’s recent performances, the term “mixed success” immediately springs to mind. While the Rossoneri have been riveting and virtually unstoppable in Europe (see the matches against Sevilla in the Super Cup and Benfica in Champions League), their Serie A campaign just endured yet another set-back against Parma, as Ancelotti’s men drew their 3rd consecutive match in the Italian league. Meanwhile, Udinese striker Totò Di Natale is just having the time of his life. Two goals against Ukraine, followed by the winning tally against Juve last week-end, and now another double which gives Udinese another precious 3 points and puts them right back on track in their quest for Europe.
The fact that, once again, Milan striker Alberto Gilardino was sitting on the bench for the start of this match, was no surprise to anyone. While Gila is still hunting for his lost form, Filippo Inzaghi made yet another appearance for the Rossoneri, hoping to increase his goal total. Pippo is currently 13th with 83 goals in the all-time scoring ranks of the Italian ‘Red & Black Devils’, way behind Gunnar Nordahl and his 221 tallies. The rest of Carlo Ancelotti‘s team was composed of the ‘usual suspects’, with the exception of Daniele Bonera replacing Kakha Kaladze as a central back, and Cristian Brocchi on for the injured Gennaro Gattuso. Parma and their coach Domenico Di Carlo on the other hand, opted for a well-tested 4-3-3 formation with Reginaldo-Corradi-Pisanu as the attacking trio. In defense, Damiano Zenoni was preferred to Ferdinand Coly.
The early minutes of this match were clear evidence of AC Milan’s dual nature this season: all the exuberant verve and energy from their European exploits seemed gone in the Rossoneri, who had to face yet another determined team who wasn’t ready to bow down to the European champions. It must be said, the playmaking ability of Ancelotti’s men was much better than what we had witnessed in the Siena game, thanks notably to the added presence of Andrea Pirlo and Kaká in the Milan line-up. However, Parma was extremely able in exploiting any space that the Milan midfield conceded, forcing the Rossoneri backline to constantly be on their guard.
The initial exchanges in the game landed to Milan’s favor, who despite a few troubles managed nonetheless to produce the first scoring chances. Inzaghi was always dangerous in flirting with the offside line, and was perhaps unlucky in the sometimes poor assessment of the officiating staff (both chances he obtained, the first from a Kakà cross from the right, then from a Pirlo pass from the edge of the box to the far post -respectively shot on the keeper and hitting the post- were called offside). Milan’s captain Massimo Ambrosini was also very active in the offensive third, and combined beautifully with Clarence Seedorf to create some space, only to send his smashing blast from the edge of the box narrowly wide.
At the 44′ minute mark, Milan decided to strike. A beautiful cross by Kakà was delivered to Inzaghi, who attempted a direct volley from close-range. Parma keeper Nicola Pavarini couldn’t hold the ball, Stefano Morrone tried to clear it, but his slide tackle hit Clarence Seedorf from point-blank range. The Dutch midfielder, who had intelligently anticipated the clearance, was thus able to put Milan in the lead shortly before half-time, and celebrate the newly named ‘Seedorf plaza’ in his Dutch hometown of Almere. Parma immediately had the opportunity to equalize before the break, but Morrone’s chance to redeem his mistake was thwarted by his poor finish, as the midfielder slipped aiming his shot.
Seedorf’s scavenger goal came at a perfect time, and could have put Milan on a downhill slope to win the game in the 2nd half. Ancelotti’s men still had some trouble with their passing in midfield, which progressively allowed the Gialloblu to regain their confidence. Seeing that his men were still battling it out, but crucially lacked penetration power in the final third, Di Carlo decided to let Parravicini and Dessena on for Cigarini and Matteini. A move which managed to have the desired effect and gave Parma considerably more offensive options. Ancelotti tried to contain the midfield leak by inserting Emerson for Brocchi, but to no effect because eventually Parma’s efforts were going to be rewarded.
Obtaining the ball on the left wing, Parma’s Brazilian winger Reginaldo somehow managed to get rid of Nesta and deliver a perfect low cross for Giuseppe Pisanu. The one-time left-foot instepper of the Gialloblu striker eluded Dida‘s guard, and found the twine to put Parma level. 1-1. The game’s momentum had suddenly shifted, and Di Carlo’s men could have incredibly even taken the lead a few minutes later, had Jankulovski‘s heroic challenge not prevented Pisanu’s volleyed effort from close-range.
15 minutes from the end, Ancelotti opted for desperation by sending in Gilardino for Seedorf. The 2-striker Milan formation is something the San Siro faithful hadn’t seen in quite a while, but it did little to re-invigorate the Rossoneri’s luck. Instead, commenced a somewhat sad gallery of missed chances, from Kaká and Inzaghi to Couto and Corradi, passing by Gilardino. Milan’s ‘sad man’ had the chance to win it in the 94th but was denied his liberating goal by the great reflexes of keeper Pavarini. Clearly (once again) not his night, nor AC Milan’s.
|GOALSCORERS: 44′ Seedorf (M), 73’ Pisanu (P)|
|MILAN (4-3-2-1): Dida – Oddo (80’ Cafù), Nesta, Bonera, Jankulovski – Brocchi (67’ Emerson), Pirlo, Ambrosini – Kakà, Seedorf (75’ Gilardino) – F.Inzaghi (bench: Kalac, Kaladze, Favalli, Gourcuff). Coach: Ancelotti.|
|PARMA (4-3-3): Pavarini – Zenoni, Falcone, Couto, Castellini – Dessena (64’ Matteini), Parravicini (60’ Cigarini), Morrone – Reginaldo, Corradi, Pisanu (80’ Coly) (bench: Radek, Rossi, Tombesi, Paponi). Coach: Di Carlo.|
Meanwhile, if Italy coach Roberto Donadoni was watching the Udinese-Reggina match, he must have been rubbing his hands with a big grin on his face: Antonio Di Natale is having one hell of a good moment. Key passes, accelerations, inventive plays… and most importantly, lots of goals. Just two today but top quality stuff from the Napoli native, who in the space of two weeks has wiped clean Udinese’s humiliating 5-0 loss to Napoli, and brought back their hopes of European qualification (ok the season just started, but you know what I mean).
It only took very little time for the Di Natale-show to begin: exploiting some space at the corner of the box, the Udinese’s striker genius spotted keeper Andrea Campagnolo off the line and delighted the Stadio Friuli fans with looping chipped shot. 1-0 Udinese, with just 5 minutes on the clock! Ensued a series of chances for the Bianconeri to double the lead, but the Udinese fans were waiting for only one thing: that HE be the one to score. Shortly into the 2nd half, Di Natale went to work again: exploiting a good aerial through ball, the striker had a perfect first touch before executing a volleyed shot far where Campagnolo couldn’t reach. 2-0 Udinese, and Di Natale’s second pearl of the game. He almost couldn’t believe it himself.
It’s a good thing for Udinese that Totò is in top form, because despite the cascade of scoring chances they obtained, Gyan Asamoah and Fabio Quagliarella seem to be stuck in a poor accuracy / bad luck streak. The ex-Sampdoria striker notably is struggling with his new tactical role (switching from a 4-4-2 line-up at Samp to a 4-3-3 or 3-4-3), but that is not enough of an excuse for some of the easy chances the talented Quagliarella is missing. Almost looks like a “Gilardino syndrome”. Perhaps the return to Marassi next week (for the Genoa game) will be a good occasion to get back on track.
|GOALSCORERS: 5′, 62’ Di Natale (U)|
|UDINESE (3-4-3): Handanovic – Zapotocny, Coda, Zapata – Mesto, D’Agostino, Inler, Dossena – Quagliarella, Asamoah (75’ Floro Flores), Di Natale (83’ Pepe). (bench: Chimenti, Ferronetti, Lukovic, Felipe, Pinzi, Eremenko). Coach: Marino.|
|REGGINA (4-3-3): Campagnolo – Stadsgaard, Lanzaro, Aronica, Modesto – Cascione, Barreto, Halfredsson (73’ Tognozzi), Vigiani (46’ Joelson) – Tullberg (46’ Cozza), Amoruso. (bench: Novakovic, Cherubin, Ceravolo, Montiel). Coach: Ficcadenti|