Valencia beat Milan 2-1 at the Mestalla on Sunday in a game that paired teams on the rebound.
Both clubs finished eighth in their respective leagues last season, and both have sold star players in recent years.
So this was a night for some new signings—to compare projects. And Valencia showed why their future looks a little brighter.
Paco Alcacer and Spanish striker Rodrigo, recently signed by Valencia from Benfica, scored the two goals. Rodrigo got the winner after shredding Milan’s immobile defence in the first half. He picked up the ball inside the box, dashed past Stephan El Shaarawy and Michelangelo Albertazzi and caught Diego Lopez by surprise on his near post.
Lopez was making his own debut for Milan, and it was pretty much a disaster. The first goal was not so much his fault. If anything, it was a reminder of the problems Milan have in defence, not an indictment of the goalkeeper.
Colombian defender Cristian Zapata—back from his holiday after playing in the World Cup—tried to gently pass the ball back to Daniele Bonera in the middle of the pitch, but Alcacer ran right on to it and blasted a long shot past Lopez. The 32-year-old was caught off his line, and he couldn’t scramble back in time.
Alcacer is 20 and Rodrigo is 23. These are two exciting players on a team that is looking to rebuild—quite literally—with new owner Peter Lim. Valencia ran into debt, and they had to sell players and stop construction on a new stadium. They had sold David Villa, David Silva, Juan Mata and Roberto Soldado to relieve some of their financial burden.
Have to say , amazing atmosphere at the The Mestalla. Was at this stadium about 8 years ago. Great city and fan base. -GC— AC Milan Club NY/NJ (@ACMilanNYC) August 17, 2014
But the mood is different with Lim on board. On Sunday, fans were there holding scarves aloft and chanting in midseason form. It was a festive match for a game billed as a friendly.
For Milan, things are quite the opposite. This is a team stuck in transition, without much transparency from their own owner, Silvio Berlusconi. It is the first season for Pippo Inzaghi, and he has spent the last few months assessing a squad in flux.
Milan looked better than they did when they lost 3-0 to Olympiacos in Toronto and when they were hammered by Manchester City days later. “I accept mistakes,” Inzaghi said after the match, “as this was after all a friendly. … We have to accept the fact we lost, but it looks like a different team compared to three weeks ago.”
Some things will not change, and Sulley Muntari is one of them. He was not only recently re-signed by Milan—to a contract until June 2016—but he was also given a raise.
He has not shown why. He picked up another yellow card against Valencia, and he kept taking shots from afar, a long way away from civilization. It is almost a rite of passage for Muntari. In every game, he is almost obligated to shoot. The rare occasion he does score, but it is too few and far between to justify.
Another frustrating sight was Keisuke Honda. The 28-year-old scored a ferocious free-kick that beat an outstretched Diego Alves, the only goal Milan could muster. But his corner kick was a sight to behold.
Not once but twice, Honda looked back at the turf after punting the ball high up in the air from the corner. These were kicks that belonged in the National Football League. Honda is not getting a whole lot of press right now—he has struggled all throughout 2014—but it is curious how someone could be so accurate on a free-kick and yet so wild on a corner.
But then Honda takes a corner kick like this ... https://t.co/ioVIKfXnTA— Anthony Lopopolo (@sportscaddy) August 17, 2014
The one player that offered a bit of hope was Jeremy Menez. The French winger was bought from PSG on a free transfer, and he spent the last month getting fit. He shares a close relationship with Inzaghi, who convinced the former Roma man to join the Rossoneri, as per AC Milan's official website (h/t Forza Italian Football).
Inzaghi admitted after this match that Menez is not yet “fit to start,” but he was quick off the ball, and he wrong-footed defenders and drew fouls. It was an impressive performance as a substitute. He was pretty explosive for a player with work still left to do.
Two weeks remain until the start of the Serie A season. Inzaghi says they will be ready.
On Sunday’s performance, it is clear they are not yet.