The day when the legends met
Nerves were ceased at the San Siro when the clock read four minutes into the stoppage time. The home team were trailing a goal down to the mighty opponents and were working out of their skins to ensure at least a point from the home fixture and maintain the pressure over the league leaders Lazio.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Filippo Inzaghi were intending to cut across the defence from the right flank when the LB position of the opponents was held by a natural winger Simone Pepe.
The duo, with ample experience at their helm were able to successfully ease past Pepe with a classical link-up and it was about the time when Inzaghi would break across the six yard box with an intention to provide a grounded cross to three waiting red and black shirts at both the far and the near posts.
What followed was a classic example of dramas that add to the intensity of such high-profile encounters involving the biggest teams in the world.
The 37-year-old Inzaghi was only centimetres away from dizzying the ball into the penalty area and is just when he was brought down to the turf by opposition midfielder Momo Sissoko with the ugliest challenge of the match. The referee blew the whistle and the crowd went crazy.
For a moment or two, most of them would have fancied Andrea Pirlo unfold his magic with yet another bruising penalty kick past the ex-Rossoneri Marco Storarri and secure a point at home. The fascinations however, were to be short-lived as the referee did not take any longer in pointing to the linesman who had raised an offside flag well before Inzaghi drove the ball forward.
Pippo was stunned and so was the attendance crowd of 80,000 passionate Italians who bleed red and black. The ambitions of putting his team to a levelled spot were shelved by a flag raised against him and Inzaghi moved backwards in despair.
It took only one more goal kick by Storarri for Gianluca Rocchi to take say "Enough is enough." The Italian did not waste any more seconds in blowing the whistle and authorised the old lady to take away all the three points back home in Turin.
Can Milan and Juventus register victories the upcoming fixtures in Europe?
Good Start But Failed To Capitalise
This little quivery event in the dying moments of the week 9 fixture between AC Milan and Juventus played at San Siro simply exemplifies the tempo the whole match was played at. Milan certainly looked to be the better team on paper and their start to the game solidified the fact.
Incisive passing coupled with accuracy in long balls ensured a decent supply to the two forwards and very soon they managed a comfortable hold over the game. The balance between pace and skill was apt in the opening minutes but like it has shown on many occasions this season, their forwards failed to capitalise on the created chances.
While an offside call over Pato’s run in the first half would be open to debate, but the overall finishing was quite sub-standard which is beyond tolerance in matches of this nature where much more than just points is at stake.
Ibrahimovic was able to gather his acts in the 80th minute and netted a header in from a pin-point cross provided by Milan’s player of the season so far—Luca Antonini. The goal reduced the deficit to one but it came a little too late for them to find a second one.
Max Allegri tactically had a better game as he introduced a new design where Robinho played the role of Attacking Midfielder with Gattuso in the centre and Boetang at the right of the midfield. Ibrahimovic was upfront along with Pato playing quite deep from the right. Andrea Pirlo was assigned the duty to win the battle in the midfield as he was quite a few yards backwards being the sole defensive midfielder for the home team.
Juve Bang On Target
Juventus on the other hand, were adamant with the classical 4-4-2 formation despite little pleasing results in the previous two games. With Amauri and Iaquinta both being benched due to lack of match fitness, the new signing Fabio Quagliarella started with club’s cult hero, Alessandro Del Piero. The Bianconneri midfield was made up of Felipe Melo, Claudio Marchisio, Alberto Aquilani and Jorge Andres Martines.
The absence of goal machine Milos Krasic due to a suspension had put the visitors psychologically on the back-foot and their opponents made the most of it as soon as the whistle was blown. Juventus were struggling to win balls, were unable to execute right passes and lost well-held possessions at crucial junctures.
They were fortunate for not having conceded a goal early in the first half where wood work denied ex-Bianconneri Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Looking unsettled and disjointed, Juventus were struggling to find momentum in the match and they did just that when in the 24th minute, defender Paolo de Celglie who broke through the Milan midfield provided a precise cross and Quagliarella was spot on with a powerful header.
The placement part of his header was commendable as he did not let ex-Juventus keeper Christian Abbiati have a proper sight of the ball before it met the net.
Ever since the goal came, Juventus looked a different side which showed in the ease with which they cancelled out Milan midfield every time they looked to build on something.
Milan perhaps tried a little too much in getting their name on the score-sheet and that allowed the visitors to cash in an opportunity gifted when Luca Antonini failed to clear a ball by Simone Pepe which let Momo Sissoko move forward in an open zone only to be reached by two defenders in the penalty area but they failed to clear the ball far enough.
This presented Del Piero an open chance to strike the dead ball with only Abbiati to beat and Il Pinturicchio was scrupulous as ever. This took him to be the highest goal-scorer for the club in Serie A competitions going past the legendary Giampiero Boniperti.
A single lapse in defence allowed Milan to close in the gap but Juventus were able to hold on for ten more minutes and arguably mark the best away win ever since the infamous Calciopoli in 2006.
Felipe Melo: Player of the Match
The Brazilian’s resilient play did not make the choice much difficult as he was the sole figure who played his heart for the team for a full 90 minutes and did not let the game slip away once getting the crucial lead. With all his experience, he led the Juventus midfield and was quite impressive in maintaining the nature of their play.
He was clever while winning balls and equally effective while providing cross-balls to advanced midfielders. He read the match well and along with Claudio Marchisio was instrumental in keeping track of Pirlo’s movements—which, in the bigger picture, turned out to be the difference between the two teams.
The Road Ahead
Both Milan and Juventus for years have remained the brighter prodigies of Italian football and the onus is shared by both along with the others to maintain the league’s stature in Europe. This time though, both are representing Italy in different categories of European competitions but both do play a game this week in the mid-week playoff.
Milan face the nine time champions Real Madrid at the back of a humiliating defeat in Spain a couple of weeks ago. Madrid are on song being on the top of the Spanish league and have exciting young prospects at their disposal. Milan at home have always been difficult to beat and that is what Allegri would be precisely eyeing at.
A fully fit squad could well earn a point from the home game and maintain hopes to clinch maximum points from two remaining group games—fairly easier ones—to progress to the next stage.
Juventus are yet to register a victory in the group stage of Europa League but at the same time are yet to be undone. The Austrian champions Red Bull Salzburg are their guests for Thursday and it’s high time the old lady won three points to set the tone for their European campaign.
The return of Milos Krasic would provide the much needed boost to an already confident unit. A win at home would put Juventus in a much more comfortable position edging closer to the English rivals Manchester City who are currently topping the group.