In the game of football, the so called big clashes between the biggest teams in the world are seldom played to their hype.
Many fancy a match involving high profile teams to be a nerve-cracking contest but perhaps the pressure of living to the stature takes much flair away from these clashes and the teams choose a containing approach.
A nail-biting finish could be the only way the nature of the match could be described. The atmosphere at the San Siro was electrifying from the word go.
The visitors, clearly pronouncing their supremacy in the beginning of the first half, were on song for the most of the time. They failed to capitalise on many of the lucrative opportunities created and could not frequent the net as much as they should have.
The hosts on the other hand, remained firm and waited for their turn to come and when it did, they were spot on. Few from the 80,000 roaring fans at the San Siro would have appreciated when they saw Allegri replacing Ronaldinho in the second half with the oldest player from the lot, Filippo Inzaghi, but much to everybody’s surprise Pippo not only brought them on terms, he actually put them ahead too only for Real’s substitute Pedro Leon to spank a live wire strike to go past Milan goal in the dying moments.
The game ended 2-2, as both teams managed to nullify each other’s efforts. Both earned a point but given the topsy-turvy character of the match, each of them would regret not having managed a win.
Madrid: Confident but Failed To Stay Focused
Having won the first leg of the contest played at home, the Spanish outfit was riding high on confidence. Few anticipated any other outcome from the match than another commanding performance by the away team, cashing in the all important three points to book a place in the knock-out round of the tournament.
Madrid were looking a unit up for the job and they all they were interested in was to seal a victory and silent the home fans. To their coach, Jose "The Special" Mourinho, this was no less than an intense Derby as it used to be during his days at San Siro and beating Milan is and shall always remain a special feat to him.
Tactically, the Portuguese was accurate as ever having fielded his best possible line-up. Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso have in no time formed an enviable bonding at the guarding layer of Real midfield and like every other night they were instrumental in makeshift play against Milan.
Mourinho featured two wingers on either side in Angel De Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo with Mesut Ozil playing right behind the sole forward Gonzalo Higuain. The interplay between the two layers of midfield was classic and often they could surpass the leisurely paced Milan midfielders with their hurried movement both on and off the ball.
Ozil was high on pace and energy and did manage to keep the Milan defense on back-foot for most of the time. However, the wonder boy Cristiano Ronaldo was very well held by Boetang and Abate on the left flank and apart from a couple of odd shots on target; he remained silent for most of the time.
Argentine winger De Maria looked to have found his rhythm as he engineered some chances from the right flank and played the pivotal rule in assisting his countryman Gonzalo Higuain to score the first goal.
The defense remained a highly busy unit all through the game despite the forwards having managed a decent show. The Portuguese pair of central defenders—Pepe and Carvalho—came up with a rock solid performance and cancelled almost all the chances Milan tried to create in the first half with their proactive moves in the right direction.
In the second half however, they were a little off colour, were wobbly at times, trembled on few instances and Pepe in particular was caught out of position a couple of times.
Milan forwards were neat in constructing dangerous balls out of the lapses offered; twice, they found the back of the net in process. The co-ordination and understanding among the backline of Real Madrid was top notch as even amidst the fast-paced counter attacks conducted by their opponents, the defenders were able to hold a good line and successfully captured their main target man Zlatan Ibrahimovic into the offside trap.
It was an ordinary game though for both Sergio Ramos and Marcelo, as they failed to conjure up with wing-based constructive passes. Both Pato and Boetang won battles with their counterparts in easing past them but failed to pose any real threat out of those highly labored runs.
Milan: Shaky but Steady
The hosts were suppressed under a mounting pressure and immediately they succumbed to their technically, physically and tactically superior opponents.
It was all Madrid for the initial half an hour of play and Jose Mourinho would wonder how his team managed not to procure a three goal lead by the end of first half.
Milan however, improved with every minute and learned from their mistakes. They were fortunate enough—one must say—for not paying hard for their errors early on, but the good thing they did was they rectified their errors fast.
Unlike the game in Bernabeu, Milan were a more disciplined unit, denied Madrid the space to work the ball, closed in the gap while marking a player and held a better approach while winning possession from dead ball situations.
The biggest problem Milan faced in Spain was to hold the possession over the ball: Ronaldinho, Boetang and Ibrahimovic came up with answers to this.
After having a disastrous game in the first leg against Madrid, the Brazilian looked to have seriously worked on his technique to feast the home crowd. His touch was crisp, his vision for passes and crosses was of the top level and although kept marked on the left flank by Ramos and Khedira, he was successful in paving his way continuously providing supply to the advanced forwards.
His efforts though were considered suffice in the 60th minute of play as the manger introduced Filippo Inzaghi to carry the mission forward.
Milan midfield was much more organised and well ordered but lacked the authority in their play. Both Boetang and Gattuso on either side of the midfield came second on most instances to Madrid’s fast paced wingers and that added to the already high amount of pressure the defense played under.
Gattuso’s laborious work-rate may cover up for his botches, and the standing ovation the crowd bestowed on him may well deceive one from the fact.
His work-ethic was of the highest order and there are no two opinions about it. His ground coverage of 9.99 Km against a team average of 8.29 Km speaks volumes for his commitment and energy. Howsoever, Gattuso is no longer the "Rhino" he was known to be and let’s keep it at that.
Pirlo probably had the toughest match for the season so far and the fact that he needed to assume the defensive duties in an absolute lack of organized approach would add to his pain and anger.
He virtually played the goalkeeper’s role in keeping two shots away from going in and had to track back his path on several occasions as his partners used to keep losing the ball in dangerous proximity time and again.
The Rossoneri forwards had tough time dealing with quality centre backs and the fact that their midfield was kept silent by Madrid’s potent counterparts, left them isolated on most of the occasions.
Ibrahimovic though managed to get involved in the link-up plays once Milan found some rhythm but Pato was way too solitary to give a serious headache to Jose Mourinho’s side.
The defenders had to work out of their skins and the final score-line does not speak for the way the things proceeded.
Madrid forwards effortlessly invaded Milan’s 18-yard box, and there was not much the defenders could do before they would come close to posing the real threat. The defenders refrained from edging close to their opponents and choose to be involved into counter-attacking play. They rather held their line and intended only to clear the ball as far as they possibly could in order to nullify the intensity of the attack.
In the larger picture of the match, this approach can be termed a successful one as Milan denied Madrid goals galore but however it cost them big in the dying moments as they conceded one when they only needed to hold on for 100 more seconds.
Substitutes Shine for Mourinho
Jose Mourinho once again proved why he is so special. After almost dominating the course of the game, he suddenly found his team trailing but he did not crumble under the pressure.
His choice for the remainder of the game was Right back Pedro Leon who occasionally features as a winger too. Sergio Ramos moved to the centre stepping into Pepe’s shoes.
What followed was the biggest moment of the match as Karim Benzema, another second half substitute, ran through the right flank and just when the Milan defence held a line anticipating his cross he dropped in an unhurried reverse pass to which Leon reached before the defenders did and he wasted no time in striking it past Abbiatti.
Allegri Needs To Address Issues
Mourinho’s Italian counterpart Masimillano Allegri still looks for a cohesive unit to single down on and it showed in his choice of players and approach.
Though Inzaghi scored both the goals, neither of them was evident of his pace, power or precision. It was only for the fact that he was at the right place on the right time. One would fail to understand Inzaghi being Ronaldinho’s replacement ahead of the likes of Robinho who failed to feature during the whole match.
Allegri further added to his criticism when he introduced Ambrosini withdrawing Pato and he almost received a jeer when he substituted Gattuso with Seedorf. A 35-year old for a 32-year old is some logic only Allegri may explain.
Injuries among several players limited options at his disposal, but his tactics need serious scrutiny from Milan’s management.
Xabi Alonso: Player of the Match
The Spanish international was easily the best man on the field. He was involved in everything —be it winning possession back, be it cutting through the opposition midfield or be it striking marvellous long range free kicks. During the first half, he won a ball in the air –like he so often does– and posted a blistering 40-yard kick from the point which if not for a peculiar save went past the net.
His alliance with Sami Khedira has been the talk of the season so far, and they truly form a formidable partnership at the heart of Madrid’s midfield. On Thursday at San Siro, along with his pin-point long range cross balls, Xabi was equally effective in designing Madrid’s attacking plot and sticking onto the disciplinary ground while tackling.
He has been the key player for Madrid ever since his move from the Merseyside and is at the peak of his career with the maturity and pragmatism he exhibits on the field.
Things can only get bigger for him from here on and rightly so for his team.