Let’s get this out of the way quickly: I don’t think Milan played poorly against Cagliari. I don’t think there’s need to panic, and I don’t think that between Monday and Friday of this week that the situation Inzaghi has found himself in has changed. The stakes remain the same.
The race is wide open for third place. The footrace for the Scudetto is out of reach for Milan, and never really was a feasible outcome. That being said, the lack of a strong candidate for third is both a missed opportunity for Milan – draws at two newly promoted sides can go either way, but I can’t escape the feeling Inzaghi’s side should have taken full points from at least one of the two encounters at Empoli and Cesena.
So what exactly is the verdict for now? Sort of exactly what we expected. Inzaghi isn’t a magician like Clarence Seedorf, who waved his magic wand used his magical antidote to remove the bad habits built up over the better portion of a decade of “half-assery” from the Milan board. Back up to the summer, Milan compete in an open race for third place, sound about right? Best case scenario sees Milan finish where they are right now. So why the doom and gloom?
Yes, Milan’s midfield is poor. Yes it’s disconnected from the attack. Yes, Alex has these moments that make Zapata look like a world-class athlete. Yes, any sort of set-piece has a greater than average chance of going in the net against Milan. Yes, the squad is disjointed and uneven in several areas. Yes, Mattia De Sciglio and Stephan El Shaarawy have made little to no progress this season in their developments. Yes, Hachim Mastour is stuck in the oblivion between the first team and the primavera, not really being apart of either for an extended run. Compare these issues to the issues of last season, and you’ll see while things are far from sunshine and rainbows, the larger existential issues facing Milan simply aren’t as prevalent and aren’t pushing down on the players themselves as was clear through last year especially.
But against Zeman’s Cagliari, a hit or miss offensive side granted: one with the knowledge and coaching to go out and put goals in the net, Milan were reasonably in control defensively. This isn’t to say that Ibarbo shouldn’t have scored his open net goal, nor his several one on ones, or many of the other gilded edge chances Cagliari had. What I do want to point out is that they didn’t go in, which regardless of the luck of Rami’s boot making the last ditch challenge, or De Sciglio’s slide on Ibarbo near edge of the box, they (by and large) worked. Defense is about keeping goals out, and since this side looks built on a house of cards anyway, regardless of how it happened, keeping the score down to one goal is a start to build on. Let’s be honest, this Milan side will not be relying on the clean sheet.
So the issue then seemed to be in attack, rather than defense, at least for now (the midfield has been picked apart already this season – see previews and other post match reports). What was the issue with the Milan attack?
Stephan El Shaarawy isn’t scoring goals, which is a problem for a lot of supporters. Against Cagliari (like any other game) the time was just right for SeS to break his goalscoring duck, but it didn’t happen. That’s not to discount his play this season, which I’ve been pleased with. His first touch is terrible this season, but after the amount of injury layoffs he’s had of late, it’s reasonable to expect that to come with time. His work rate, movement and speed are still at the level you want to see, and it’s becoming more and more clear over time that the issue with El Shaarawy is a mental issue. I’m not saying Pippo has the solution, but if theres someone I would suggest could fix this..
Honda – Can’t be on all the time. Excellent defensive contribution, I think his understanding with Abate is particularly effective.
Menez – We knew this was coming, the crash after the start of the season. Give Torres some more starting time as Silvio Berlusconi wants and we’ll see the Menez beast rise from the ashes of the PSG bench. Not to mention Niang, who will probably be sold/loaned without a whimper in January or June. Now we hit the part of the season where playing time is heated (no injuries, one competition for now), and Inzaghi will have to add balance to his attack, or risk losing Menez (and less importantly Niang) to their own heads and egos.
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