Milan earned a draw against Inter Milan, but like the first leg of their tie, Milan will have felt they deserved more after dominating large portions of the match. They come out of the two ties with Inter having accumulated a solitary point, which is a point more than they earned against Inter in two matches last season.
The problem Max Allegri fell into was that the side had done so well in the first half. They were the more proactive side in the first half, had the more dangerous chances, and were ahead. Placed in a larger context, Milan were playing with house money. Abbiati, Abate, Zapata, Mexes, Montolivo, Muntari, Boateng and El Shaarawy all played 90 minutes on Wednesday night (SeS subbed in the 88th minute). In fact, there only was one change that was not forced by injury, and that change was forced by age – Massimo Ambrosini – Giampaolo Pazzini wasn’t fully fit after picking up an injury, and Kevin Constant was scratched from the lineup just before game time with a knock. The “If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it” motto was in full effect, and with so many players giving their all both mentally and physically (I would argue more so than in any other match this season – looking back on other years even Barcelona notoriously tires out their opponents: the Barcelona hangover) even if they did leap out to a 1-0 lead and had numerous chances to make it more, Milan were bound to tire. Sooner or later, their midweek exploits were going to take a toll on this match, and Inter Milan were going to take advantage of it. By the end of the first half it was obvious that the tiring had begun in Muntari’s legs. But Muntari would play another 45 minutes, being substituted in the 90th minute in Milan’s third substitution. A 90th minute substitution? That’s what managers do when they’re trying to run out the clock (note Massimo Ambrosini is not a goal-scoring game-changing threat.. especially not when placed in during stoppage time). What happened that Milan went from in firm control of the match in the opening?
Firstly Samir Handanovic had one of his best goalkeeping performances of the season. Those sorts of saves can build a side who have nothing, and the point blank saves he gave Inter confidence, and let them whether the storm of Milan trying to kill the match off. And once he did that, Inter were able to get a foothold on the momentum, and started looking dangerous in the second half. Momentum was only the start, because tactically, Inter were exposed in the first half. Kevin Prince Boateng was drifting between the defense and midfield and Javier Zanetti lost him and Boateng slotted El Shaarawy through on goal, who took one touch then stretched and hit the ball with the outside of his right foot. Granted it was his preferred foot, so some of that may have been natural tendency, but Stephan showed great maturity as well in doing it, because had he waited to hit with his left, there would have been the time to plant his right foot, and then the time to swing his left, closing down his angle both because of the defender, and Handanovic’s position behind him. Instead, the shot partially caught Handanovic off guard, and he wasn’t able to reach the ball in time.
Inter survived the first half, and in the second half were ready to make positive changes. When the second half started, Stramaccioni switched his wing backs, putting Zanetti on the right to cover Stephan El Shaarawy. Nagatomo switched to the other flank, and right away, showed his intention to cut the ball infield on his first touch of the half. Fortunately for him, this was a weak spot in the Milan defense. The ever-invisible Antonio Nocerino who is a shadow his self last season (confidence lacking as well it must be said) was positionally errant. Nocerino didn’t create any space with offensive runs. He didn’t defend well (more to come on that). He provided little midfield support for Montolivo, with the majority of his passes of a short nature.
Schelotto was the second move that Stramaccioni made, pushing the new RWB Javier Zanetti into the center of the pitch as Cambiasso made way, Inter had been tweaking their formation throughout the half, but Milan had not been. They had not adjusted, which made Stramaccioni’s job a little easier. The gaps and holes that he chose to attack were not only there, they were exaggerated in the second half, as Milan’s wear from the Barcelona match became more and more apparent.
But as alluded to before, defensively, Nocerino’s performance was the only memorable thing about his night – and it was a very bitter taste. He’s not the only player who had a poor second half, and I don’t want to imply that it was entirely his fault. There is plenty of blame for the draw to go around. Nagatomo’s cross for the Inter equalizer came as Nocerino failed to close him down and force him outside, instead allowing Nagatomo to cut in field, where he found space to curl a cross into an onrushing Ezequiel Schelotto, who was brought on minutes before. Schelotto only got a head on the ball because Mexes misjudged the cross as the ball soared over his head, while De Sciglio was covering two men at the back post, leaving Schelotto open for the header. It looked like many of the goals Milan have conceded this season, the only thing missing was the fact that Nagatomo was on the run when he crossed as opposed to a set-piece delivery. The headed goals conceded tally rises for Milan – one of their weakest areas of the year.
After the goal, Inter continues making changes, subbing the gassed Ricky Alvarez for Zdravko Kuzmanovic, a move that sured up the left side of midfield. Alvarez was in the side to dribble and make offensive runs, but his defensive contribution is.. unrefined to say the least. On another day, Milan may have attacked that flank with more malice, however today, Alvarez had a fairly tidy match, his only real gaffe coming when he failed to mark Nocerino in the 66th minute on a run into the box. His substitution was met with nothing different from Milan. Their strategy remained unchanged, and would not alter until the 80th minute. Montolivo dropped back into the space between midfield and defense, but otherwise, Milan made no significant tactical changes.
Perhaps it was because of a lack of DAIDAIDAI. Max opted for a different approach, “calma” or calm down. Rather than cutting to the trademark Max scream of DAIDAIDAI, you saw him lowering his hands, telling his side to be calm. The message was not received, however, as calming down only helps so much. Milan needed a tactical shift, as Inter had made significant changes throughout the second half, while Milan just kept repeating the same formula with the same players from midweek.
This is where I draw fault with Allegri. His game plan was excellent against Barcelona, however to be fair, it was fairly obvious. Defending deep and closing down the space against Barcelona is textbook for how to beat them. The strategy worked very well against them, and Max deserves his credit for that match. However, in contrast, today the same rules did not apply. This match was much more open, Inter were looking to sit back and defend, and Milan had to go on the offensive to break them down. This is where the Milan side has struggled this season, despite their large possession stats throughout the year, in the end, Allegri’s Milan are a counterattacking side.
Look no further than the goal scored by Stephan El Shaarawy today. The ball was won in midfield, shipped to Boateng who took a touch and laid a pass to SeS, who shot with his second touch of the ball. Quick. Easy. Forward. When the pace of the match slows down though, and Milan crowd around the edge of the box waiting for opportunities, they still lack that player with the quality to break down sides. There is no creative “grease-monkey” to slide between the lines and create something. Milan lack a player of that sort, and have for years.
With that in mind, Allegri still has to be criticized for the draw today. Balotelli’s finishing was off. Milan should have won the match in the first half. All of that is valid criticism, however once the first half ended; Milan needed to re-tool their strategy. They had to do it simply because it was working, and Inter were making their own changes. Instead, Allegri let the winnings ride onto the next bet, and continued to let it ride until the lead had evaporated. After discussing how much energy it takes to face Barcelona (with the results from last season speaking for themselves), Max didn’t do anything to prevent the fatigue from setting in with his players. While it certainly didn’t CAUSE the draw, Allegri’s unwillingness to alter his initial plans made it nearly impossible for Milan to score after 66 minutes, when the bulk of their shots stopped.
- Mexes will be suspended for the next match, having racked up 6 cards in last his last 7 matches stretching back to the last match of 2012.
- Where is the real Antonio Nocerino? Or was that a question for last season, and this is the real player?
- A drop off in energy is natural after a match against Barcelona, but Allegri’s inability to do anything about it until the 80th minute is the same mistakes he’s made since his very first year at Milan. This is a massive weakness in his management style.
- Milan continued with the double defender strategy they began to use against Barcelona, where the first defender shuttles the attacker into a predictable area where the second defender can win the ball. In the first half, Milan used this to great effect, but as the side tired, the double teams became less and less frequent.
- Antonio Nocerino played the full 90 despite being the weakest link in the Milan midfield. He had to play however – Muntari and Montolivo both had played midweek. Still, more is expected of Nocerino if he wants to continue with the Rossoneri in the coming years. He’s simply not good enough this season so far.