What began as a match of dueling keepers with Boruc and Abbiati matching save for save evolved quickly into a strong showing of Milan possession and passing that kept Fiorentina pinned back and defending for better parts of the match. While it still took a moment of Zlatan brilliance to put Milan top the chances came often and Milan were again plagued by poor finishing and quality goalkeeping which would have put this match out of reach early.
The final minutes especially following the introductions of Santana and Vargas, who were not deemed fit enough to start the match, were a bit nervy, but once again Milan proved capable of rolling up their sleeves and keeping a clean sheet and getting a simple one goal win. In fact this match completes 180 shutout minutes for AC Milan, something I don’t remember happening in a few seasons, and also puts Abbiati, who has oddly come into question lately, tops of the Serie A GKs and for many the man of the match against Fiorentina with two great saves early and a sure goal saved late on to preserve the three points.
The key to victory however continues to be the work of the midfielders in getting behind the ball and making sure players are closed early and high up the pitch to prevent any sort of counter-attack and build up play for the opponents. D’Agostino, who I singled out in my preview to make a difference, was in fact dangerous but only when he was given time on the ball, as long as our midfielders were willing to limit his space his effectiveness was drastically limited. It also helps that Seedorf, the only natural CAM on the roster, continues to show why he is an asset to this team, keeping things infinitely simple and playing the into wide areas and tracking the play enough to be an option, but not upsetting the balance of the defense. Robinho also needs to be commended for his running and getting into great places, but one has to feel for the little striker whose seems incapable of finishing for long stretches of the match.
In fact the amount of work being put in by our strikers has been noticed across the league with Fiorentina’s Sinisa Mihajlovic, former Inter man, wondering why Zlatan works so hard for the Rossoneri and never put the same work ethic in for Inter. Zlatan, never one to skimp on words, simply answer back and said I do the work now because it makes me part of the team, and when I am part of the team and involved on both sides of the ball I can be critical of my teammates because I am also doing the work. Quite the swipe, not only at Sinisa and Inter, but at the fact that people may view him or strikers as a whole as lazy which is not the case and a big factor in Milan’s recent success.
With an upcoming midweek match for the CL I have to admit I was completely puzzled by Allegri’s substitutions yet again. Ambro, Rino, Zlatan, and either of the CB’s could have warranted a breather, but they all saw out the match. Granted pulling the CB’s in a one goal game is never a good idea so you can forget that, but Prince for Binho, and Dinho for Seedorf is as puzzling as you can get. Yes Seedorf is probably close to gas but with Pirlo supposedly fit for the midweek and making his debut for Milan higher up the pitch Seedorf could have continued. It is also alarming that the only trusted midfield sub on the bench was Prince says a lot about the issues of depth. Not resting Zlatan or Ambro may prove problematic late on against Auxerre, which I will cover in a preview in the next day or so.
All and all I think the level of satisfaction around the team and fans continues to increase and as we sit three points clear at the top of the table confidence is running high. I am still not throwing all my chips down on this team just yet, but a few more strong performances and the continued forging of a Milan team that can not only attack but defend high up the pitch are all formula’s for success. A title winning team is built on defensive strength, not attacking prowess, but the fact that Milan has proved capable of both is welcoming, and a fair reason to get your hopes up, even if it is just a little!
A few points to end with from my notes:
-Gila may be born offside more than Pippo, it was almost a detriment to Fiorentina and it seemed he was nervous and just not reading the game properly. This was an issue he had at Milan as well and is appearing to be a player who needs comfort and confidence above all else to be successful.
-A player like D’Agostino would have made Milan a title contender out of the gate. Imagine adding him to the midfield rotation? Dirty.
-Robinho’s work rate is impressive, and something I never saw him do with Man City or Madrid, whatever Allegri is doing keep it up. But someone get this guy some Pippo DVD’s so he learns how to finish!
-If De Silvestri is falling out of favor at Fiorentina he should be a priority freeing up Abate to play midfield, but Criscito is the best option as he can play both sides. Either way the scouts need to be figuring this out. I want Balzaretti though, man is awesome.