The ominous records were hashed and rehashed for the past few days. Milan can't beat Palermo at home, Milan can't win in Sicily. Like Udinese before them, Palermo had the most points won at home, an impenetrable force at their home turf. That is until they met a man on a mission...
From the first minute it looked as though Zlatan was on some sort of vendetta mission. Coming off a three ban game, he wanted to remind everyone that he was a force to be reckoned with. Like last season Milan and Allegri were forced to press on without the services of Ibrahimovic, and in his absence the team galvanized finding heroes and leadership in adversity. When he returned it was like he was spearheading an even stronger monstrosity in attack. Palermo a team who typically gives Milan fits, has becoming a whipping boy this term. Two matches, seven goals, and a resounding six points. Good teams reverse results and this match was the mark of a good team. It was as though Milan didn't want to Palermo to breath and after Zlatan's 14 minutes of sheer dominance the match was over, and Milan could play it at a walking pace, to rest for the trip to Emirates.
Don't tell Robinho that the match was over, his work rate was impeccable once again, and there is a reason Zlatan seems to find him first in celebrations. The dynamic duo is back, and their chemistry, cohesion and movement is integral to what makes Milan special. Add in some solid performances from Muntari, Ambro, and Nocerino and this win looks even easier, and the team looks more cohesive and dominant then ever. Just in time for the return of injured players and a Champions League match on the horizon.
The trip to Emirates tomorrow is a about damage control on two fronts. The first and most important issue is to keep a clean sheet, what better why to prevent Arsenal from scoring the five goals they need, then by keeping them from scoring a single one! As long as Milan doesn't concede early the game should be simply a matter of possession and control. If Milan finds the back of the net, a likely scenario against a leaky defense, then the tie will be open and shut and Milan can begin to prepare for their next goal on the horizon. The squad tomorrow is as follows:
Abbiati, Amelia, Roma; Abate, Antonini, Bonera, Mesbah, Mexes, Thiago Silva, Zambrotta, Yepes; Aquilani, Calvano, Emanuelson, Innocenti, Nocerino, Van Bommel; El Shaarawy, Ganz, Ibrahimovic, Robinho.
I don't expect Allegri to shake things up to much, we may see some players rested late on, but it is important to show respect for your opponent and also to continue the cohesion in the squad. Emanuelson and Antonini appear to be returning fit, and I would expect Aquilani to see a full 90, if able, in his return to the first team. Two names that stick out the on the list for me are Calvano and Ganz, and while I don't expect Ganz to feature, having Calvano in place of Van Bommel in the second half would be great if all things go according to plan. A bit of a surprise for me was the fact that De Sciglio was not called up to find some rest for Abate who has played two matches a week for the majority of 2012. The right sided energizer bunny seems to show no signs of wear, and while Zambro can play just as well, wouldn't it be better to give De Sciglio a taste of the bright lights? No matter who plays, it is simply imperative this team secures the tie and moves forward as we have decisive matches in the next 4 weeks and the continued progress in the CL.
On a side note, a special congratulations to my U15 Boys for their victory in this weekend's Scorpion Bowl. Four matches, six goals for, one goal against, and a nice little piece of silverware to add to the cabinet. Great job boys!