It was far from pretty, but Milan topped Palermo 3-2 at the San Siro Saturday night to pick up three important points in the fourth round of the Serie A season.
Carlos Bacca scored twice, opening the scoring in the 18th minute and heading in the winner in the 75th. Giacomo Bonaventura scored a spectacular free kick to give Milan a 2-1 lead at the half. The Rossoneri did struggle with Oscar Hiljemark, who scored his second and third goals of the season, both equalizers for Palermo.
Milan got bit by the injury bug early on. With Luca Antonelli already out, the Rossoneri lost another fullback as Ignazio Abate was forced to leave the match in the 18th minute.
Sinisa Mihajlovic only had one fullback option on the bench: 18-year-old Davide Calabria. The young Italian stepped in to replace the longtime Milan back in only his second career appearance, and he did not disappoint.
Three minutes into his appearance, Calabria set up Bacca's first goal. Calabria played an out-swinging cross into the box toward Bacca. It looked like the Colombian was going to lose possession and the play was going to die, but the ball to Bonaventura, who flicked it back to Bacca for the goal. Calabria continued his great play throughout the game, moving up and down the pitch effectively.
There were some defensives issues, however. A miscommunication in the middle of the box allowed Hiljemark to step in and push a weak header into the box to equalize in the first half. Later in the match, Hiljemark made Mattia De Sciglio look like a statue, easily beating the offsides trap to get on the end of an enticing ball from Alberto Gilardino to again equalize.
Milan showed resilience to break the deadlock twice. Breaking a level score once after squandering the lead would have been doom for Milan in recent years, but the Rossoneri looked good in recovery. Bonaventura's free kick goal late in the first half was sublime, the kind of shot Mario Balotelli would bury.
Bacca's winner was a fantastic piece of play from Milan. Juraj Kucka did not make himself known much throughout the match, but he was there when it mattered. He put a beautiful cross from the wing in the perfect spot for Bacca to head it to the far post past Stefano Sorrentino.
Calabria was Milan's top substitute, mainly because of his long effect on the match, but Balotelli was also fantastic in his nearly 25 minutes in place of Luiz Adriano. With Balotelli in, Bacca was the lone striker up top. Balotelli played behind him, holding up play, taking his time and waiting for the right time to strike.
Phil Schoen made an interesting comparison on beIN Sport's broadcast of the match, saying when Balotelli has the ball, it is like an isolation play in the NBA. When Balotelli got the ball, his teammates would clear out, either making quick runs or simply giving him the space he needs to create. It worked, and he nearly produced a couple goals for Bacca.
Milan has its first mid-week test of the season this week, with Udinese on the schedule for Tuesday. After defeating Juventus to start the season, it has been a tough go of it for the Zebras, failing to pick up a point since.
Mihajlovic should have a couple more options for his lineup selection Tuesday. Antonelli is back to full fitness, and Jeremy Menez could be available, as well. The fullback selection could be tough for Mihajlovic. After laying such a fantastic game Saturday, Calabria could make a case for time. Unfortunately for him, the reward for great play by young Milan youth products is usually a year on the bench and five years worth of strange loans with weird clauses after that.