Norman Cousins once said, "Hope is independent of the apparatus of logic." If Rossoneri fans had heeded that statement, we might not be hurting as much right now.
For one hundred and ten minutes today, AC Milan gave their fans reason to hope. They dominated the opening twenty minutes of the Coppa Italia final, stringing together terrific passing sequences, pinning Juventus in their own half, and looking like a side we had rarely seen this season. For a while, it looked like it was not a matter of if Milan would score, but how long it would take them to break down the Old Lady’s defense.
Then Alvaro Morata reminded us that this is the same AC Milan team that has frustrated us all season long—and it only took him eighty seconds to do so. With it, he not only took away Milan’s first shot at hardware in five years, but any hopes they had of participating in a European competition in the 2016-17 campaign.
Only one team seemed to care about the outcome of this match, and perhaps that is the most frustrating part of the result. AC Milan wanted it more. In fact, it is easy to argue that if they had displayed this sort of heart and desire even just a few times this season, it would be the Champions League that we may have been contending for, rather than hoping to slip into the Europa League. Juventus did not seem to be all that interested in becoming the first team to ever pull a league/cup double in consecutive seasons, and yet….they still did.
There are multiple things to take away from this match, whether it be good, bad, or somewhere in that gray area between the two.
WHERE WAS THIS ALL SEASON?!
The fact that Milan showed today how they could have played all season might be the biggest takeaway from the Coppa loss. There is plenty of blame to go around as to why they did not, as well as many questions that we could ask for days, trying to figure out who is responsible. Also, while is true that Juventus was without Sami Khedira or Leonardo Bonucci, Milan were missing key players as well in the back with Ignazio Abate and Luca Antonelli missing out.
It’s easy to blame the managers for the lack of effort this season, but I think that is the lazy argument. Cristian Brocchi took over late in the season for Sinisa Mihajlovic, and both seemed to get similar results from the players. When you have two managers who struggle to get the players to show up in half of their matches, it becomes obvious that the players are mostly to blame. And while the talent level at Milan is lower than it has been in the past, there is enough talent on the roster to finish higher than seventh in the Serie A standings.
THE YOUTH PLAYED WELL TODAY
That fact was evidenced today in the play of some of the younger players on the team. Gianluigi Donnarumma was absolutely outstanding today, and the seventeen year old played well beyond his age. He could do little about the goal by Morata, but he was a key reason why it got to extra time in the first place. Milan made key turnovers throughout the match and he was able to prevent the Bianconeri from capitalizing on their chances. His save on Paul Pogba in the 69th’ minute was a terrific reflex save.
The young stopper is in high demand throughout Europe, with many rumors pegging him as the future replacement for David De Gea at Manchester United. With his stellar play, his age, and his salary, it will be highly tempting to the front office to sell him now and cash in, but I truly hope that the club hangs onto him for quite a while.
Davide Calabria also played a terrific match, as he constantly caused problems for the left side of the Juventus defense. His crossing ability gave Milan a form of attack that they have often lacked this season, as he was able to provide solid service to the middle. He also did a great job in defense, even dispossessing Paul Pogba on at least three different occasions in one-on-one situations. However, his one mistake in defense cost Milan the match, as he was nowhere to be found on Morata’s goal.
Jose Mauri only got eleven minutes on the pitch after replacing Riccardo Montolivo, but he nearly became a Rossoneri hero. After a free kick was cleared out of the area, the young midfielder latched onto the ball and took aim from about twenty yards out. His swerving attempt looked like it was going to tuck inside the post, but at the last moment spun a bit sideway and drifted a whisker wide of the post.
MORE FAILURES IN THE FINAL THIRD
For most of the match, it looked like AC Milan wanted it but wouldn’t take it, while Juventus simply wanted the match to be over. For me, that’s what makes the result even more upsetting. I think this tweet sums up the match perfectly in regards to the approach from the two sides:
Juventus players: "Wait, are we actually still playing?"— The Siren's Song (@SirenSongNapoli) May 21, 2016
Milan players: "FUCK YOU LET US SCORE"
No matter what the Rossoneri did today, the goal simply could not come. Carlos Bacca had one of the best chances of the match when he unleashed an overhead kick just before the end of the first period of extra time, but it just went over the crossbar. He also was unable to get to a terrific cross by Calabria that deflected off of a few players in the box and was begging to be poked into the net.
Giacomo Bonaventura had multiple chances as well, and may have scored a quarter hour into the second half if not for Neto rushing off of his line to get to the ball first. Bonaventura put in a solid performance, but his inability to finish on multiple occasions was a key reason why Milan was unable to lift the trophy.
Keisuke Honda’s most memorable contribution in the match was an obvious dive in the 115th minute, in a situation where he may have created a chance had he stayed on his feet. It was a fitting end to the season for the midfielder, whose inability to play to his talent level has left many fans frustrated and likely will be the final thing that he provided in a Milan shirt. Mario Balotelli also did little after his introduction in the 112th minute, getting a few free kicks late that he did very little with.
WHAT SHOULD WE TAKE FROM THIS?
So when the final whistle blew, we once again had nothing to celebrate. No hardware since 2011. No Coppa Italia trophy since 2003. More importantly, no European competition in 2016-17. We also have no clue who our manager will be, or—maybe most important—who our owner will be, when the season starts. Heck, we may not even have captain Riccardo Montolivo when the campaign kicks off at the end of the summer.
What we do know is that we have a solid group of young players who gained key experience in this match, and know that they gave one of the top teams in Europe all they could handle for 120 minutes. Donnarumma, Calabria, Alessio Romagnoli, Mauri, and M’baye Niang—who made his first appearance since his injury in February—are very talented players that the club can build around…if they aren’t sold this summer. There’s also that dynamic player who is on loan at Malaga, by the name of Hachim Mastour. You may have heard of him. If he can tap into his potential, there is a possibility that Milan could begin building a team that reminds us of what we had last decade.
Yes, I know that Norman Cousins said that hope can often disrupt logical thought. However, Desmond Tutu once said, "Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness."
I will probably regret it in the end, but I’m going with Desmond on this one.