AC Milan: The Massimo Show

The Giuseppe Meazza was agog with indescribable excitement and pride upon the final whistle of the eagerly awaited clash between hosts AC Milan and runaway La Liga leaders, Barcelona.

Not only had the team in red, black and white defeated Barcelona, they also ensured that the blessed trio of Xavi-Iniesta-and Messi were kept absolutely quiet. No member of the Blaugrana starting 11 had a good game. It was the stuff of dreams+greatness for the Rossoneri.

The hugely anticipated match had all the ingredients necessary for a fabulous occasion. Only a Real Madrid-Bayern Munich fixture was more frequent than this one in the history of the Champions League. Between them, 11 Champions League titles have been won.

The Trident couldn’t raise the bar last night..Flustered!
Barcelona arrived in Milan full of confidence in their ability to take home a healthy advantage to the Nou Camp in three weeks. A Messi inspired Barcelona won 2-1 at the Estadio Carmenes after trailing Granada 1-0 at the break.

The Argentine scored his 36th and 37th goals of the league season in a 2-1 win. The winner a classic 25 yard free-kick which left the goalie gasping for breath. Morale was boosted heading into the Milan game. The Diavolo had other ideas. Coach Massimiliano Allegri has risen from adversity to glory many times this season.

From 16th in the table, the Milanese have climbed up to third miraculously thanks to the Manager’s influence and trust. He was at it again last night when he picked the eleven soldiers to do battle with the Catalan army.

Abbiati in goal, Zapata-Mexes-Constant-Abate in defence, Muntari-Skipper Ambrosini-and Riccardo Montolivo in midfield, Pazzini-II Faraone Shaarawy and KPB in attack. Super Mario (January acquisition) could not feature because he was cup-tied (played for Man City in the group stages).

Barcelona didn’t spring too many surprises in their starting line-up. The only doubt was Xavi Hernandez who passed a late fitness test to partner Cesc Fabregas and ever present Sergio Busquets in midfield. Messi-Pedro and Iniesta lined up in attack. Pique-Puyol were chosen to close down Pazzini and company. Alves and Jordi Alba got the nod to play right and left back respectively.

The game started at a high intensity and energy levels were at the maximum for both sides. Barcelona played their game from start to finish but it was not enough to lead to success. Christian Abbiati was rarely threatened and the Mexes-marshaled defence couldn’t have played a better game.

KPB and El Shaarawy did excellently well to double up on the duo of Alves and Alba who both had a game to forget.

Four time Ballon D’or winner and current World Player of the Year, Lionel Messi was kept totally quiet from start to finish. Apart from one trademark bursting run down the right in the first half, he was as ineffective as his coach Jordi Roura who lacked ideas when Barcelona needed a plan B.

The reason for Messi’s incapability for 90 minutes was a certain Ambrosini. Another Massimo, who this time was on the pitch and not the sidelines, followed him everywhere and covered just about every blade of grass on the pitch in a performance reminiscent of Esteban Cambiasso v Barcelona in 2010.

Sulley Muntari apart from scoring the vital 2nd goal (via asuperb El Shaarawy assist), was dependable all night. He was available when needed and reliable when called upon. Ricco Montolivo didn’t do his reputation any harm whatsoever. When he had the ball, he found his teammates easily and calmed the Diavolo with his neat play and timely interceptions. He wasn’t afraid to drive forward either and made Xavi look ordinary in the entire duration of the match.

It was his ferocious shot that led to the Milan opener via a Zapata unintentional handball which KPB put away brilliantly. Andres Iniesta showed some flashes here and there. His only shot was off target and frustrations grew as the game wore on. Milan’s efficiency was the difference between both sides.

For all Barca’s possession (65%), there was absolutely nothing to show for it. Guardiola, Tito and most recently Roura have not devised a new strategy when the main one refuses to yield desired results. The greatness of a side is measured on how flexible and adjustable it can be when faced with a difficult situation.

The man who won the battle of tactics last night was the cool and calm Max Allegri who has been under pressure since August. The task of rebuilding a team after the departures of Gattuso, Ibra, T.Silva, Pippo Inzaghi, Seedorf, Nesta, Zambrotta and most recently Pato was mountainous. He got to it, not particularly well at the beginning which was expected.

The end justifies the means they say and if there’s any situation that best typifies this saying, then Allegri’s perfectly fits the bill. Credit should be given to Vice President Galliani for constantly backing the former Cagliari manager and putting in a word or two for him in his meetings with Owner, Silvio Berlusconi who was given a perfect anniversary present with victory over possibly the greatest club side the world has ever seen.

It is 27 years this week since the former Italian Prime Minister took over the reins. He transformed the club into one of the most successful in World Football and yesterday’s victory is testament to that fact. The emergence of Stephan El Shaarawy from the shadows of the departed Ibrahimovic, the purchases of M’baye Niang, Bakaye Traore, Ricco Montolivo, Christian Zapata, Bojan Krkic (on loan from Barcelona via Roma), etc were shrewd and very essential to their steady growth.

Now the dividends are showing day by day. Now 3rd in the League and on the brink of sending Barcelona packing out of Europe’s premier club competition, Allegri’s managerial ability has passed the acid test. It remains to be seen how far the resurgence can get them to.

It is important to point out that it was the introduction of 18 yr old M’baye Niang which brought the needed bite to the Milan attack when Pazzini ran out of steam. Another brilliant decision by Max Allegri.

Discounting Barcelona will be a big mistake as the tie remains open despite the 2-goal advantage. Nevertheless, if the Diavolo replicate the performance of yesterday night, I can’t see the magic the Catalans will employ when they meet in three weeks time.

It is make or break for both teams. Tie remains firmly in the balance because anything can happen in our sport.

 

Written by Ohireime Eboreime

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