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Roma vs Milan: Free Headers, Fine Margins…and Expensive Footer

October 30, 2011

Roma 2-3 AC Milan

29 Oct. 2011 Serie A

After all the fuss about lack of goals in Serie A, as well as consecutive Milan hat tricks, who knew what to expect in Rome?. On the one hand, Ibrahimovic, Boateng, Nocerino, Cassano and Robinho. On the other, the magic-eye picture that is Roma’s midfield of maestri. By the end of the match, we would also have seen Lamela, Pjanic, De Rossi, Pizarro and Bojan. So there was perhaps the assumption that history couldn’t strike twice, as it were, and that the attackers who had got 14 goals in these teams’ last three games would finally be neutered. There was Alessandro Nesta, for crying out loud, and Nicolas Burdisso. Stekelenburg and Abbiati. Hmmm.

What we got was a raft of ridiculous free headers. Aquilani and Ibra clicked together for the Swede’s two goals, while Nesta and Burdisso got to a corner each for theirs. This seemed to mark a lack of positional sense and responsibility in both teams. This might be understandable in the Roman flux, but why did Milan switch off so often? Even the oldest tricks worked, like short corners. Having seen these flummox both Manchester United and Chelsea defences in recent weeks, are they now such old hat that they might just work again?  Roma themselves allowed Robinho and his supporting runners on the Milan left acres of space, as well as being guilty of not closing down either Boateng or Aquilani anything like enough.

gli hardly Oswald and I-brahma-vic

For all that this was an underwhelming Milan win, their forwards were markedly more effective than Roma’s. Robinho swung inside from a starting position on the left, freeing up space there and thus allowing team-mates time to pick a cross. Antonio Cassano, coming on against his former club, was able to twinkle in to the box along the by-line, a position much exploited by Luis Suarez since his move to England, although Fannantonio’s service when he beat his man was less than ideal. And at the heart of it all was Ibrahimovic. And this was to Milan’s detriment as well as their profit. Two goals, headers from Aqua’ balls that no team-mate is likely to score, swung the game decisively. It could have been more, the Swede pulling down a long ball out of the sky and shrugging off Burdisso in one movement, only to pause and overthink the next step – clear on goal, he waited for the defence to catch him up, rather than shoot. He was also often lazy in possession. His poor awareness led to Thiago Silva being turned, thus giving away the corner for Roma’s first. That’s why he is I-brahman-ovic, the moving spirit of the Milanista universe.

His opposite number was quite the opposite. Osvaldo put in the hard yards, worked hard to link up with first Borini and then Bojan. He was constantly available to pick up and hold the ball, and a couple more months training will surely put him and his partners on the same wavelength, but gli hardly Oswald couldn’t get those shots off in time.

Aqua vita, aqua vital

He’s looked on with almost perverse curiosity in England, and returning to Rome with the Milanese champions cannot have been easy, but Alberto Aquilani proved his importance. This was underlined all the more after Boateng’s substitution and subsequent (!) sending-off for abusing the officials. Aqua chipped in two gorgeous assists, and offered unexpected steel in midfield. In the second half, he even made enough of an example of himself with selfless (ie. professional, ie. cynical) fouls. Van Bommel, seeing this, calmed down and the pair saw the game, despite Bojan’s late goal, putting in the spoilers without all the spoiler alerts Van Bommel had been giving in the first half.

They were brutally efficient (well, except for some loose moments at the back) but this hid the dominance and flow of the Roma attack. Il Lupi had 23 shots to 15; better possession and pass accuracy; three times as many corners, but in his post-match presser Luis Enrique said they had “no chance”. That’s debatable. The constant comparison is to his former club, Barcelona, and there were signs of Barca-style domination here. Sadly, the patience they showed in possession, and the smoothness after the introduction of Erik Lamela, is going to be overshadowed by the result. It was never as quick as the Catalans, but Gago, Lamela and Pizarro were as stately as this Milan team ever have been. They should have proved to everyone – except their manager – that this Milan team is still not on top form.

Christian Abbiati: more like Rosso Abbiati

He must have the smallest hands in goalkeeping because he never catches the ball, he goes haring out his area, only to go racing back in when the attacker beats him to the ball. He swats away at crosses like a vampire, averages nearly a goal conceded per game for his career and then he goes and puts a point-blank shot over the bar to ensure the win. When Milan came back from 3-0 down to beat Lecce, many heard inverted echoes of their 2005 Champions League final against Liverpool. Abbiati pulled off a Dudek/Schevchenko save, but for the rest of the game he looked as though he was one of ITV’s ‘Gladiators’ playing their games with foam sticks and wrestling while the real game went on in front of him. Christian abetti.?

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