Romagnoli got a start in Kjaer’s place, after weeks on the bench. Dalot started for Calabria who like Kjaer was feeling under the weather.
A tentative start changed when a true passing built from the back passage led to Calhanoglu opening the score. Saelemaekers provided the assist.
Minutes later Gianluca Lapadula broke the central defense but was unable to get a shot on goal. Dalot diverted the ball for a a corner just before the former Milan player could.
Not for the first time Leao missed a half chance on a counter as the team looked more fluid but Benevento grew into the game.
Ibra was very vocal, especially with Calhanoglu and Leao. A frustrating half at times could have been 2-0 when Lorenzo Montipo saved a Ibra chance with his right leg.
Bennacer got a questionable yellow for a foul on Lapadula and was in danger of a expulsion after a second foul late. He was replaced by Tonali at half time.
Montipo was tested by Ibra again very early in the second.
Half chances were exchanged early in the second half. This included a a one two between Ibra and Saelemaekers. The goalkeeper did well to stop Ibra’s close range attempt. Another chance was missed when Saelemaekers couldn’t control the ball from Leao.
The second goal arrived, an on side Ibra collected the ball just inside the Benevento box but was denied yet again. The long rebound fell to Theo who shot the ball in.
Lapadula came close soon after to open the scoring for the visitors. Roberto Insigne had another.
A triple sub followed bringing on Castillejo, Rebic and Calabria for Saelemaekers, Leao and Theo. Two of the subs were one yellow away from missing the next match at Juventus. Somewhat inexplicably Hauge was not getting minutes. Brahim was next, for Calhanoglu.
Some close chances and were not finished by either team and into added time Castillejo got a yellow to get himself suspended for the week 35 match.
The 2-0 win was very much needed.
Losses have piled up and after weeks of somehow holding onto second spot Milan dropped places in the Serie A table. The poor form and sometimes questionable starting 11 and subs has led to Milan finding itself tied with Napoli and Juventus for third and in danger of dropping to fifth. Players such as Tomori who have had a good start to their (perhaps brief) Milan careers have made mistakes and the 3-0 loss to Lazio was one of the worst of the recent games. The final games features matches at Juventus and Atalanta but for now 18th place relegation battling Benevento beckons.
The team has been fighting a tough battle with injuries and is once again returning to a near healthy squad. Ibra is available and will get the start. With both Rebic and Leao in the squad Pioli has a dilemma and while neither has been doing well the latter has easily been one of Milan’s most frustrating players. Pioli may still choose the Portuguese. Calhanoglu and Saelemaekers remain the most logical options to complete the 3 behind Ibra. In the last two games Milan played as a 4-2-2-2 when in possession and this may happen again with Leao or Rebic pushing more up centrally. Kessie and Bennacer will be the pivots and it is hoped the latter can regain his pre-injury form. The defense offers the bigger questions. Kjear is probably very tired and has been more error prone and slower than his usual pace. Tomori’s positioning has been questionable and may be dropped, for one week at least. Romagnoli is ready to play but which of the two will he replace? Donnarumma and his ongoing contract soup opera will be in goal. He and his agent are presumably waiting to see if Milan qualify for the Champions League before replying to Milan’s latest contract offer but the matter is almost certainly not helping the team on the pitch.
Pippo Inzaghi’s Benevento have fallen down the standings with only one win in the last 10. That one win was surprisingly at Juventus.
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Mandzukic got the start in Leao’s place hoping for a better output.
Lazio struck early as the midfield, defense and Kjaer in particular mis-tracked and misjudged the attacking play. Joaquin Correa gave the hosts the lead.
The quality lacked at both ends and the final ball was of course often wasted or an easy catch for Pepe Reina in Lazio’s goal. Hernandez in particular ran without any positives on either side of the pitch and when any shots were taken they were wide of the mark.
Possession percentage increased in Milan’s favour but little was done with it.
Milan continued to push forward. and were almost punished in the 43rd minute. Manuel Lazzari thought to have doubled Lazio’s lead but VAR ruled that he was offside on the counter. Kjaer had almost kept the player onside.
The half time score was one behind.
Early in the second Correa doubled Lazio’s lead. VAR and pitch side monitor were used to confirm the goal. Milan had complained Calhanoglu was fouled up the pitch before the goal. Replays showed that Milan had the right to complain but the goal stood.
Leao and Diaz came on for Mandzukic and Saelemaekers and minutes later Dalot and Tonali came on for Calabria and Bennacer. Little had changed in the meanwhile. Pioli then brought on Romagnoli for Kjaer. The latter had been having a poor game just like most of his teammates.
As the minutes ticked on Milan were almost always unable to make one good play, it looked as if the opposition are a wall.
Almost inevitably it was Lazio who managed to score again. Ciro Immobile found the gap between the central defense and found the net on far side. Lazzari provided the assist this time.
The game ended 3-0 with Milan’s Champions League chances in serious danger.
The loss versus Sassuolo has really brought the threat of missing the top 4 and Champions League places to the fore. Milan’s 2021 form has been inconsistent at best and yet somehow second place has been retained for some weeks. The equally inconsistent Juventus, the free scoring Atalanta, Gattuso’s Napoli and week 33 opponents Lazio are all close and one bad result could drop Milan to fifth.
Injuries and Pioli himself have had their part to play in this poor 2021 calendar year. The trademark coaching stubbornness of giving minutes to the likes of Krunic and Castillejo minutes plus the lack of quality depth when (too frequent) injuries have occurred have brought Milan to this point. Poor form by those who play is not restricted to one or two players but others like Leao have not been deserving of any credit.
The way the team has been set up, either by choice or by lack of means, has meant that when Ibra is unavailable the best option has been Leao. The Portuguese has looked lazy and lacking confidence on the pitch. The other options like Rebic and Mandzukic have either not fitted well up front or have been injured.
Ibra is once again not available and therefore either Leao or Mandzukic will start up front. Recent form suggests that a chance should be taken on the latter. Last weekend Milan played as 4-4-2 or 4-2-2-2 at times. More offensive movement and presence in the opposition box will be needed at Lazio. Rebic, Calhanoglu and Saelemaekers have their part to play in finding more goals. Bennacer and Kessie will start but for a day or two it seemed that the former might not be able to do so. The same was said about Hernandez but it looks like the left back is ready. There has been talk of Tomori needing to rest and therefore Romagnoli returning to the starting 11 but that may not happen. Kjaer, who probably needs as much rest as any, will push on with the Chelsea loanee. The still unsigned Donnarumma will likely wear the captain’s armband again while he and his agent hold Milan in a state of uncertainty. Lille’s Mike Maignan is said to have agreed terms to come over if Donnarumma does leave.
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Ibra, Hernendez and Bennacer missed this game with knocks and muscle fatigue.
Sassuolo had the first best chance when Jeremie Boga’s shot was pushed into corner.
Neither team dominated and most balls were wasted or lost before the final shot. As Milan seemed to get more of the ball the goal finally arrived.
On one of the many attempts to get into Sassuolo’s box Hakan found himself with some space and curled the ball into the very far corner, the ball just made into the goal. The hard working Saelemaekers provided the assist.
Dalot made a crucial block to stop Milan killer Domenico Berardi from equalizing as the game headed into half time. The Portuguese had a good half on the left side.
Right after half time another counter attack chance was unconverted. Sassuolo were certainly not shy of pushing forward.
The play was mostly open with both teams making unsuccessful attempts on goal. Saelemaekers forced a Andrea Consigli punching save from one such attempt. Calhanoglu did the same.
Rebic and Calhanoglu came off for Mandzukic and Krunic but Sassuolo scored soon after. The ball found a wide open Jeremy Toljan on Milan’s left side, his speculative shot found Giacomo Raspadori deep in the busy Milan box. The player was open and diverted the ball into goal from close range.
Milan seemed to collapse and the same player scored again, question marks further up the pitch and inside the box as well.
A triple sub followed with Castillejo, Kalulu and Diaz coming on from Saelemaekers, Calabria and Meite.
A back pass handled by Consigli gave Milan a freekick inside the Sassuolo box but it was not converted.
The game ended 1-2 in the Milan rain and with it the chances of a top 4 finish were endangered.
Amid big news overshadowing the events of the past three days there is a midweek match to play with big repercussions for the top 4 spots in the Serie A. The European Super League was suspended within 48 hours of being announced. The exclusive competition that its members wanted to kick off as early as this fall would have made the top 4 fight and indeed the Serie A standings meaningless. The threat of such a thing happening has died, for now.
The long injury list was on the verge of being reduced to only one player, Maldini, but it has grown again. Calabria returned to training and with him the squad was healthy but suddenly Bennacer, Ibra and Hernandez are back on the sidelines. There are also questions about Calhanoglu’s status. None of the players look to be out for a long stretch but with seven games left in a very tight season every game is important.
Romagnoli returned to the team last week but Pioli seems rightly hesitant to break up the Kjaer Tomori partnership. The latter was somewhat responsible for Genoa’s goal during the weekend but both defenders were solid otherwise, including a double goal line clearance near the end of the match. Dalot and Calabria will be the full ack starters. Reports indicate Pioli prefers Meite to Tonali to replace Bennacer. Further up the pitch Saelemaekers will partner Calhanoglu and Rebic. Krunic is on standby for a start. Leao is likely the only option up front. The Portuguese hasn’t yet elevated his game to the point of being trusted but, publicly at least, retains Pioli’s trust.
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To much dismay Milan is among 12 initial clubs forming the European Super League. The plans call for 15 permanent members and 5 invitees to compete in two groups of 10 teams with top 4 each going to a quarter final. The matches will be played midweek thereby effectively downgrading the UEFA Champions League.
Initial signatories: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Inter Milan, Juventus, Milan, Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid
The financial side of the deal has been allegedly brokered by JP Morgan
The 15 founder clubs sharing an initial 3.5billion (£3.1billion) euro “infrastructure grant” ranging from £310million to £89million per club which can be spent on stadiums, training facilities or “to replace lost stadium-related revenues due to Covid-19”
Income from TV and sponsorship would favour the founding clubs: 32.5% of the pot would be shared equally between the 15 clubs, and another 32.5% between all Super League clubs including the five qualifiers
20% of the pot would be merit money “distributed in the same manner as the current English Premier League merit-based system” according to where clubs finish in the competition or group if they don’t make the knock-out stage
The remaining 15% would get a “commercial share based on club awareness”
A cap of 55% of revenues permitted to be spent on salaries and transfers (net)
The controversial nature of this is of course permanent membership of some hand picked big clubs and the breakaway nature of it. As has been noted by many, taking away the incentive to win would be a by product of a league with no relegation for its permanent members. This would go against the spirit of football competition and devalue what has been a hallmark of football as the beautiful game where any team can dream to win any trophy available.
The 12 clubs accuse UEFA of not maximizing revenue and the ESL clubs claim that they have a deal in place that will provide them with millions even billions of Euros and include money for infrastructure, annual moneys and solidarity payments to non participating teams.
UEFA’s (and FIFA’s) response to any kind of break away has been that the teams and players participating in such practices will be excluded from FIFA, UEFA and even domestic competitions. Whether the governing bodies have the legal right to exclude players is somewhat questionable but domestic federations and associations are almost certainly able to kick out teams from competitions.
Interestingly Bayern Munich and PSG have rejected the invite and remain on the outside claiming they are working with UEFA on Champions League expansion and rework coming in 2024. One may remember that Bayern were one of the earlier participants of the now defunct G-14 group which sought to get more from European competition, UEFA and FIFA. One of its main achievements was that club teams would get compensation for use of their players by national teams. Furthermore, it was indeed Milan’s Berlusconi who had some of the earliest proposals and mentions of maximizing income and reworking how football generates revenue within a European competition. The G-14 eventually morphed into the European Club Association (ECA) with more demands but the relationship with UEFA was not always completely at odds and work was being done to get more concessions and power within the current system. Bayern’s Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said as much after this European Super League was announced a mere 48 hours ago.
The reaction and backlash from fans, players and even managers like Pep Guardiola immediately reached explosive levels and while Real Madrid’s Florentino Perez went on TV to claim the agreement between the signees is binding the deal risked falling through under immense pressure from others that include some excluded teams, domestic associations and even the Boris Johnson government in the UK.
On merely it’s second full day of existence casualties appeared as Manchester United CEO Ed Woodward announced his resignation – under the guise that he planned to leave late in 2021 any way. All English teams withdrew – with rumoured UEFA payments as an incentive. While the English teams succumbed to all around accusations of greed the others seemed to be falling on way side as well. Inter Milan and reportedly Milan followed but it seemed the Spanish teams would hesitate. Juventus’ Andrea Agnelli and Real’s Perez seems the most invested in this league and may continue to push for it, if they survive the deluge of criticism. There are spinning this collapse by claiming the idea might return after a ‘reshape’.
So for now the teams look to return to regular programming without the immediate shadow of controversy. Milan will not face threats of expulsion from the Serie A and the other villains will fight for their titles as well.
Neither FIFA nor UEFA are able to lay claim to being clean organizations and as the super league may not be dead and buried troubles and problems lay ahead. UEFA has at least won this round of the public relations exercise and may be able to push their Champions League expansion and plans more forcefully but the rich are sure to return with more demands.
A more normal schedule and the shrinking injury list provide hope for the final stretch and the very tight competition for the second to fourth Champions League places in the table. Inter have almost certainly captured the scudetto but Milan in second place is 1 point ahead of Juventus, 2 ahead of Atalanta, 4 ahead of Napoli and 8 ahead of Lazio who have a game in hand. Week 31 matches up Atalanta vs Juventus and Napoli vs Inter. Getting three points versus Genoa adds just a bit of breathing space, however an early afternoon game at the San Siro invokes bad memories.
The relatively healthy squad is only missing Calabria and Maldini. This allows Pioli to field a near optimum starting 11 but of course Ibra’s inexplicable red at Parma has put a damper on the chance to do so. The Swede was given a straight red for what was thought to be an insult directed at the referee – Fabio Maresca – but he apparently did not but the one game suspension was nevertheless confirmed late in the week. This was yet another bizarre refereeing episode that defies logic. Leao is the prime candidate for his spot up front. The three players behind him look to stay as planned with Rebic, Calhanoglu and Saelemaekers hoping to continue the slow march towards the better form seen at Parma.
Kessie and Bennacer are near automatic starters for the remaining games of the season. The defense could see more turnover as there is some indecision between which of Dalot or Kalulu are better choices. Romagnoli is back from both injury and losing his spot to Tomori. The captain will likely remain on the bench for now. Kjaer will partner Tomori and Hernandez will be on their left. The Donnarumma saga is no nearer a conclusion and it is not out of the question that he will be playing one of his final games for Milan.
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A near first 11 started the game, that in itself a positive in this crazy season.
An excellent team goal arrived early with Calhanoglu passing to Bennacer who in turn found Ibra who controlled the ball well and delivered it to Rebic who shot well to beat Luigi Sepe in Parma goal in midst of a crowd of defenders.
The game settled into a stand off of sorts although Milan looked more fluid and fresh without being able to find the final pass.
Kessie converted another team goal near the end of the half to give a more comfortable 2-0 lead heading into the half. Theo provided the assist to the Ivorian.
The second followed a similar pattern with any final pass missing. The something strange happened. Ibra got a straight red for what was not clear to most watching. If he said something to the ref it would be very ill-advised and pointless with Milan leading by two.
Parma got on the score sheet soon after. Donnarumma complained of being fouled by the goal scorer who had perhaps deserved a second yellow minutes earlier.
Meite and Dalot came on for Bennacer and Saelemaekers. As Milan looked to be losing grip of the game further subs were made as Gabbia and Krunic came on for Kalulu and Calhanoglu. Leao relived Rebic as well late in the game.
The lead had turned into a holding on for a lucky escape type game.
In the final minutes of added time a counter had Dalot taking on the ball, running up and finding an all alone Leao, the latter coolly scored. Parma had pushed forward. And so the full time score was 3-1.
The busy run of games has settled into an almost once a week match, of course after exiting Coppa Italia and European competition. This is allowing for some healing on the injury front and more time to duel on the upcoming summer transfer window. Contract negotiations and extensions remain the main point of interest outside of the pitch but with nine matches left and a tight race for the Champions League places each match remain the most important.
Pioli surprised some by fielding Saelemaekers as a right back versus Sampdoria. The Belgian had played that role back in his native land but this was nevertheless an odd decision considering Kalulu and Dalot’s availability. The match ended a poor 1-1 with the rarely seen Hauge scoring late. It was perhaps a lesson for the manager.
The starters for this match at Parma will likely remain more or less the same as week 29, although the aforementioned right back gamble is likely dead. More players are available, to make it to the bench at least. Leao, Diaz and Mandzukic return to the squad and provide depth at least. Kalulu or Dalot will start with Kjaer, Tomori and Hernandez. The latter was responsible for the goal conceded last weekend and needs to return to his 2020 form. Kessie and Bennacer should start in midfield. The latter seemed rusty but will hopefully regain his form as well. Saelemaekers looks to return to his more familiar right wing role with Calhanoglu and Rebic behind Ibra.
Parma are 19th in the Serie A standings. They have a won a league worst 3 games so far. The team features Conti who seems likely to return to Milan from his loan spell unless Parma stave off relegation somehow.
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