Mar 282012
 

by Jeremy Lin, article first appeared on http://www.footandball.net/

The scale of Milan’s task having to face Barcelona in the Quarter-Finals of the Champions League was evident from the day they were drawn together with arguably the strongest club side ever assembled in the history of football. Several weeks later, Milan now have to grapple with declining odds against a new and potentially deadlier opponent: the injury crisis that has struck Milanello, threatening to derail everything good they have achieved this season.

Milan vs Barcelona Champions League

The tactical choices available to Milan tactician Massimiliano Allegri, particularly in defence and midfield, are not looking particularly rosy. The Scudetto front-runners defeated A.S. Roma 2-1 in the weekend Serie A action to keep distance off second-placed Juventus, but that result could be made to feel like a defeat tonight should the fact they lost world-class defender Thiago Silva to injury return to haunt them against Barcelona.

Such circumstances tip the odds further in Barcelona’s favour, causing Allegri to scratch his head in befuddlement as he questions what he did to deserve the task of having to take his beleaguered side past opponents who’s performances tend to transcend those of mere mortals. Truth be told, it will be pretty crazy to harbour hopes in Milan’s elimination of Barcelona and the advancement to the Semi-Finals. Below are five ways in which Milan can be ‘crazier’ to secure some hope of making it through the first leg:

Milan Injury Crisis

Let Barcelona make the first move
Tactics at the minuscule level are not going to work if the team’s philosophy is not firmly established. Milan have the necessary quality to win the Champions League, but even if the team were at full strength, they couldn’t afford to slog it out head-to-head with Barcelona. With the situation at hand now, Milan have to sit back and allow their opponents to come at them, looking to frustrate them and hit them on the break.
Such tactics have been employed this season by the smaller regional sides that make up La Liga to great effect, forcing Barcelona off the pace in the title race and ensuring they depend ever more on Messi to produce a typical moment of magic to win them games. Milan have the necessary quality to punish a frustrated Barcelona in this case, and if they can hold out till the 70th minute and conserve their energies before starting to push forward, they stand a chance of snatching a result.

Don’t use Ibrahimovic as the out-and-out striker
Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be Milan’s top and most reliable scorer with 22 goals in Serie A so far, but there’s so much more to the Swedish superstar than merely being expected to do what his position entails of him. Employing him as an isolated out-and-out striker against Barcelona will just work against Milan, and he has to be utilized in a deeper role that will enable him to use his flair for conjuring up the unthinkable to create space for his teammates to get forward with intent.
Such a role paid its dividends when Milan tore Arsenal apart 4-0 at the San Siro, with Ibrahimovic laying on 2 goals as well as orchestrating countless other attacking moves to get his teammates into good attacking positions. With Barcelona expected to control the majority of possession here, Ibrahimovic stands to become that much more involved in matters should he is to be used in a slightly more unfamiliar role than normal.

Play the Trequartista in a defensive role
Milan are going to have to accept that they will be on the back foot for much of the game. Their primary formation, the 4-3-1-2, works in their advantage in this case, given its midfield can be adapted to play with a more attacking or defensive-minded mentality, the latter looking the more obvious choice here.
Whether Dutchman Urby Emanualson or Kevin-Prince Boateng adopts the role of the attacking midfielder, or Trequartista, behind the strikers, their role will lie more in disrupting Barcelona’s fluid building of their attacks from deep. How well either energetic player goes about the job harassing and disrupting the movements and composure of Barcelona’s principle architects Xavi, Fabregas or Iniesta could hold the difference between a defeat or a result for Milan.

Experience counts
Much has been made of Serie A’s ageing players. Admittedly, they do not have the physical attributes necessary to get them through an entire season in the domestic league, thus limiting the effectiveness of their contributions, but in a competition that calls on as much of international experience and exposure as a player’s natural talent and ability, Milan very much have the advantage over Barcelona.
From Clarence Seedorf to Massimo Ambrosini, Alessandro Nesta (if he is fit) and Gianluca Zambrotta, Milan’s veterans should be given priority to start the game, where they must rise to the fore to lead by example. The onus lies on them to expect to know when to make the right foul, the right move, the right burst and the right feint in order to provide an embattled Milan with the leadership and impetus necessary to secure something from this game.

Do what matters – get the goals
For all Barcelona have contributed to the game via their tiki-taka style of play, characterized by breathtaking displays of attacking football that are a far-cry from the dour, cynical side commonly associated with Calcio, or Italian football, the reality in football is, the performances of the team still lies secondary to its results.
Given their injury crisis, Milan have had to dig deep in order to secure their wins in Serie A. Their football may not be the prettiest at times compared to that of Juventus’ or Roma’s, but it must be admitted, it is efficient. It will be very ‘Italian’ for Milan to grab a few goals against the run of play and and hope for the best in the away leg, where they will face another daunting 90 minutes trying to do exactly the same, but that’s football for you, and exactly what they have to try for.

So there you have it, the ways in which Milan can chase the dream of progressing over both legs into the semi-finals. It takes guts to stare Barcelona in the eye and say you deserved a win more than them, so the biggest tip to Serie A’s representatives here is, don’t try. Regardless of whether tonight’s game proves to be an example of pragmatism vs. fluid perfection, or a thriller where both sides throw caution to the wind, you’re going to be guaranteed what could go down in history as a classic of European football, as A.C. Milan entertain F.C. Barcelona at the San Siro.

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Mar 052012
 

By Hasan Saiyid

Palermo 0-4 Milan.  It was the kind of game that you wouldn’t really expect after a week of acrimony and apologies that reminded us how fragile the diplomatic equilibrium is in Serie A between Italy’s two biggest clubs, Juventus and Milan.

Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimović

Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimović roars at and through the competition

Sulley Ali Muntari’s goal that was not given–sorry, that was taken away after being given–last weekend against Juventus urged Milan’s no. 2 Adriano Galliani to leave the San Siro because of high blood pressure.  Not before, however, him making sure that his precarious systolic and diastolic balance was upset completely.

“Look what happens when you cry,” he is reported to have said to Juventus coach Antonio Conte in the tunnel. “It clearly works.”

“What a pulpit–you people are the mafia of football,” was Conte’s response.

Galliani was referring to Juventus’s sustained self-victimization before the game last weekend, which everyone is guilty of is in Serie A at one point or the other. Conte was referring to the perceived influence Milan have had in Italian football, the kind of influence that Juventus have also had, and the kind that Juventus have exerted shamefully in the past (Calciopoli and all that).  The notorious, erstwhile duopoly of Italian football arguing over injustices is not a very edifying moment, and not a moment that the Catanias and the Chievos should have any time for.

Comically, the 1-1 draw last weekend, during which Milan outplayed Juventus for most of the time, sobered Conte.  After realizing how undeserved the draw was (even considering Alessandro Matri’s goal that was perhaps disallowed correctly), the Juventus coach spoke of a need for sensibility all around when talking about officiating.  It was a bit like being lectured on safe environmental practices by a suit at British Petroleum.

However, mainly for the better of public appearances, Galliani and Juventus president Andrea Agnelli made up over the phone.

Against such a backdrop, Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri deemed the trip to Palermo yesterday as being critical to the season.  It was a game that would show what Milan are made of.  The sense of injustice in the Milan camp was feverish–and poor Palermo were incinerated.

I haven’t seen Milan play that kind of football since 2005.  Palermo were marginalized to the point of being spectators.  The Milan defence and midfield got to every ball first, and Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimović did the rest.  Ibra’s hat-trick in the space of fourteen devastating minutes underlined Milan’s rage and the Swede’s centrality to this Rossoneri side.  Really, it seems pathological to deny how vital Ibra is to this team, and there are many out there who think he is a liability due to his disciplinary problems.  But surely he more than makes up for it, and perhaps we can see the time he spends suspended as well-deserved rest.

Returning after serving a harsh three-match ban, Ibrahimović  went to work, dismantling Palermo.  The hat-trick came from both feet, and was a display of precision and understated power.  He was unplayable, unstoppable, and unforgiving.

“I still think about that Juventus game,” he said after the match.  Clearly.  Like a Bollywood hero driven by revenge and a soundtrack, Ibra smashed his way through Palermo, flaying pink flamingos at the Renzo Barbera, which is not the happiest hunting ground for Milan.

Robinho was exquisite too, providing assists to Ibra, but it was the giant’s night.  He is now tied with Antonio Di Natale at the top of the scoring table on 18 goals.  And he shows no signs of stopping.

Of course, sometimes perceived injustice can be the best spur.  There is no conspiracy against anyone, and I say that even after the lurid scandal of 2006.  However, what Conte has lost in the last week is his ability to moralize, and his team have lost the ability to win.

Almost three hours after Milan’s proclamations of power, Juventus dropped two valuable points against Chievo in a 1-1 draw. At home.  They have picked up just seven points out of the last fifteen on offer.  And they have all sorts of tough games ahead, while Milan have a much easier schedule.  The Bianconeri are undefeated this season, but they have drawn 12 games, one less than the amount they have won.

“People forget where we came from,” said Conte after the draw yesterday.  “Last summer there was talk of us ending up sixth, and now look where we are.”

That won’t cut it with the jeering Juventus fans, who whistled the team after the game yesterday.  As for  Milan fans, they can thank Boukary Dramè for the late drama yesterday.  At 1-0 Juventus looked like they would see a win through to the end, but then Dramè shot past Gianluigi Buffon, and Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci did the rest by deflecting the ball in the goal.

Milan are now three points ahead of Juventus, who have a game in hand against Bologna.  After a week of talking about officials and phantom goals, it was heartening to be reminded that the players can still boss this Scudetto showdown.  And there is no bigger boss than Ibra.

Hasan Saiyid blogs at http://www.notevenanoriundo.com. You can also find him on twitter.com/notevenoriundo

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