The line up featured Tonali and Krunic in midfield in Kessie’s absence and Bennacer’s only very recent return from national team duty and at the back Kalulu and Romagnoli in Kjaer and Tomori’s injury absence.
Milan had an early penalty shout as Calabria was brought down by Alex Sandro. Whether it was a clear case or not almost becomes secondary when no checks are made or immediately dismissed at opportune times, as in certain circumstances and versus certain teams.
Milan had perhaps slightly better of the ball and Leao looked lively. Ibra was forced off before the half hour mark with an ankle issue. Giroud replaced the Swede.
The half time score was a stalemate 0-0. Leao and Tonali easily the best players on the pitch.
No changes at the half and its early minutes were a collection of back and forth movement with most attacking moves ineffective.
Saelemaekers and Bennacer came on for Messias and Brahim Diaz with 25 minutes to go. Juve had made two changes moment earlier bringing on Arthur and Bernardeschi for Locatelli and Cuadrado. Later Rebic and Florenzi came on for Leao and Calabria. The former move would seem the wrong one as Bennacer, Krunic and Tonali were all on the pitch.
Entering the final 10 minutes the action was more frustrating than anything else. The game ended a relatively tame 0-0.
Week 22 is probably best described as a fiasco. While the old cliche that Milan didn’t take their chances applies one can also point to the refereeing as one of the more clearer influences on a football match. Late in the game with the score 1-1 Messias scored with a nicely taken curling shot. The referee called back the goal and awarded a freekick to Milan while he could and should have given advantage and let the game flow. Moments later Spezia scored the winner via a player who objectively must have been sent off earlier the match.
The aftermath of the match versus Spezia was dominated by the referee’s apparent apology or something close to that. He is now relegated to Serie B matches.
An important match awaits however and focus must shift to points needed to remain in the top 4 places. Milan is healthier and Algeria’s unexpected early exit from the Africa Cup Of Nations has made Bennacer available as well. Tomori and Kjaer are out and one of their backups could be close to a loan exit. Gabbia has been the subject of ever growing dry loan rumours. Loaning the player out is of questionable value but if Milan find a few euros to sign a defender Gabbia is going to spend some months elsewhere. With Romagnoli back he will partner Kalulu at the back with Florenzi and Theo around them. Calabria could be fit enough to play instead of Florenzi and Theo needs to be extra careful as he is one yellow away from missing the derby coming up in two weeks after an unusual January break. Tonali and Bakayoko should be the starters in midfield with Krunic and Bennacer ready to play. Leao’s status is growing every week and he scored a well taken goal versus Spezia. He often took up a more central attacking position as Ibra drifted deeper. Beside the Portuguese will be Diaz. The Spaniard’s reputation is moving in an opposing direction to that of Leao. Messias or Saelemaekers will play on the right and Ibra should be up front. Ibra and Giroud are set to have one less back up as Pellegri’s future is likely already away from Milan. The oft injured forward is set to return to Monaco not to stay but to return to Italy at Torino. His time at Milan can only be described as a waste.
Allegri’s men have clawed their way back to fifth place with only one Serie A loss in the last 10. The Old Lady are missing Bonucci and Chiesa. The latter had season ending anterior cruciate ligament surgery and won’t be back for a while.
Milan have surpassed expectations and despite a long absentee list have won games and gained crucial points. The team made relative easy work of fashionable Venezia and in the process kept up with cross city rivals. Captaincy has sparked Theo Hernandez and he along with Leao have formed an ever impressive left side for Milan. The right side is at best questionable but first due to Kjaer’s long term absence and more recently yet another injured player the transfer window focus has shifted to central defense. Tomori returned from COVID isolation and given the start against Genoa in Coppa Italia action. The idea proved as dangerous as some expected and he injured his left knee. It is hoped his absence will last ‘only’ 30 days. Romagnoli is not yet back from the isolation list and the team has no choice but to revert to the Kalulu and Gabbia set up. The two have looked in 2022 but it is hoped a proven defender will arrive as early as next week.
Calabria – along with Tatarusanu – has returned to action but the Tomori lesson may let Florenzi get the start versus Spezia. Keeping in my mind that a very important match against Juve is coming up next. With Bennacer and Kessie away – though the former may return sooner than any body predicted – in Africa Cup of Nations duty it falls to Bakayoko and Krunic to man the midfield. Tonali is suspended for this one having received a yellow at Venezia. The front will consist of Diaz, Leao, Ibra and possibly Saelemaekers. Maldini got the Coppa Italia start midweek and was not exactly convincing. Not that Diaz has fared that much better and on the right Saelemaekers has struggled as well. Messias could be in the starting 11 as a result.
It is not surprising that Spezia are a healthier team. The Ligurian team have shown signs of improvement and beat Napoli at the end of December.
Milan impressed in beating Roma 3-1 in the first game of the calendar year. Despite five players out in COVID-19 isolation the team kept its shape and looked more dynamic and tactically impressive. Leao and Ibra’s return, as subs, aided the team to finish off the game with the former scoring an impressive goal and showing further signs of progressing to a genuine star.
This early afternoon week 21 match comes only three days after Mourinho’s men visited the San Siro. The short gap means little will change in terms of player availability. Maignan, and his impressive reflexes, will start in goal. The French man will be backed up by Mirante and possibly Lapo Nava again. The 17 years old latter was an emergency call up for the Roma match as none of Tatarusanu, Plizzari and Jungdal are available. Florenzi, Kalulu, Gabbia and Theo are pretty much the only options at the back. Conti will likely make another rare appearance in what is surely his final days in a Milan jersey. Tonali and Bakayoko or Krunic will be the pivots. Tonali is another player showing signs of rapid progress into stardom. The young Italian’s value is rising fast. Messias, Diaz and Leao are the first candidates to start behind Ibra. Rebic could be ready for his first taste of action since mid November.
Venezia’s return to Serie A might not have yet been a spectacular one but the team is making a name for itself in marketing and in particular its highly rated jersey designs. The team sits in 16th place and features Mattia Caldara. The Milan owned defender is suspended for this game, a suspension that was due to be served in the postponed/suspended match at Salernitana.
Milan was more short handed – five players missing due to COVID-19 protocols, three playing at Africa Cup Of Nations, plus Kjaer and Pellegri all out – than Roma but Ibra, Leao and Rebic were on the bench following injury absences.
The early minutes were advantage Milan and Theo almost beat Rui Patricio with a low shot from distance. Subsequently VAR intervened and with the aid of the pitch side monitor the ref handed Milan a penalty. Theo’s shot at goal had grazed Tammy Abraham’s arm. Giroud converted the penalty.
Milan doubled the lead when a back pass was weak and short, it was picked up by Giroud who beat Rui Patricio from an acute right angle and hit the post but the rebound was found by Messias who thumped the ball in the far corner.
The back wasn’t always the most secure looking. In one instance Nicolo Zaniolo broke through and was stopped by a good Maignan save. The opening originated from a missed midfield ball. Before the 30 minute mark Messias had another half chance from a Florenzi pass on the right.
Roma’s best chance so far came in the 40th minute where a shot was just diverted slightly by Abraham’s head and forced Maignan into an acrobatic, top level reflex diversion for a corner. In the resulting corner the ball was shot hard toward goal and diverted by Abraham into Milan’s goal.
Tensions were high in the latter minutes of the first half with more than one incident and more controversy as players came to shoves twice. A kick out at Krunic was not seemingly checked and very late in first half added time Zaniolo may have been fouled. 2-1 for Milan at the half it was.
The second started at a high pace with chances exchanged. A notable was a Brahim shot after eluding the defender. The long range shot hit the crossbar. In the 60th minute Maignan’s outstretched hand saved a low Abraham ball. Roma were crawling back into the match and Milan had the goalkeeper to thank. Bakayoko and Leao came on for Krunic and Saelemaekers. Later Diaz found himself with a good deal of space from a Giroud cross and missed his shot, moments later Messias shot high.
Roma made a triple sub in the 71st minute with two of them being familiar names, coming on were Stephan El-Shaarawy and Bryan Cristante plus Felix Afena-Gyan. Moments later Rick Karsdorp got another yellow for a 50-50 foul on Theo. Roma went a man down and the ensuing freekick was almost shot in by Florenzi. The former Roma player hit the corner of the far post and crossbar. He was substituted soon after for a very rare Conti – probably the most likely player to depart this January – appearance. Ibra came on for Giroud at the same time. Leao widened Milan’s lead minutes later. A long ball came to Ibra who chested it back into Leao’s path, the Portuguese burst through the Roma defense at top speed and finished well. Roma had a penalty shout in the 84th minute but it would have been very harsh and certainly not anywhere close to the foul on Krunic earlier in the first half. As added time was approaching Gianluca Mancini prevented possible fourth Milan goal. Deep in the four added minutes Mancini brought Leao down making no real attempt at the ball. Ibra’s penalty was stopped by Rui Patricio.
Update January 6: A makeshift, or at least a B, defense of sorts starts for Milan: Maignan; Florenzi, Kalulu, Gabbia, Theo Hernandez; Tonali, Krunic; Messias, Diaz, Saelemaekers; Giroud Bench: Mirante, Nava Lapo, Ibra, Rebic, Conti, Leao, Maldini, Bakayoko, Stanga Update January 6: Four Serie A matches have been ‘postponed’ due to the inability of the teams to travel. The local health authorities over ruling the Serie A’s preference to go ahead if a team has 13 players available, those 13 needs to include at least one goalkeeper. This has led to team with less positive cases to have postponed matches than those with more. This Milan versus Roma game is going ahead with Milan 5 positives and Roma 3 positives (reportedly). Update January 5: Five Milan players are now in COVID-19 isolation, though not all confirmed the names are thought to be Tomori, Romagnoli and Calabria with Tatarusanu and Castillejo. As Lega Serie A is apparently unwilling to postpone games and with cases spreading wide and health authorities forbidding travel there might be games that are forfeited.
The second half of the 2021-2022 Serie A and a new year start versus Roma with some question marks but cautious optimism that at least the injury crisis is waning.
Calabria and Ibra are said to be ready and Rebic and Leao very close to being ready. The pandemic lurks as an ever present threat and Tatarusanu is the latest player to be stricken. The Africa Cup of Nations has depleted Milan’s depth with Kessie, Bennacer and Ballo-Toure away for the Ivory Coast, Algeria and Senegal respectively.
The line up will be altered most in midfield of course with Tonali and Bakayoko the only obvious options although Krunic has a good chance of playing instead of the underperforming latter.
Roma are missing Borja Mayoral due to COVID protocols, El Shaarawy not fully fit and have Amadou Diawara away at the Africa Cup of Nations.