by Stelios Karakasis
Welcome to another episode of ‘’In the Realms of the Unreal’’ with Vincenzo Montella. This time around we will be focusing on the positives of the defeat in San Paolo. A defeat that came as no surprise to anyone slightly following Italian football, a defeat in the hands of a much, much, much better team.
Losing to this Napoli side away by a one goal margin is not a disgrace, nor an illogical outcome. They are the undefeated leaders of Serie A, a team appreciated throughout Europe for their attractive strain of football, with a lethal front three of Insigne, Callejon and Mertens and Marek Hamsik behind them. So, one has to ask, what was Montella thinking on that Saturday night, playing a defensive line of three so high up the pitch? If that wasn’t his planning, it only makes it worse for him, and so does insisting on playing Fabio Borini as a right wing-back. It is clear by now that Borini lacks the requirements to play the specific role. Up front he tries to make things happen, he’s dedicated and hard-working but defensively he’s the equivalent of the Bay of Pigs, an experiment destined to fail. Yesterday, he was slaughtered by Lorenzo Insigne.
But that’s not Borini’s fault and in general it was another bad performance. Simply put, the notion that Milan should be pleased with the fact that they merely lost and didn’t get blown out of the San Paolo pitch, must surely trouble the whole organization. By the way, here’s what Milan have achieved so far in this season when faced with the teams that are placed above them on the table:
Lazio – Milan 4-1, Sampdoria – Milan 2-0, Milan – Roma 0-2, Inter – Milan 3-2, Milan – Juventus 0-2, Napoli – Milan 2-1. Lost all six games, scored four times, allowed fifteen goals, with a really good keeper protecting their goal.
Montella said after the game that patience is needed to reach even Inter’s level. That’s not a convincing defence, considering the nerazzurri finished below his team last season and Milan spent over two hundred million for players in the summer. It’s almost December, experimenting at will simply can’t pass as rotation, and if you are willing to get puzzled on this fine Sunday afternoon, revisit his substitutions in San Paolo.
Montella stated that there is visible improvement in the way the squad plays, they way it reacts, the way it fights. Well, either he’s really bad at reading what happens on the pitch, or he is not aware that the games are being broadcasted on television. He also feels optimistic. Says the worst part is over. Now, is it? We are about to find out. Come Christmas, Milan would have played against Torino, Benevento, Bologna, Hellas Verona and Atalanta, five games that are not unmanageable to win. Fail to gather at least twelve points from these fixtures and even qualification for European football next year might seem like a struggle. Not quite what was expected at the start of the season. Montella is in a difficult situation and, while not the only culprit, he has to take the blame for what his team is presenting on the pitch. Actions and words regarded, the man has taken off his jacket and painted himself a glowing target on the back.
There is a single moment in the match against Napoli, that pretty much sums up the sorry state of affairs Milan are in: It’s stoppage time and Alessio Romagnoli’s wonder strike has put the rossoneri on the scoreboard. 2-1. Moments later, and luckily enough, they win a free-kick not far from Pepe Reina’s goal. With the very last kick of the game, they have a chance to salvage two points, to unexpectedly avoid defeat with a spirited comeback out of nowhere. Even Gigi Donnarumma comes up. You need faith and decisiveness and a decent delivery in the box, so you can turn this thing over. It’s what mentally strong teams do. Is there hope? Well, evidently, not. Lucas Biglia kick is as bad and hopeless as it gets; it floats high and wide, it’s amateurish and bewildering and disheartening and all these bad, bad things and symbolic enough and it is game over, Napoli have won.
Lorenzo Insigne was right after the game, Napoli played with heart and grit. A stock phrase after a derby win, but totally true on this particular Saturday night. Milan, on the other hand, are still collectively searching for both of those much-needed traits among many other things, while Montella looks unable to motivate the players to even get off the team bus. Will things change for the better? Probably yes but it’s too early to say. Good sides are built according to plan, not bought in a single transfer window. It takes time, even if you are able to buy all the expensive materials at once. Does the future look bright? Again, it’s early to say. Just don’t bring your sunglasses with yet.