Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

Frank Tigani On February - 24 - 2011

AC Milan, Roma, Inter All Stutter in Champions League

It was a forgettable week for Italian football in Europe’s premier club competition, the Champions League. Roma, Milan and Inter all lost their first legs in the first knockout round of the competition. To make matters worse, all three losses were suffered on Italian soil.

Milan took first to the field of the Italian sides when they hosted Tottenham Hotspur last Tuesday. Having been outplayed in the first half, the Rossoneri did come back to dominate the game in the second half. Yet, despite all their domination chances were few and far between for the home side.
Happy to soak up pressure and play on the counter attack, Tottenham exposed Milan’s lack of pace in a blistering counter attack just before the eighty minute mark. Aaron Lennon skipped past the ageing Mario Yepes before playing in Peter Crouch for the winner.

For Max Allegri and his side, it was a result that was perhaps a little unfair. However, there is no denying that Milan were not at their best. Far from it actually. Usually a club that excels in the Champions League, barring a special performance in the next leg it does seem that the seven time winners are already looking at elimination.

Following Milan’s embarrassing loss to Tottenham and the ugly scenes that arose at the end of the match, things did not get much better for Italian hopes when Roma entertained Shaktar Donetsk last Wednesday night.

Incredibly, during a fifteen minute period in the first half the Giallorossi conceded three goals to the unfancied Ukrainian outfit. After losing the tie three goals to two, the Romans, like Milan, have a mountain to climb if they are to qualify for the quarter finals.

There are two factors that are against Roma in the second leg. One, Donetsk have not lost at home since October 2008. The second factor is that in 47 of the last 64 matches played at this stage of the tournament, the side that has scored away has gone through. Granted Roma may score an away goal too, they may even score two or three. But for them to go through they have to win by a greater margin than their loss to the Ukrainians. Given Donetsk’s incredible record at home this seems highly unlikely.

With both Roma and Milan stumbling in the first leg at home, it was left to Inter to salvage some Italian pride in what was to be a rematch of last season’s final against Bayern Munich.

Despite the change of coaches at Inter in the last six months, the team has rediscovered itself after Rafa Benitez was replaced with Leonardo. Under the Brazilian the Nerazzurri now look much more like the side that conquered Italy and Europe last season.

With still arguably the strongest squad in the peninsula and with the team back to form, Inter returned to being Italy’s best hope in Europe this season.

However, like Milan and Roma before them, Inter too succumbed to defeat at home. It was Julio Cesar’s disastrous error on ninety minutes that allowed Mario Gomez to tap the ball home for the winner.

Inter were not at their best on the night, however, they did create enough chances to score and on another night perhaps they would have. With little luck and with a howler by their goalkeeper, Leonardo’s side also now face a difficult task in the second leg. The Allianz Arena is not a happy hunting ground for away sides and like Milan and Roma, a special performance is required by the Nerazzurri if they are to make the quarter finals.

Three home matches played and three home losses was the record for the Italian sides in the first leg of the round of 16. Despite the poor showing of Milan, Roma and Inter in the past week in the Champions League, the fact that Italy had three representatives in the knockout phase was already an improvement on the even poorer showing of the Italian club sides in the Europa League.

Of the four Italian sides that participated in the group stage, only one qualified for the knockout phases. That was Napoli. Juventus could not even qualify after drawing against Lech Poznan when they only  needed to win. In fact, the Old Lady failed to win even one of their six games in the Europa League.

In a year that has seen the Serie A fall to fourth in UEFA’s Coefficient Rankings, it seems little will change given the weak showing by Italian clubs in European competition this season.

Nonetheless, anything can happen in football. There may yet still be a club carrying the Italian flag come the quarter finals. It could be just one, but then we could yet see all three. This is why we love football so much for though at times it can be predictable, it always brings us surprises too.

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