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Francesco Pizzolla On April - 13 - 2011

Milan Round-up: This Week With The Rossoneri

After a fantastic performance in the derby vs. Inter, Milan had to prove to the calcio world that they were in fact the top side in Serie A this season with an important match in Florence versus Sinisa Mihajlovic’s Fiorentina. With Inter defeating Chievo and cutting the lead to -2 again and high-flying Napoli winning in Bologna and reaching Milan in the table, the match against Fiorentina was without a doubt a must-win.

The greatest thing Milan gained from the victory in the derby was self-confidence; the requisite self-confidence needed to win a championship. The Artemio Franchi stadium in Florence can be pretty intimidating when full, but Milan had a pretty good record there going into the match. The performance from Milan was oozing with self-confidence from the opening whistle. Allegri’s side was compact, positioned well, and dictated the play. Fiorentina, coming from a string of good results but without talisman Adrian Mutu,  simply weren’t good enough to match the Rossoneri on Sunday.

The match was a return for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was sat out his ban for punching Marco Rossi in the match with Bari. While statistics show that Ibrahimovic always scores the majority of his goals in the spring, this spring he is changing that trend. The big Swede just doesn’t look like the player we all saw in the first half of the season. He lumbers about the pitch and when he receives the ball he doesn’t always know what to do with it. He is missing easy chances that he would have buried 200 times out of 200 in the first part of the season (the 2 blatant misses on Sunday were unlike him). And most of all, he knows he isn’t playing well and as a result is getting angry, which led to another red card on Sunday. He was already going to miss the Sampdoria match for picking up a yellow card and reaching the yellow card limit, but he was then sent off for cursing at a linesman.

Ibra insists he was cursing at himself, but isn’t that always everyone’s excuse? He’s been banned for 3 matches (1 for yellow accumulation, 2 for unsporting behavior) and I think a reduction is unlikely. That means he’ll miss three games against Sampdoria, Brescia, and Bologna, but he can play in Milan’s Coppa Italia semi-final vs. Palermo. Honestly, with the way Ibra is playing now, it isn’t a humongous loss. As  Milan demonstrated in the derby, they can play perfectly fine without him.

Once again Milan’s midfield was essential to the victory. When the Rossoneri midfield is in form, they almost always take home the three points. Mark Van Bommel has become the true general of the midfield and is really showing all of his quality. Clarence Seedorf put in another masterclass performance, directing the play in midfield and scoring a great goal that showed great positional sense and sublime finishing. Mathieu Flamini did a great job covering for Gattuso and always provides 110% in work ethic. Kevin Prince-Boateng continues to be the dynamic midfielder Milan was missing all these years, really making that trequartista position his own. Milan’s defense was solid even with the absence of Alessandro Nesta. Mario Yepes has always done well when called upon, and Thiago Silva was the usual rock. Ignazio Abate gets better and better every week, and Gianluca Zambrotta has made an immediate impact since coming back from injury, showing all of his class and experience.

The upcoming game against Sampdoria at the San Siro on Saturday is far from easy. The Blucerchiati have had a tumultuous season, going from the Champions League qualifiers to 1 point above the relegation zone in only a few months. Potentially, if Samp lose and Cesena and Brescia win this weekend, the Blucerchiati will be in the relegation zone. It is a dire situation, and the squad really looks to lack any confidence. This is the type of game that could cause trouble. Milan struggled to a draw with last place Bari at home, and fans are hoping this isn’t a repeat. Samp will likely sit back and try to hold for a point, attacking on the counter. If Milan play like they have in these last two weeks, they shouldn’t have any problems.

Formation-wise, without Ibrahimovic all signs point to the Robinho-Pato front pairing that played so well against Inter. The midfield will most likely remain unchanged from the Fiorentina game except with Gattuso taking his starting place back from Flamini. Andrea Pirlo, after a lengthy injury lay-off, may finally make an appearance on the bench. Nesta is probable for Saturday after sitting out the Fiorentina match, but if he can’t play Allegri will look to Yepes again. Antonio Cassano returns after his one game suspension and will start from the bench against his former side.

I expect a great performance from Cassano off the bench. First, he’ll want to shove it in Garrone’s face despite his love for the club and fans. Second, he knows he has to start playing well to play more often. Third, after following Fantantonio’s career very intensely from the very start, I just know these are the games where he makes a name for himself. If he doesn’t do well, you can curse me out Ibra-style in the comments section.

It’s that point of the season where no more mistakes can be made. With Milan growing in self-confidence, there’s hope that no more mistakes will not be made, and a great place to prove that is Saturday’s game versus Sampdoria.

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