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Andrew Murray On November - 9 - 2011

Team of the Week: Robinho Inspires Rossoneri Victory

Andy Murray with a few words on Team of the Week AC Milan at Serie A Weekly

The Rossoneri are back. Sunday’s 4-0 victory over Catania puts Milan third in the table and just a single point away from leaders Udinese. They’ve won 5 from 5, scoring 18 goals in the process, and have been reinstated as the bookies’ favourites to win this year’s Scudetto. Not bad for at team who’d been written-off after an inauspicious start saw them drop points to Lazio, Napoli, Udinese and Juventus.

Forced to make-do without a multitude of players (including the beleaguered Antonio Cassano, Alessandro Nesta, Pato and Kevin-Prince Boateng) Milan put-out a makeshift XI with Robinho partnering Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Daniele Bonera at CB and, most intriguingly, wing-back Urby Emanuelson playing as an emergency trequartista. It might not have been Massimiliano Allegri’s strongest line-up but there was nothing haphazardly about the performance.

Catania were looking to add another Milanese scalp to their collection after beating Inter last week, but they dug a huge hole for themselves in the seventh minute. Robinho burst into the box and was steadying himself to shoot when Davide Lanzafame flew into him from behind. A more blatant penalty you will not see all season, and Ibrahimovic was more than happy to oblige. The Swede slotted home Milan’s first spot kick of the season and the visiting team had nobody to blame but themselves.

Milan started with aplomb and never looked back. Catania claimed for a penalty soon after, but it would’ve been harsh to call handball on Gianluca Zambrotta as his arm was behind his back. Gonzola Bergessio spurned a decent chance from eight yards out, but the Rossoneri soon settled and eventually doubled their lead in the 24th minute.

Running onto a pass down the left flank, Robinho cut inside, outfoxing Giuseppe Bellusci and knocking the ball towards the six yard box. Swarmed by defenders, the Brazilian slotted home one of the coolest finishes of the season and wheeled away to celebrate with Zambrotta. An exquisite solo goal to remind everyone of what the ex-Man City man is capable on his best days.

The Rossoneri continued to enjoy more chances than their opponents with Robinho, Clarence Seedorf and Massimo Ambrosini threatening. They eventually added a third after 69 minutes. Robinho’s strike went straight through Mariano Andujar and the ball ricocheted off an unfortunate Francesco Lodi’s legs into his own net. Andujar was equally culpable for Milan’s fourth, as his parry fell to Zambrotta who had the simplest of jobs to tuck home from 8 yards.

Catania’s defending was sloppy throughout, but this was a one-sided pounding and Milan were the ones with the hammer. Christian Abbiati was rarely troubled and, Bergessio’s miss and a Bonera goal-line clearance aside, the Rossoneri looked too troubled. They could’ve conceded, sure, but they held their nerve to record a first clean sheet since October 15th and there was no point at which they looked like throwing the game away.

This result doesn’t exactly put Milan back in the driving seat but they’re definitely in a much stronger position than this time last month. Milan (along with Lazio and Udinese) profited from the cancellation of Juve’s game at Napoli, but they’re third on merit and have done well to get there given the problems they’ve had with injuries, suspension and now illness.

Cassano is out for at least six months after his stroke and nobody knows what kind of player he’ll be when he returns. Fantantonito had been enjoying an excellent season, and his two goals and seven assists had made him a hugely important figure for Milan this season. It speaks volumes that even without players the quality of Cassano and Pato that the Rossoneri can still field a frontline as strong as Ibrahimovic and Robinho.

They have their critics but both players are unplayable on their day. Zlatan was excellent, scoring the opening penalty and providing the assist for Robinho’s goal, but the Brazilian was the true star of the show.

This might’ve been Robinho’s best game for the Rossoneri. The graft and technique he exhibited for his goal was outstanding, and if he could do that on a weekly basis he’d still be considered one of the world’s most sought-after players. Also showing plenty of guile for the penalty, Robinho looked deadly with the ball at his feet, registering 57 touches throughout the game. There’s no doubt that Milan will miss Cassano, but a few more performances like this will go some way to easing the pain.

Consistency has always been Robinho’s problem. Sunday’s performance was breathless and the Brazilian barely stood still for a second, but he needs to play like this on a more frequent basis. Robinho is far too prone to letting his head drop and producing lacklustre, half-hearted displays to make him Milan’s true first choice. Perhaps Robinho felt he had something to prove. With Cassano and Pato missing this is his chance to really establish himself at Milan: if he’s driven then he’ll take this opportunity with both hands and start showing everybody the player he can be with great regularity.

But this wasn’t a one-man show, and Milan produced a solid team performance to dominate Catania. The defenders didn’t have much to do, but Zambrotta rolled back the years with a lively showing and the midfield trio of Seedorf, Ambrosini and Alberto Aquilani were strong throughout. Emanuelson didn’t look too out of place in an unfamiliar position, even if he lacks some of Boateng’s blood and thunder.

The only way is up for Allegri’s side. They’ve overcome an early-season hump to produce their best run of form so far, and with upcoming fixtures against an out-of-sorts Fiorentina, Chievo and Genoa you wouldn’t bet against them solidifying their position in the coming weeks. The Rossoneri are taking their chances and looking sharp again: dangerous news for Juventus & co.

They should only improve as their players return. Cassano will be gone for a while but Pato is close to a return and there’s always Pippo Inzaghi waiting in reserve. Nesta’s comeback will shore-up a defence that looks leaky without him and the imminent returns of Boateng and Antonio Nocerino will bolster Milan’s deep midfield. Then there’s Mathieu Flamini, Rino Gattuso, Philippe Mexes…

This is going to be a big season for Milan and a huge test of Allegri’s flexibility. The Rossoneri boss approaches most games in a similar manner and his 4-3-1-2 system has served him well, but Milan have their limitations and their 2-0 loss to Juventus in October was decisive. Milan don’t cope with being harried well, and the chronic lack of pace running through their spine leaves them vulnerable to certain attacks. They’re as good as anybody on their day, but can Allegri adapt as opposing managers start to figure Milan out?

The Rossoneri are in great stead to continue this run and push for the top. Udinese have added grinta to their free-flowing attacks and Juventus are the most consistent side in Serie A. It’ll take many more performances like this to retain the Scudetto and a lot could hinge on their February tie with Juventus but Milan are very much back on the scene, make no mistake.

Andrew Murray

Scottish football writer with a thirst for knowledge and a passion for all things calcio. Visit for more from Andrew.

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