One, two, three, four, five. Five is the magic number Milan needed to rise from its ashes. Five like the five senses. Five like the number of petals in a rose. Five like Emerson’s shirt number, and before him Billy Costacurta. Five like the number of hours it took Massimo Oddo to prepare his new comb-over. Five like the number of months Alberto Gilardino hadn’t scored for AC Milan. Five like the total of goals the Rossoneri inflicted upon Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico tonight.
Beat on your drums, blow on your trumpets, the Red & Black devils are back! It took a pretty fu**ing long time, but they’re back, and with a big bang: four days after the Celtic Park catastrophe, and many weeks of criticism before that. It took a while for the Rossoneri to grab the reins of this match… but once they really did, they grabbed on and did not let go till the end! They even scored first through a goal-of-the-month effort by Massimo Ambrosini, then Lazio came back with Stefano Mauri, but then Kaka the guardian angel arrived to blow all of Milan’s shadows away. And Gilardino in all this? Would you believe it? He’s back too!
The premise of this match had some very simple numbers: Lazio and Milan, equal number of points in the standings, two of the most disappointing teams in this beginning of the Serie A season… I mean we’re talking about lower part of the table here. Injuries were also doing their part to make matters worse: Lazio’s Stephen Makinwa was out at the last minute due to a muscle pull, while Milan captain Paolo Maldini has yet to play a match for his team this season. News were better for Carlo Ancelotti though, because Clarence Seedorf (as well as Kaká and Pirlo) were back on the match-fit list after a few midweek problems.
The first 10 minutes of the match were slow, and carried every symptom of two teams involved in European midweek action: the Champions League efforts of Wednesday were only 4 days away, and both Lazio and Milan kept the foot off the pedal initially. The Biancocelesti attempted a few changes of pace here and there, but found an attentive Milan defensive wall ready to break down their efforts. On the other end Pirlo, Seedorf and Kaká kept quiet for a while, but when they decided to stick their heads out of the hole, it meant trouble for Lazio.
The first peak of the half took place in the 13th minute, when Gilardino was sent clear by an Andrea Pirlo pass and got fouled in the box by Lazio keeper Fernando Muslera. For referee Morganti it meant clear penalty, but not for the linesman: penalty revoked and corner kick for Milan instead. Wouldn’t matter too much, as 3 minutes later the Rossoneri would take the lead in the most spectacular of fashions. Far on the left wing, Ambrosini brought the ball back to the center and attempted a cross to the far post. Wouldn’t you know it though, his cross transformed in an unstoppable chipped shot that the Lazio keeper could only watch sail into the net. 1-0 Milan.
It didn’t take the Biancocelesti very long to bring the score back level though. The finish wasn’t perhaps as spectacular as the Milan goal, but the build-up certainly deserves some praise: Lorenzo De Silvestri obtained the ball on the right, exchanged passes with Rocchi with a perfect 1-2, and then went to the byline. His low cross found the feet of Stefano Mauri, ready for the diagonal tap-in. Dida this time couldn’t be called at fault. 1-1.
Up to the first half hour, Stefano Mauri was having a pretty good night: he had just received news he was back on the Azzurri squad, and he had scored the tying goal for his team. In the 31st, Mauri’s night was going to take a radical turn. Attempting to control an AC Milan cross, the Lazio midfielder inadvertently put the ball back into Gilardino’s path, forcing Muslera to come out and take out the legs of the Milan striker. This time the penalty stood, and the Lazio keeper even got a yellow for his intervention. Kaká was ready to take the spot shot, and put Milan back ahead. 2-1. It would only be fair to cite Gilardino for his valient efforts in the half, as the striker was doing his best to aid his teammates in the offensive build-up.
With Milan up one goal already, the second half was nothing more than a repeat Rossoneri domination of the first. Times 1.5 that is, because Ancelotti’s men would produce another 3 goals, and who better to take care of business than the team’s prolific stars? Far on the left wing, Clarence Seedorf sent his markers into bewilderment and opened play to Pirlo on the right. The Milan playmaker just had to lift his head up once, to spot Kaká making a run into the box. The pass was controlled beautifully by the Brazilian, who faked a shot with his left, eliminated a defender, then put the ball between Muslera’s legs for the 3-1 tally.
For Milan and Lazio the match at this point was Champions League in reverse: the Biancocelesti nowhere near their good performance vs. Real Madrid, and the Rossoneri having completely forgotten their loss to Celtic, back to their finest championship form. Participating in the Milan renewal was also an unexpected guest (he had to turn up eventually): Alberto Gilardino. The striker capped a great night for his team with two personal goals, the first one exploiting a Kaka through ball with a cool close-range finish, and the second one in great style, using a perfect Ambrosini lay-up for a powerful volley below the bar. If tonight’s game certainly signifies Milan’s troubles are over, it could also mean the same thing for Gila. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… Hooray!
Fiorentina 1-1 Juventus
In the other big match of the day, Fiorentina held Juventus to a 1-1 tie in Florence.
Such a shame for Juve… they almost scored another 3 points in a difficult away game, but as is often the case in games like these, one of their ex-players took their hopes away. The Stadio Artemio Franchi of Florence was devoid of all Bianconeri supporters (because the match was considered “at risk”) but it didn’t stop the ‘Old Lady’ from getting on the scoreboard first, thanks a Vincenzo Iaquinta goal exploiting a defensive mistake. However one minute from the end, the Viola obtained a penalty kick after Nicola Legrottaglie handballed a Bobo Vieri header inside the box. Adrian Mutu transformed the spot shot to tie the game to a final 1-1 scoreline.
The match reserved very little tactical surprises: the Fiorentina coach Cesare Prandelli picked his usual 4-3-3 line-up, fielding attacking trio Semioli-Mutu-Pazzini and leaving Vieri on the bench as a wild card substitute. His colleague Claudio Ranieri on the other hand, opted for a standard 4-4-2 formation with Nicola Legrottaglie preferred to Domenico Criscito in center defense, and Iaquinta getting the start over captain Alessandro Del Piero.
|GOALSCORERS: 23′ Iaquinta (J), 89′ pen. Mutu (F)|
|FIORENTINA (4-3-3): Frey — Ujfalusi, Gamberini, Dainelli, Balzaretti — Kuzmanovic (46′ Vieri), Donadel, Montolivo — Semioli (67′ Gobbi), Pazzini (67′ Vanden Borre), Mutu. (bench: Lupatelli, Pasqual, Liverani, Pazienza). Coach: Prandelli.|
|JUVENTUS (4-4-2): Buffon — Grygera, Legrottaglie, Chiellini, Molinaro — Salihamidzic, Nocerino, Almirón, Nedved (71′ Palladino) — Iaquinta (77′ Del Piero), Trezeguet. (bench: Belardi, Birindelli, Zebina, Criscito, Tiago). Coach: Ranieri.|
Marco Pantanella writes on the mCalcio blog