Champions League preparation wasn’t the same ballpark game for Milan as it was for Roma on Saturday. While the Giallorossi will be travelling to Madrid with a confident feeling (Roma put on a brilliant display of footy today, winning their home game vs. Parma 4-0), the Rossoneri will be coming from a rather bleak week of Serie A matches: 1-1 vs. Catania Wednesday, same score vs. Lazio today. Granted, Milan will be playing their second leg vs. Arsenal at home, defending a good 0-0 result obtained at Emirates stadium (while Roma will have to keep a potentially troublesome Madrid away goal in mind), but absences in the roster may be starting to take their toll on Ancelotti’s team. They certainly did today.
Bringing you the latest news from the Italian Serie A, mCalcio.com‘s Marco Pantanella looks at Saturday’s matches.
Real Madrid beware, the Giallorossi have found the best way possible to prepare for their Champions League midweek fixture. Nothing will give your team a bigger boost than winning a home game 4-0: physically in excellent shape, and psychologically unshaken by the Javier Zanetti-show earlier this week, Roma really put on the style today. Luciano Spalletti can look at the future with a brighter light, also because his injury list has gotten considerably smaller (in contrast, there are insisting rumours from Spain casting serious doubts on Van Nistelrooy’s presence Wednesday). As for Parma, they paid a heavy price for their lack of offensive initiative in the first half, but more importantly the many many mistakes committed by their defensive line-up.
The first half of this match was rather enjoyable, with Parma starting off at high pace despite their “prudent” tactical line-up (a 4-4-1-1 formation with Andrea Gasbarroni providing support behind lone striker Igor Budan). The first 8 minutes saw the Gialloblu get 4 corner-kicks in quick succession, and managed to put Roma’s keeper Doni in ‘alert’ mode (Daniele Dessena’s header narrowly missing the mark). However, Roma’s reaction didn’t take long to arrive, and despite conceding a little too much space on counter-attacks (allowing Budan to test Doni’s ball-punching ability), the Giallorossi were the first to take the lead.
In minute 26, Parma keeper Luca Bucci saw a dangerous cross by Max Tonetto coming in from the left wing. Attempting to emulate his gloved Roma colleague< Bucci went in to punch the ball to safety… but failed. Quite miserably. In fact, his clearance was directly onto the left foot of Alberto Aquilani (getting the start over David Pizarro) who could not wish for a better invitation to get on the scoreboard. 1-0 Roma, and goal nº3 this season for Giallorossi midfielder.
Conceding the goal did little to re-invigorate Parma’s awareness: instead, the Gialloblu almost went down 2-0 when Rodrigo Taddei and Francesco Totti obtained two back-to-back chances (this time ably neutralized by Bucci). But speaking of the two Roma players, they were those who compared to their team’s latest games showed the most improvement today: Taddei with his energy and reaction on the wing, and Totti with his playmaking and key passing capabilities.
Speaking of Roma’s nº10, Francesco Totti received a special award at the start of the match, for overtaking Giacomo Losi in the all-time caps record with the Giallorossi shirt. This actually happened in the match against Inter earlier this week, but such celebrations are usually done in the home stadium, hence the award ceremony at the Olimpico today.
The half thus finished on a 1-0 Roma scoreline, but not before Parma had a good chance to draw level with Gasbarroni (narrowly wide free-kick with Doni not even hinting a move). After the break, the visitors attempted to repeat their flashy first half debut, and immediately pushed forward. A good tactic if in so doing you obtain a goal, a bad one if you end up conceding it. Guess what Parma did?
In minute 51 following a yet another Tonetto cross, Giulio Falcone attempted a dangerous bicycle kick inside his box, trying to anticipate Panucci for the ball. The last time someone in Serie A did something like this, the referee ended up calling up a penalty kick. This time it wasn’t necessary however, because the ball connected with Falcone’s right leg, rebounded onto his left, then over Bucci into goal. Crappy, but Roma will take it. 2-0.
3 minutes later, Parma could have pulled one back through Paolo Castellini. In fact they did, but the linesman signalled the Gialloblu had played the ball with his hand. Another cause for referee crucifixion this week? Depending on the angle of video replays, it is fairly hard to see, but given by the moderate reaction of the Parma players and Castellini himself, one can assume that it was indeed handball.
At this point, Domenico Di Carlo decided to make a few changes: out Coly and Budan for Andrea Pisanu and Cristiano Lucarelli, then Reginaldo for Gasbarroni. Speaking of Coly, the Senegalese player didn’t particularly appreciate his substitution (making it clearly known to his manager), but one thing he probably liked ever less was Roma’s third goal. Cycling the ball on the right wing, Cicinho found Esposito (on for Giuly) inside the box, who immediately backheeled it for Totti outside the box. The Roma captain the blasted a one-time howitzer directly inside Bucci’s left post, where the Parma keeper could never reach. A rather delightful play, as much in the build-up as in the finish: 3-0 Roma and game over.
The final minute even allowed the Giallorossi to score goal nº4, when a poor Damiano Zenoni clearance found Mirko Vucinic ready for the finish: 4-0 final score. For Roma, this is the 9th consecutive victory at the Stadio Olimpico, and with Napoli-Inter scheduled for Sunday, they now find themselves 6 points from 1st spot. Each Romanista will be praying and hoping that this Serie A season still hasn’t said its last word, and frankly, so do we.
|GOALSCORERS: 27′ Aquilani (R), 61′ Falcone o.g. (R), 80′ Totti (R), 94′ Vucinic (R)|
|ROMA (4-2-3-1): Doni — Cicinho, Panucci, Ferrari, Tonetto (81′ Antunes) — Brighi, Aquilani — Taddei, Giuly (64′ M.Esposito), Mançini (28′ s.t. Vucinic) — Totti. (bench: Julio Sergio, Juan, De Rossi, Perrotta). Coach: Spalletti.|
|PARMA (4-4-1-1): Bucci — Coly (57′ Pisanu), Falcone, Rossi, Zenoni — Dessena , Morrone, Cigarini, Castellini — Gasbarroni (77′ Reginaldo) — Budan (57′ C.Lucarelli). (bench: Pavarini, Paci, Mariga, Corradi). Coach: Di Carlo.|
For today’s match-up, AC Milan had two objectives: keep their forces fresh for Wednesday’s fixture against Arsenal, while staying close to Fiorentina in the Serie A standings. In other words: win with the least amount of effort against Lazio. Easier said than done for Carlo Ancelotti, when players like Nesta, Kaká, and Pirlo aren’t even on the team sheet. The Milan coach was thus forced to field a rather unique 4-3-1-2 formation, with Gennaro Gattuso, Emerson, and Yoann Gourcouff providing thickness to the midfield, and Clarence Seedorf supporting strikers Alexandre Pato and Alberto Gilardino. On the other end, Lazio manager Delio Rossi emulated the tactics of his Rossoneri colleague, fielding Goran Pandev supporting the Rolando Bianchi/Tommaso Rocchi duo, and the Dabo–Ledesma–Behrami trio in midfield.
Rather unsurprisingly, the first half of the match was (litterally) quite painful to watch. No scoring chances, and sometimes even no playing chances worthy of that name. Without Pirlo, Milan proved essentially incapable of finding vertical space for their strikers, a situation usually by the velocity and agility of Kaká. Whoops I forgot: he wasn’t there either. And as far as expecting Gourcouff to step into the Brazilian’s shoes, well… keep dreaming. Not today.
To make matters worse (for Milan and for play), in minute 25 Clarence Seedorf picked up a knock and was forced off. Fortunately for Ancelotti, the injury was of a muscular nature and should not prevent the Dutchman from missing the Arsenal match, but it effectively meant that for today, the last glipmse of playing elegance disappeared from the field. What about Pato? He was playing well, trying his best to make something out of nothing, but it is rather hard when you have zero playable passes made to you. What about Lazio? Worse than Milan: slow movements, slow counters, speculative long-range attempts. 0-0 at the half.
How to change the situation in the second period? Ancelotti attempted the all-or-nothing strategy: off with Jankulovski and Emerson, replaced by Digão (Kaká’s younger brother) and Massimo Ambrosini. The age average of the Milan players dropped considerably (~25), and if you count the entrance of Alberto Paloschi in the first half (on for Seedorf), the Rossoneri ended up playing with a 4-3-3 line-up, and a 61-year cumulative age for their striking trio (Pato-Paloschi-Gilardino). Youngn’s on the field…
But were the youngn’s… good’ones? Nope. The period between minutes 51 and 55 saw Zeljko Kalac wearing the hat of miracle worker, as he stopped in quick succession shots by Rocchi (twice) and Pandev. Good shots. In fact, I really couldn’t distinguish if that was Kalac today or the fusion of Buffon, Cech and Casillas into one über-keeper. Unfortunately, there was little the Aussie international could do when a delightful Lazio collective move (stemming from Dabo to Rocchi inside the box) was finalized by Rolando Bianchi with a sliding flick of the boot. 1-0 Lazio in minute 54.
The reaction of AC Milan was almost immediate, and you may call it ‘youth rage’: Gourcuff finally pressed the ‘ON’ switch and provided an excellent assist for Pato in the middle, but the Brazilian youngster’s effort was wide of the mark. Intensity dropped somewhat after that, and one had to wonder whether it was going to revert to its previous first half level, or if the Rossoneri were going to fight for survival here, in their home stadium…
Give it the name you want (fighting spirit or lady luck), the draw eventually arrived: in minute 66 following a corner-kick delivery, Sebastiano Siviglia upended Kakha Kaladze inside the Lazio box, causing a penalty kick. Massimo Oddo transformed the spot-shot, and brought Milan level. 1-1.
Fortunately for their supporters (as well as neutral spectators who don’t particularly enjoy passes going nowhere), the tying goal revitalized Milan who were now pushing forward in numbers. Pato was playing cat & mouse with the Lazio backline and showing off his skills, Paloschi was showing off his energy, while Gilardino was showing off… well nothing. A ghost. The Rossoneri really had the chance to go for the kill, when Lorenzo De Silvestri picked up a straight red for preventing a flash Pato counter-attack, but alas they did not seize it. In the remaining 6 minutes, 10-men Lazio entrenched into their box and kept the opponent at bay.
At the end of the day, the 1-1 final scoreline will be a good result for Lazio and a mediocre one for Milan. Milanisti worldwide, do not despair though: you should get some consolation in the fact your keeper had an awesome match today. In fact, in the last month Kalac has turned his status of benchwarmer into that of ‘insurance policy with excellent payouts’. Under these terms, who the hell needs Dida? Hopefully, the gloved giant will repeat his performance on Wednesday, and keep Milan’s doorstep safe from Adebayor & colleagues. We shall see.
|GOALSCORERS: 54’Bianchi (L), 66′ pen. Oddo (M)|
|MILAN (4-3-1-2): Kalac — Oddo, Bonera, Kaladze, Jankulovski (46′ Digão) — Gattuso, Emerson (46′ Ambrosini), Gourcuff — Seedorf (36′ Paloschi) — Pato, Gilardino (bench: Fiori, Maldini, Gianola, F.Inzaghi). Coach: Ancelotti.|
|LAZIO (4-3-1-2): Ballotta — De Silvestri, Siviglia, Cribari, Radu — Dabo (60′ Mudingayi), Ledesma, Behrami (89′ Rozenhal) — Pandev — Bianchi (76′ Manfredini), Rocchi (bench: Muslera, Kolarov, Meghni, Tare). Coach: Rossi.|
Marco Pantanella is the Chief Editor of Soccerlens and the Author & Editor of the mCalcio blog.