Miro Klose puts Lazio in the driver’s seat. Poor Diego Lopez…
It was yet another horrific weekend for Milan fans this year. After embarrassing home defeats to Serie A’s #11 Sassuolo and #15 Atalanta, rosso-neri lost on Saturday in Rome, to Lazio. Lost? Ha, sorry for understatement: they got spanked; they fell on their faces; they imploded; they waved a white flag long before final whistle. The team of Diego Lopez, Abate, Mexes, Alex, Armero, Poli, Montolivo, Van Ginkel, Bonaventura, Menez and El Sharaawy managed to produce one of the most chaotic, random, tedious, spineless performances I’ve seen this season – if not ever. 1-3 in goals. 2 shots tried to 18 conceded. Only 12 tackles made to 26 tackles by Lazio. Embarrassing 73% pass accuracy (against Atalanta: 85%; against Sassuolo: 79%). The club that captured Scudetto and Italian Super Cup three years ago is reaching another low end of it’s history: after ending up 8th last season, they are 10th in the middle of the current campaign – seven points away from European qualification already and a staggering 23 down to Juventus – once, their bloody rivals.
The worst thing about this is: this ship really leaks much, much more water than the pure results would suggest. On Saturday, fortune was lenient towards Milan: they could’ve and should’ve been down at least two goals even before halftime. Diego Lopez, the lonely stalwart in a group of wusses, saved at least two certain goals from Klose and Parolo; another excellent performance for Milan was provided by the arbiter, because Paolo Mazzoleni somehow managed to unsee two penalties for Lazio: one for Bonaventura’s foul on Radu and one for Mexes’ shirt pull against Mauri. Conversely, on the other end of the pitch, the one, lone, rare goalscoring chance Milan created allowed them to score. It all started when, in an absolutely unique bit of effort, Bonaventura tackled Basta. It wasn’t particularly good challenge, but the ball bounce loose and Menez, the player who’s been relied on way too much this season, decisively ran forward with it and took a fierce shot from the penalty area a split second before Cana decided to take him on. 0-1 at halftime. For anyone who watched this – a complete travesty of justice, if there’s any.
However, this was a chance for Filippo Inzaghi to fix something before coming back there; to make a substitution or two because God knows Milan needed them at that point. At least a couple of harsh words could’ve been said regarding the performances of Montolivo and Poli who blatantly – blatantly! – refused to involve themselves and track back the movements of opposition’s midfielders. Danilo Cataldi, a 20 years old no-name who put on Lazio shirt for only 4th time in a competitive game; a lad who helped Serie B’s side Crotone to qualify for promotion play-offs last season – he was twice the player any Milan midfielder was on Saturday! And what would’ve happened if biancocelesti had Felipe Anderson and Senad Lulic in play? Inzaghi needed to do something. Desperately. The team was being overrun; the team begged for an inclusion of a proper defensive midfielder (Muntari?); for someone who would create at least a semblance of order at the back. Instead, all we got from a former star striker was Cerci for Bonaventura in 52nd minute – already after conceding twice to the continuous Lazio onslaught. Pathetic.
To be fair to Superpippo, it’s unclear whether any instructions he gives to the team would be obeyed, especially in a situation where the result was deceptively okay. The man has been under immense pressure for a long time: the names of Luciano Spaletti and Cesare Prandelli have been mentioned to be lined-up for his job for ages. Most recent rumours are even more alarming: it’s been speculated that there’s an open conflict between Inzaghi and a group of players led by Abbiati, Bonera and Montolivo. And although that might as well not be true, what real authority a rookie manager can have out there if some of the players he’s coaching are people whom he met on the pitch as a teammate and equal? Inzaghi, just like Clarence Seedorf is facing the same problem: how to translate the leadership he had on the pitch into the leadership of a proper manager. For Milan’s Primavera talents, he was a fatherly figure or more – but, for a senior team, he hardly has any aura of deserved loyalty; and the crisis only underlines this.
The Manager: Superpippo has a lot of problems these days.
Alas, not having a manager to rely on during hard times can not be an excuse for players to dig themselves deeper and deeper into mediocrity. On the contrary: in the absence of a leader on the bench, the top players are expected to work harder and keep the team going to not disappoint the fans. Players of this Milan do not do that at all; hell, they can’t even be bothered to try! On Saturday, the only one who’s performance might’ve been worth a captain’s armband was Lopez – and he’s a new man on San Siro, having joined last summer! Montolivo, the guy who they wanted to train into being their playmaker, the guy who bossed the midfield in Euro 2012’s semifinal – he misplaced one out of every three passes he tried against Lazio! And if he was doing badly, what to say about Poli, who registered 41 touches on ball in 83 minutes – while his counterpart, Biglia from Lazio had 110! Pablo Armero, solid in the World Cup as Colombia’s first choice left-back – he was easily manhandled by Candreva, whose dribbles and crosses wreaked havoc upon visitors’ flank.
One could go on and on about awkwardness of rosso-neri, but one of their players was head and shoulders above everyone else in terms of his shititis. It’s Philippe Mexes: the man, whom I remember to be hailed as the one “up-and-coming” football superstar ten years ago; the man who once played for Auxerre and teams like Manchester United, Barcelona, Inter, Arsenal, all competed for his signature. Ten years and countless tattoos later, Mexes, 32 now and a father of four, is a shadow of a player he could’ve become. To put it shortly: he’s lacking pace, foresight and most importantly – brain power to compete with the best. In a totally innocuous clash in a corner of penalty area, having additional cover at the back in case he was overtaken, he has decided to pull Mauri’s shirt in front of the referee. No reaction – thus, Philou continued his rampage and ended up almost choking his opponent. Yes, Mauri was provoking him; yes, there was a lot of dirty play from Lazio late into the game. But we’re talking about a centre-back who’s playing his 11th season in Serie A; a guy who already broke 250 appearances for Italian clubs in all competitions. And he does this? Seriously?
Before the Frenchman completed his disgraceful performance, Lazio managed to utterly and effortlessly run away with this game. Doing exactly the same thing they did in the first half – crosses from the right wing and midfielders showing up in Milan’s box unmarked – they ruined any remaining Milan hopes. Abate, jogging in the penalty area, only watched when Parolo got on the end of Klose’s cross to score and Poli’s desperate chase from behind was as useless as his team’s overall display. Soon enough, Montolivo played one of his 28 misplaced passes, Mexes has shown the agility and balance of a concrete brick and Klose scored from a Klose range. The third goal was like icing on a cake – after a pass from the deep, Candreva had oceans of space in front of him which soon translated into oceans of time once the ball got crossed into the box – Djordjevic had time to literally break his ankle and ahd to leave the ball to Parolo, who – obviously, still unmarked – scored again. And, by this point, I was laughing because there was absolutely no reason not to.
This team is in shambles. Complete shambles. First time since 1941, they end January without scoring a single victory. Their injuries keep piling up: Atalanta game knocked out Nigel De Jong, who would’ve been instrumental for the team against side as prolific upfront as Lazio was. In Rome, the misery struck again and sidelined El Sharaawy with a broken bone in his foot and Bonaventura, with a hit to his left clavicle. The other two at least half-decent players – Mattia De Sciglio and Cristian Zapata – were ruled out even earlier, after Sassuolo defeat. The only good news is that after Japan’s penalty loss to United Arab Emirates, Keisuke Honda has completed an early return from 2015 Asian Cup and will be available for a Coppa Italia game. The Japanese might be one of the few Milan players these days who can legitimately hold onto the ball and pass it forward rather than sideways. He should also be at least okay set-piece taker, because the team was useless on that department two days ago. With him and De Jong possibly back on his two legs, another game against Lazio should unfold differently than the Saturday one.
Honda: “Hi. Missing me already?”
But first, a lot more has to change. Hopefully, Armero will re-watch what Candreva did to him at Olimpico because the winger was too fast and too smart for him and the Colombian surely could not notice it while the game was in progress. It would also be nice for someone to intercept the crosses and long balls before they get to Klose – because with German veteran being in this shape, allowing him to get even a single touch on ball is like asking for trouble. If Marco van Ginkel is expected to be accommodated into this team, he should receive the ball more often, but more importantly, he should not wander down the left wing the way he did in Rome. Cerci, who’ll be likely to replace Bonaventura and who at least shown a smidgen of quality as a substitute on Saturday – he has to remember that dribbling past one defender is enough and that challenging them screws up the passes they make. As for Menez and Lopez – they better keep doing what they are doing now, only two times more efficiently, because with teammates this bad, they seriously need to turn on their beast mode to produce a result.
Will they? Adriano Galliani, the man who’s been watching the game with a stern expression on his face, has shown up at Milanello today and spoke both to Inzaghi and the players. The team had an another training session following the defeat. All good, all in order. Is it really – we’ll see tomorrow.