|photo by batrax||via PhotoRee|
Our European correspondent Todd checks in from Italy, taking some brief time off from his holiday celebrations to offer his perspective on this weekend's disappointing turn of events at the San Siro:
December 19 / Stadio San Siro / Milan, Italy
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that “Silvio Berlusconi's government survived what was, by our count, its fifth confidence vote this year. The final tally in Italy's lower house of parliament: 314 to 311. Anti-Berlusconi trade unionists, students, and unaffiliated anarchists have taken the occasion to riot in Rome, setting cars on fire and beating policemen. Italy's 10-year sovereign bond yield edged up to 4.61% yesterday, from 4.53% on Monday before the vote.”
To which farlieonfootie would add: “And Roma traveled to San Siro, stealing three points from Berlusconi’s league-leading, star-studded rossoneri club.” Although the match lacked the headlines and drama of sex scandals, palace intrigue, and consequential street violence, its outcome was a punishing blow to Il Primo Ministro, resulting in his sixth confidence vote of the year.
Claudio Ranieri fielded a giallorossi side featuring Morco Borriello, the team’s leading scorer on loan from Milan, up front, with Francesco Totti firmly bundled and affixed to the Roma bench. Not to be outdone, Milan skipper Massimo Allegri benched Ronadinho. With these two legends literally shivering in their boots, the starting line-ups were predictable.
Milan dominated the first half handily, passing and dribbling through their Roman counterparts with relative ease, if not flair. Although the Milan attack was ambidextrous and effective, the end result was still nil for both sides at the interval. The second half featured more of the same sporadic back and forth. The rossoneri kept circling their prey but couldn’t quite swoop in with their talons. Their shots were weak and off the mark, the lead-ups and movement good but lacking in creativity with Ronaldinho remaining on the bench.
Then it happened: Menez delivered a beautiful cross to the penalty area and, amidst the confusion, Borriello struck a ball which ricocheted off defender Abate’s leg and found the back of the net. Not the most graceful goal, but a crushing blow of vengeance nonetheless coming from the striker that Milan never fully appreciated last season. Roma threaten to finish off their opponents in the 76th minute as deRossi cracked a volley on goal but Abbiati tipped it over the bar to maintain the scoreline.
When Ronaldinho finally entered the match for an injured Boateng, it felt like too little, too late for the Brazilian to whip up his magic. I almost swallowed my thought mid-form, though, as he quickly executed an acrobatic bicycle that sailed just over the crossbar; a little lower and that would have been on top of the 2010 highlight reels.
On Ronaldinho, I know he’s not so young anymore, beyond his peak, stays out late and parties too much, blah blah blah, but it almost feels as if Allegri’s benching today was overly contrived. He’s still one of the best in the game -- that used to be a non-controversial statement -- and the man’s creative bursts electrify a Milan side currently suffering brown-outs. For the record, I think he’s developed into a more complete player these past two seasons, as evidenced by his passing game, complete with Magic Johnson trademarked lookaway assists, that elevate his teammates.
On the less positive side, I lost track of how many times Ibra and Robinho were caught rightfully offsides. On Ibra, I remain a fan (with the exception of his shocking pink boots); however, while he certainly has the mojo Milan need, he’s also prone to play lackadaisical at times (including today), as demonstrated by his perpetual inability to detect Roma’s offside traps. On Robinho, I’m decidedly undecided so far; the teasing sambas in the box are magnificent, but the matching finish is often lacking.
In the end, the rossoneri couldn’t navigate the labyrinthian Roman bureaucracy to score even once. The final count: Roma 1 – Milan 0, as Roma unexpectedly pick-up a few points before they head back to the capital. While I’m not ready to declare Roma a Serie A contender just yet, the victory on enemy turf may be the necessary catalyst to give the eternally disappointed supporters from the eternal city hope for a strong 2011 campaign.
But in Milan the rossoneri are beginning to take on the appearance of a bottle of Brunello in which the cork has begun to rot – all the ingredients for an outstanding product are there, but the end result is a bit stale and leaves the imbiber frustrated knowing it should have been so much more fulfilling. They are a side ripe with underperformance, despite sitting atop the league table. Allegri must find the proper combination of grapes and yeast or risk another series of disappointments in the scudetto and Champions League. A part of the answer may involve harvesting some of his younger grapes.
What we may in be witnessing is the first volume of the Lombardian corollary of Edward Gibbon’s classic six-volume tome – this updated version called The Decline and Fall of the AC Milan Empire. As a milanista, I certainly hope the updated version has a different ending.
This is farlieonfootie for December 23.