Third win in three and for the third time Milan come from behind to take full points. Yet any travelling Milanisti hoping to greet the side that conquered Madrid were indeed left wanting as the first 45 minutes were entirely dominated by Chievo, who took the lead after just seven minutes through Giampiero Pinzi. From then on it was i Mussi Volanti who created the chances and denied any space to the Rossoneri’s front three, which featured the return of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Midfielders Clarence Seedorf and Andrea Pirlo worked relentlessly defending and propelling their side forward, but even when the visitors found the way to get in front of goal, an inspired Stefano Sorrentino was prompt to deny them.
The second half started like the first had ended and Leonardo was forced to make changes. On the hour he introduced Marco Borriello for Huntelaar, whose incompatibility with the Brazilian duo Alexandre Pato and Ronaldinho is more and more evident. The Italian striker brought a much needed injection of consistency to the front line, and in search of the equaliser the visitors began to play higher up the pitch – risky business as on the break Sergio Pellissier had the chance to wrap the game up and only thanks to Alessandro Nesta’s hustling did the gap stay minimal. And it was the Italian defender who dragged his side back into the game, Borriello’s header from a corner hit the crossbar but Nesta was quick to latch onto the rebound and score a rare goal. The game seemed to be destined for a draw, but one minute into injury time, Dida finally earned his pay cheque and banished memories of his Madrid slip-up as he pulled off a worldly save from a close range Pablo Granoche effort. Better fortune for Nesta down the other end, as he headed the ball on the six yard box and put his second of the night past Sorrentino. It was heartbreak for Chievo whereas Leonardo’s project finally begins to get results.
Alessandro Nesta: “We were forced to win in order to latch onto the teams in fourth place, it was a struggle but we were able to do just that. However we still suffer too much and there is a lot of work to be done. This evening it was vital we gave some continuity to the positives results of Roma and Madrid. People used to say I was over the hill but I never stopped believing in myself.”
Chievo’s Coach Domenico Di Carlo: “We started well, but were unable to sink Milan when ahead and eventually they showed their quality. When tied we had the chance to regain the lead and that is a demonstration that Chievo must always play its game. The best on the pitch were the keepers – Dida always plays at his best here in Verona. We must be more mature and avoid conceding from these set pieces.”
Milan once again squeezed out three points from a game that had rapidly become, by their own fault, an uphill struggle. Left-back Marek Jankulovski was the newest player to add to the Milan injury list, now there are eight, and the Czech will undergo a surgery on his left ankle in the coming days. In his place Leonardo fields young Luca Antonini but the defensive problems are evident as early on Pinzi was allowed to stroll into the box unchallenged and the time to pick his shot and beat Dida, who was faultless this time. Chievo were not exactly at their best either, they played without talismanic defender Mario Yepes, who is currently one of the best defenders in Serie A, and instead fielded Davide Mandelli, who only had three prior minutes of official game in him. For this reason the debate regarding Milan’s inability to face these games with the right mentality continues.
Nobody questions the deserved mid-week win in Madrid, nor are their attacks on the manner in which the Rossoneri rose to that occasion – it is the way they allow themselves to be continuously caught out by lesser teams when playing in Serie A. Furthermore, there is ongoing proof of how the Rossoneri’s big cats have been inefficient in the last few trade windows. Several years ago Carlo Ancelotti would have relied on the likes of Seedorf, Pirlo, Nesta and Dida for such a game – and yesterday it was the same ambassadors of the club who forced the three points out of a side whose sole aim is to avoid relegation. This highlights how the Rossoneri are in desperate need of new faces that can make a difference at the club and provide some options. The position was meant to be filled last season by Ronaldinho, and although the last few weeks have shown some promise, il Gaúcho is still a long way off the form that earned him the 2005 Ballon d’Or. This season, hopes rested with Huntelaar, and even this writer was dreaming of a new Dutch dynasty in Milan, but his performances have been terrible to say the least as he seems to be totally inept for the Italian league and Leonardo’s plans – he has a lot to do if he does not want to be packing his bags in January, and it may already be too late.
It is clear that at the moment the old guard of the side are more capable of steering Leonardo to calm waters than the Brazilian is at doing so with the side. And at the forefront of this steering there is Alessandro Nesta – the defender that all of Italy loved during his Lazio days has seen his last few seasons plagued by back problems, and there were plenty of people ready to label him as a has-been. During his career though the World Cup winner has learned to suffer and he has come back strong, maybe even stronger than before. Although he has been with the Rossoneri for seven years now, his in-and-out of the treatment room over the past few years made him so unreliable that this season he could well be considered as a new addition and asset to the squad. So far the defender has been the best thing to join the Milan squad this summer, and there are already those invoking a return to Marcello Lippi’s Italy – when asked though, the 33-year-old is adamant that he will follow the team in South Africa from his living room, and that he is fully focused on Milan – good news for Leonardo.
Chievo 1-2 Milan – Pinzi 7 – Nesta 81, 92
Chievo (4-3-1-2): Sorrentino – Frey, Morero, Mandelli, Mantovani – Luciano, Iori, Marcolini – Pinzi – Pellissier, Bogdani (Granoche 57)
Milan (4-3-3): Dida – Oddo, Nesta, Thiago Silva, Antonini (Zambrotta 88) – Flamini, Pirlo, Seedorf – Pato, Huntelaar (Borriello 60), Ronaldinho (Inzaghi 79)
Chievo – Milan
6 – Corners – 7
8 (3) – Shots (on target) – 21 (10)
11 – Fouls – 9
2 (0) – Yellow cards (Red) – 1 (0)
1 – Offside – 0