A late, late brace by the much-maligned Klaas-Jan Huntelaar provided Coach Leonardo with the perfect tonic after the criticism following the mediocre 1-1 midweek draw with Marseille. Huntelaar kept saying all the right words in recent weeks about how he is committed to staying with the Rossoneri and how hard he will keep working to break into the side. The two goals will do his chances no harm and will certainly boost his morale.
In terms of the standings, Milan rose to second place as rivals Juventus continued to struggle after a somewhat unexpected defeat in Cagliari. The Bianconeri have been going through a rough patch, and the result ensured both Milan sides benefitted. Inter stretched their lead while the Rossoneri have climbed a spot for their highest position this season. It is still quite early in the campaign but finishing second will certainly be useful for the Rossoneri as it guarantees a spot in the group stage of the Champions League and eliminates the hassle of playing a qualifying round, thus leaving more time to prepare the squad for the following season.
Reverting back to the match against Catania – the encounter looked as if it was heading for a scoreless draw until injury time when the Dutch attacker struck twice to silence his increasing legion of critics. Both goals were well taken, particularly the second one, as Leonardo’s gamble to bring on Huntelaar and veteran striker Filippo Inzaghi eventually paid off. Inzaghi was decisive in his contribution on the Dutchman’s first goal for the club and his movement prior to the goal was causing concern for the hosts.
The rookie tactician must be quite happy as his side captured three valuable points, leapfrogged the Bianconeri in the standings, and summer signing Huntelaar finally put his name on the score sheet. The Coach appears to have settled on his ideal lineup, while mostly using Inzaghi, Ignazio Abate and Mathieu Flamini as the main substitutes getting playing time. The latter two started the match against Catania due to Massimo Oddo’s injury and Andrea Pirlo’s suspension. Huntelaar may now have forced his way into Leonardo’s plans and will probably start to feature more, whether coming off the bench or perhaps even in a starring role. Current starter Marco Borriello has kept his place upfront due to his efficiency and his contributions for the side.
It remains to be seen whether il Diavolo will settle for the current list of strikers or if a new name will be brought in, sacrificing Huntelaar in the process. There was a widespread relief among the Rossoneri’s management, staff and players to see the Dutchman finally score. The positive experience was even more enjoyable given the circumstances and the fact Huntelaar scored a double during injury time. Milan’s Vice-President Adriano Galliani declared the player will not be sold during the January transfer window and insisted the club did not squander the money spent on his signing. Inzaghi stated he was glad to contribute to Huntelaar’s first ever strike for the club with a rare assist. The Italian striker told Sky Sports Italia he was pleased with the result, his pairing with Huntelaar after the substitutions as well as the Dutchman’s two goals. Inzaghi will not be on the bench next weekend when Milan host Sampdoria as he will be serving a ban. This might be the perfect opportunity for Huntelaar to secure his place in the side if Leonardo decides to start him or use him as the first option off the bench if the match dictates the use of another striker.
Looking ahead to next week, Leo will be focused on the clash with Sampdoria while also keeping an eye on the Champions League decider against Swiss side FC Zürich. For all the good results during the recent positive run, a defeat against Sampdoria and an exit from Europe’s elite competition will certainly plunge the club in a mini crisis. Milan cannot afford to take risks against either team, but must win both games. The encounter with Sampdoria will offer the Rossoneri the opportunity to create more distance between themselves and the visitors, who are fourth in the standings. A victory over the Genoa-based side may potentially close the gap on leaders Inter if the Old Lady can overcome the league leaders in Turin on the same weekend.
The next 12 days are crucial as an early exit from Europe will be deemed disastrous and can reignite rumours of Leonardo’s departure at the end of the season. The Brazilian will be looking to settle an old score with the Swiss club which infuriated the tifosi when it escaped Milan with a 1-0 victory.
Milan Club Focus 2009/10
Pre-season expectation – August 18, 2009
Leonardo breathes as Brazilians relieve pressure – August 25, 2009
Kaka returns to the San Siro – August 27, 2009
How to play 4-3-1-2, a lesson from their rivals – September 1, 2009
Reshuffle the current squad, regain the winning mentality – September 4, 2009
International week (Georgia-Italy, Italy-Bulgaria)
Leonardo’s time to react – September 7, 2009
Livorno springs opportunity to end crisis – September 11, 2009
Serie A slides down priority list – September 15, 2009
Leonardo lurches into decision-making territory – September 18, 2009
Off the pitch rumours continue to swirl – September 22, 2009
Old legs cannot win forever, will Berlusconi follow in Della Valle’s footsteps? – September 25, 2009
A powerhouse that no longer strikes fear – September 29, 2009
Time is running out to save il Diavolo’s season – October 2, 2009
A draw as bitter as a defeat – October 6, 2009
The club is not for sale – October 9, 2009
International week (Republic of Ireland-Italy, Italy-Cyprus)
In search of strikers and defenders – October 13, 2009
Berlusconi reiterates he will not sell as the Rossoneri prepare for Roma – October 16, 2009
Brazilian duo see off Roma – October 20, 2009
Rossoneri record famous win in Madrid – October 23, 2009
Leonardo stumbles upon the 4-2-3-1 – October 27, 2009
Two precious points dropped – October 30, 2009
Borriello strikes twice as Milan continue climbing the table – November 3, 2009
A bitter draw after Pato’s disallowed ‘goal’ as Huntelaar emerges unscathed – November 6, 2009
The Rossoneri challenging Juventus for second place – November 10, 2009
International week (Italy-Holland, Italy-Sweden)
Crucial stretch begins as Dzeko linked again – November 20, 2009
Rossoneri continue impressive run – November 24, 2009
Missed opportunity to qualify – November 27, 2009
Huntelaar breaks his duck with a late double to lift Mila to second – December 1, 2009