Last night Milan beat Napoli 2 -1 at the San Paolo, but it was not an easy win for the Rossoneri. After a strong start Milan took advantage of a cautious and submissive Napoli by taking the lead at the 22nd minute with a goal from Robinho. Few minutes later they saw their opponents reduced to 10 men as Michele Pazienza was shown the red card after getting two yellow cards for handball. From then onwards Milan had to face a Napoli team that all of a sudden came back from the dead, was in no mood for surrender and was not going to go down without a fight. But il Diavolo stayed strong and despite some turbulent moments managed to hold out and take the win.
As Zvonimir Boban rightly remarked in the post-match comments on Sky Calcio: “Milan needed a win. This was no smooth win, but a win nonetheless and these are three massive points.” The win increases in importance when the list of injured players is considered. The day before the match Ignazio Abate picked up an injury in training, joining the likes of Thiago Silva, Gianluca Zambrotta, Marek Jankulovski, Massimo Ambrosini and Ronaldinho, who did not recover from a problem to a tendon in his right leg. On top of this, Coach Massimiliano Allegri had to reshuffle the defence after 12 minutes when Luca Antonini had to be taken off after a clash of heads with Christian Maggio, who only managed to stay a few minutes longer on the pitch before being replaced as well (they were both taken to hospital for a precautionary check and later on dismissed). Massimo Oddo came on for Antonini and put up a performance reminiscent of the old time performances that earned him a place in the Italian national team. He took charge of the right side and delivered the final ball on both Milan goals.
After the match Allegri declared himself very satisfied with his team’s performance, even if there were moments when wrong decisions could have been costly. He disclosed that they prepared the match with Robinho playing either as a trequartista behind the two forwards or with two men wide at midfield so it was all part of the plan when Robinho was taking wide positions on the pitch. The Milan Coach had to take a lot of stick during the week because of the poor display against Real Madrid and up to the very last press conference before the match against Napoli he had to defend the choices he made at the Bernabéu and state that the real Milan is not the team seen in Madrid.
Allegri had pointed out after the defeat that Milan missed too many passes, were slow in counter-attacking and gave too many balls away. Milan needed to stop making too many mistakes and needed to do so quickly. Last night the Rossoneri showed some improvement but there is still work to do. Again the passing was poor in many occasions and wrong decisions were taken – giving the ball away in the final minutes rather than keeping it for one.
Overall, it was a positive night. On an individual level, a few players played at a good level showing they can deliver when they are needed. The Greek Sokratis Papastathopoulos played his part alongside Alessandro Nesta, who looked instead chaotic at times. Daniele Bonera defended well on the left side and Oddo proved that, if he wants, he can still be a good right-back. Goalkeeper Christian Abbiati produced two terrific saves that allowed Milan to keep their 1-0 advantage. Robinho moved well along the pitch, went looking for the ball and showed some fighting spirit, confirming the progress he showed in the 20 minutes he played in Madrid. Above all, Milan has rediscovered Gennaro Gattuso, who yet again played in his trademark “ringhio” style.
Maybe some turned up their nose last night because Milan did not cruise to victory, because they were not elegant, because they were shaky in defence at times but the supporters and everybody at the club will be happy with the final score. Pressure is still high, nothing has been achieved yet, the playing style is still far from elegant but this morning Allegri wakes up in second place, two points ahead of city rival Inter.