Excellent, now everybody can focus on one competition. The Champions League tie against Manchester United was one which left Milan as underdogs – anyone who claims otherwise was either using the old deliberate pessimism to dampen down expectations, or just panicking unnecessarily.
As it turned out, the first leg was a pleasant surprise, and Leonardo and co. should really have won that game having outplayed United for 70 minutes, but the scale of the task in the second leg was just too much. Vice-President Adriano Galliani knew this, but only chose to tell us all after the event. There were too many players missing for the team to complete its objective successfully. It would have been hard enough with a full-strength side, but it is not feasible with Gianluca Zambrotta and Clarence Seedorf unable to start due to recent returns from injury, and Alexandre Pato, Luca Antonini and Alessandro Nesta out of the squad altogether.
The increasingly tiresome David Beckham failed to help matters. People do not need reminding every day in the lead-up to each game how special it will be for him to play against United and how much he is looking forward to returning to Old Trafford. Once is enough, to comment several times building up to each game verges on the ridiculous, and as professional as the man is said to be, you do have to wonder how much of his focus was on helping his current club win a couple of football matches. His early comments seemed to convince his Coach to make one of the worst team selection decisions in recent history, when he started Beckham at San Siro. He had not played for two weeks, since an ineffective performance against Livorno – nobody can seriously claim that it was all part of Leonardo’s plan to rest the player for over two weeks just so that he would be in top condition only to disappoint once again. The Brazilian is clearly a sucker for the occasion, and it showed that night, a mistake he did not make again at Old Trafford.
4-0 is an emphatic defeat, one which is to be expected when the team plays with only two defenders for 45 minutes (we include Marek Jankulovski, though it is debatable whether his defensive abilities warrant this inclusion), a fact conveniently ignored by those still celebrating, and those labelling Milan as a poor side. We shall let the latter group of individuals wallow in their ignorance. You could point to tactical naïvety, but Leonardo came to win the game, a game that had to be won by two goals. He deserves at least some credit for giving it a go with half of his strongest line-up missing. The opposition were simply more clinical – the Rossoneri could have scored more than four in their home leg had they showed anything like the same level of competence in this discipline. As it is, players like Pato and Thiago Silva should benefit from the experience gained over the tie. Let us hope they are still around so that we see the results in the future.
What is crucial now is that everybody at the club remains calm, there is no need to launch head first into some sort of mass rebuilding over a short space of time. The direction of the business is sound – rebuilding is in process and will take time, but silly, impatient fans will expect everything to be nailed in the summer. Those same fans will reap the benefits of the patient vision currently in place, but not yet. It is questionable whether Leonardo is the right Coach for the team. He has shown glimpses of ability, but in all honesty he is probably not tactically astute enough to make the difference, a quality all the great tacticians possess. But he is in the job, so he must be trusted. Our only word of advice is to use the youth players. There is some very promising talent in the Primavera team which currently sits top of its group in the Campionato Primavera – Simone Verdi and Michelangelo Albertazzi being two names which immediately spring to mind.
For now, efforts need to be directed to applying as much as pressure as possible on Inter to ensure that the top end of Serie A is worth watching. The league is a credible target, especially now that Milan is playing one game per week, but it will require a level of consistency that is probably slightly beyond them. Inter will probably not lose another game between now and the end of the season, so when they drop points it will be from those almost-as-rare drawn games. Possibly not the best time, then, for Alessandro Nesta to pick up what appears to be yet another serious injury. Come back quickly, Sandro. Please.