AC MILAN 1
CHIEVO VERONA 0
Milan may well go on to win an eighteenth scudetto after closing the gap at the top to one point on Sunday evening. However, should Leonardo’s side go on to clinch the title, it will owe more to the failings of their rivals than to any Rossoneri brilliance. They say great sides win titles by playing badly and winning. This may be so, but great sides do not have such glaring shortcomings that were on display from Milan in this game.
Maybe it was the pressure that came with the situation the Rossoneri found themselves in that inspired a performance that was in the most part turgid, predictable and left one wondering how they had attained their lofty league position. Milan badly lack energy and legs in midfield. Andrea Pirlo, never a box-to-box lung-buster in his youth, now plays as a deep-lying libero, while Gennaro Gattuso now looks a shadow of the feisty, terrier-like player who once won the ball back with heart-warming frequency. With Ronaldinho in a free role (we do not know whether this is designated by coach or player), he dropped deeper to get involved and left Marco Borriello fighting a wall of yellow shirts on his own.
Against this backdrop, it is no surprise that the visitors played the better football in the first half and should have led at the break. Andrea Mantovani headed against the crossbar after a deep cross from the right and then just before half time a pivotal moment encapsulated all that was wrong about the Rossoneri. As yellow shirts broke at speed this writer noted danger as the they were advancing at a faster rate than the Rossoneri’s retreat. The shot that came in was tame and Christian Abbiati should not have palmed the ball straight to Mario Yepes, who rolled it in. Fortunately, an offside call that smacked of a home decision saved he and his team’s blushes.
The second half was better from Milan, partly because Ronaldinho began to get involved in the game. When he does not deliver his contribution to the team is negligible. But he does something special just often enough to remind coaches they are better off with than without. After cutting inside to curl one against the post, he set up Borriello, who shot straight at Steffano Sorrentino. The momentum had shifted although Chievo retained some menace on the break while probably settling for a point. Substitute Filippo Inzaghi scooped the ball wide from a chance he would have buried not too long ago. Like many in this Rossoneri side, you could argue his best days are long behind him. With Milan now showing urgency minus invention and Chievo having settled for a draw, stalemate looked certain until a moment of brilliance at the end. Another late replacement, Clarence Seedorf pulled an exocet out of nowhere from the corner of the box. Sorrentino need not worry as no keeper in the world would have got near it. It was harsh on the visitors, who had been the better side for just under an hour and while they had sat back in the later stages, a draw was the only result that seemed fair. Hopefully Leonardo and company understand that they will not always strike so lucky.