For the first time in over 500 days Milan could have been top of Serie A on Sunday afternoon. But the Rossoneri first had to deal with the visit of the team from the south: Napoli. The Azzurri came into this fixture without a win in their last seven games but still had claims for a possible champions league berth and they would enjoy a decent first half on the Milanese turf. Milan coach Leonardo gave a run out to the returning Alexandre Pato up front, and to partner him chose the veteran Pippo Inzaghi in place of the out of form Klass Jan Huntelaar who would have to make do warming the bench for the majority of the game.
With Inter only drawing 1-1 with Palermo on Saturday night, Milan knew that a win would see them go to the summit of the table, but the team got off to a cautious start, as Napoli were not afraid to threaten the goal, championed by Christian Abbiati. It would take just thirteen minutes for the Azzurri to take the lead. After good work from in the form Marek Hamsik, the ball fell to Hugo Campagnaro whose effort was weak and Abbiati looked to have the goal covered. But Milan defender Massimo Oddo bundled into his goalkeeper and gifted the visitors with the lead. While in recent weeks criticism has fallen on the Milan attack, being farcical in front of goal this afternoon that unwanted label seemed to be firmly with the defence. Coach Leonardo’s face was a picture.
Worse was to come for Milan after Pato hobbled off injured. Had Leonardo rushed his Brazilian prodigy back to soon? Injuries and Brazilian prodigies… reminded one of the days of Ronaldo when at Inter. The Milan’s tifosi looked concerned by this latest setback.
Despite the double-blow Milan hit back. Encouraged to go for the three points at home birthday boy Ronaldinho who turned 30 today, drove a cross into the Napoli area and Inzaghi (who else?) rose to head the ball into the back of the net. As always Pippo celebrated as if he were going to receive the Scudetto, the World Cup and the Euro millions jackpot after the final whistle. What Huntelaar was feeling was anyone’s guess as the old boy replacing him had done what was required so early on.
Even after the Rossoneri’s equalizing goal Napoli were having the better chances, and this continued into the second half. Fabio Quagliarella and Marek Hamsik were giving the depleted Milan defence problems. With the news that Alessandro Nesta is set to miss the rest of the season there seemed no let up for the back four today. But Milan were able to counter attack also and the game for the most part was an open flowing affair as we reached the conclusion. Huntelaar was finally given a little over ten minutes to test the Azzurri as Leonardo went all out attack and sacrificed Clarence Seedorf in midfield. However the change would make little difference, and Milan had to accept which, in the end was a disappointing result.
Finally a team from the South had done Inter a favour, as both Catania and Palermo had taken vital points off of the Nerazzurri in recent weeks. So Milan have to settle for second place albeit now just a single point difference from Inter. But the real winners this weekend have arguably been Roma who now sit on 56 points just four from the top. Serie A after a season which threatened to peter out due to Inter’s dominance looks to be revving up to be the closest three way finish in some time.