Andrea Pirlo complained in midweek that the poor quality of pitches in Italy prevented Milan from playing the flowing football of Barcelona. But on a well-watered turf at the San Siro the Rossoneri comprehensively demolished Genoa in a 5-2 victory. With Inter having extended their lead to 10 points after their victory over Chievo in the early kick-off, Leonardo knew that victory was imperative in this fixture. David Beckham made a start on his return to the club, playing in an unusual right forward position behind striker Marco Borriello. David Suazo who moved to Genoa from Internazionale on loan, also made a start for his new club.
Milan’s quick passing style left the crowd in the stadium craving for more time after time. Ronaldinho’s missed penalty early on was the only blotch on an otherwise perfect performance by the Rossoneri. Beckham seems to have readjusted into the squad with ease as his delivery was spot on throughout the night. What would please the fans more was that the victory came without the likes of Alexandre Pato, Clarence Seedorf and Gianluca Zambrotta in the squad. Zambrotta’s replacement, Luca Antonini, was one of the most impressive players in yesterday’s game. Antonini, who has spent most of his career with Serie B sides, played a crucial role in two of Milan’s goals. His run to latch on to Ronaldinho’s through ball to lay off for Borriello’s first and his fine cross for Borriello’s second would have captured Leonardo’s imagination.
The defence also looked solid with the Thiago Silva-Nesta partnership continuing to blossom regularly. However, right-back Ignazio Abate was severely exposed in Genoa’s first goal. Abate is quite young and is used to playing in the midfield so his mistakes in defence may be forgiven. However, if Antonini continues to show good form down the left wing it may be a smart move for Leonardo to keep Antonini on the left and put Zambrotta on the right. Oddo is certainly not up to Milan’s caliber and as far as possible he should be kept away from the side. The game also marked the return of Gennaro Gattuso following a long injury lay-off. The no-nonsense tackler had a good comeback and presents the Coach with even more options in the middle of the field. Ronaldinho also had an excellent game for the Rossoneri and he is starting to look more and more like the player he was at Barcelona. The same caressing touches, the trademark feints are becoming commonplace and if he continues this rich vein of form he will surely find a way back into the Seleção lineup. His through-ball to setup Milan’s third goal was absolutely exquisite.
Going into the game with Juventus on Sunday, Leonardo will be wholly satisfied with his team’s showing. There is no dearth of options for the Brazilian and the only area where he might have a few concerns is the aforementioned right-back position. Beckham’s versatility is certainly an added bonus and the former England captain showed that he still has the legs to cope on the big stage. Becks can be used in cameos from the bench, as well as a starter, depending on the style of play Milan adopts. The 4-3-3 which was in place yesterday can be reverted to the more traditional 4-3-1-2, with Ronaldinho slotting in behind the strikers when needed. The real headache for Leonardo will come in his selection upfront as Borriello is showing the kind of form which earned him a recall to Milan. Pato’s pacy characteristics usually mean that the diminutive forward plays best when on his own. To integrate Seedorf, Ronaldinho, Beckham, Pato and Borriello into one team may prove to be impossible. But this is a problem faced by plenty of Coaches, so don’t expect too many tears about it.
Ciro Ferrara’s Juventus meanwhile finally returned to winning ways against Parma after three losses in their previous four games in the league. Reports around Italy suggested that Guus Hiddink was ready to takeover Juve’s managerial seat should Ferrara slip up again. The game also saw Roberto Bettega in the VIP box after having returned to the Juventus management over the winter break. Ferrara adopted the new 4-4-1-1 formation with Diego in the role of the playmaker behind David Trezeguet. The Bianconeri came off with what many would call a lucky win. The team continued to struggle to impose itself in the game and repeatedly allowed Parma to hit back at them. Giorgio Chiellini, the captain for the day, marshaled the defence admirably as the Old Lady kept out the vultures at the end.
The 4-4-1-1 did not do much good for the team as the same old problems in the final third continued to haunt them. None of Juve’s current forwards look good enough for a side of their stature. The investment in Amauri looks more and more doomed with every game he plays as there is no visible improvement in his performance, and Trezeguet’s injury means that Juve have no other option than to stick with the Brazilian for the moment. Felipe Melo will also continue to feel like an outcast if his poor showing continues. Towards the end of the game, the frustration was evidently building up for him and Ferrara should consider letting him cool off on the bench for a while. Salihamidžić was also none too impressive in the midfield despite scoring the opener and right-back Martín Cáceres almost always looks like a disaster waiting to happen. These are indeed troubled times for the Old Lady and the players will have to dig deep to ensure that they get something from the game against Milan. If Ferrara’s men are to fail it will most likely mean an end to his coaching tenure in Turin and also to Juve’s title hopes for another year.