It's that time of the year again. The day where my high blood pressure peaks to historic levels. The day several remotes will be smashed against hard, unforgiving surfaces. This Sunday marks the most anticipated match of the Serie A.
Milan vs. Intergentina. Round #2.
As you may recall, the first encounter ended in an embarrassing 4-0 defeat, with things spiraling out of control after the snarling dog Gattuso was sent off with a rugged tackle. But then again that was a completely different Milan team. Comparing it to this current squad seems like night and day. Leonardo was still tinkering his formation back then, trying to figure out what puzzle pieces fit in his master scheme.
Now Leonardo is the wily young tactician we were hoping to see, the Brazilian version of Pep Guardiola. The formation has been set. Certain players have stepped up - thanks to a surprising revelation by the name of Luca Antonini, who has played so well lately that he was even chosen as the weekly guest on La Domenica Sportiva.
On a side note, never doubt the will of a champion. Everyone was so quick to write off Ronaldinho, to label him as washed up, to even go as far as saying that he was a liability in the lineup. El Gaucho just played the best game of his Milan career. He scored a truly world class goal that was excitingly reminiscent of his glory days while sporting the blaugrana jersey. Watch all the goals here. I'm usually not a fan of statistics since they only tell half the story, but Ronnie has scored 6 goals in the last 3 games. Against Siena this past weekend he was a man possessed. Watching the game a second time, I noticed that he could have easily scored a whopping total of 5 goals. His unique swagger is back, he has a spring in his step, and most importantly he feels adored by the fans and his teammates.
- Amazing what confidence can do to a player, eh? Just ask Luca Antonini, who a few months ago was the epitome of mediocrity. Now that he feels comfortable with his role in the team, Antoninho seems like our best fullback. His motor never stops, his crosses and passes are pinpoint, and he has constructed a formidable partnership with Ronaldinho on the left side of the pitch.
- On a more negative note, my heart skips a beat every time Abate is tracking back on defense. He has all the athletic tools to become a world class fullback, but makes too many boneheaded errors. Average wingers who are matched up against him suddenly morph into Maradona replicas. Just take a look at what Rivas did to him in the Bari-Milan match several months ago. In his defense he's more of a right sided midfielder or winger, but Leonardo insists on youth and speed down the wing. Thinking of him attempting to defend Rooney in the upcoming Champions League fixture is enough to terrorize even the most optimistic Milan fan.
- I received an e-mail asking me why Milan is "so cheap" in the transfer market. Well, the answer is simple: they've realized that money alone doesn't buy Championships (it surely helps). The scouting for Milan has been phenomenal. They bought Kaka for nuts and bolts and sold him a few years later for nearly a €100 million. They imported a young pimply faced teenager from Brazil known as Pato, and now he has turned into arguably the most talented U-21 player in the world. Instead of buying the ultra-hyped "big name", management insisted on bringing over Thiago Silva from Fluminense, even though he wasn't eligible to play right away. Now he has turned into a stellar central defender who has formed a cement wall alongside Nesta. I could keep going on and on. Milan even donated around 14 million Euro's to Real Madrid's charity foundation and as a token of their gratitude they shipped us one of their Dutch massage therapists. In all seriousness, players brought over from small provincial sides such as Abate and Antonini from Empoli have had a significant influence. Dida was apparently brought back from the dead by a Milan shaman, Nesta from the IR, etc, etc. It's easy to throw out millions to everyone who has a popular name like what Real Madrid or Manchester City are doing, but has the money translated into success? I'm sure we might even see a check signed by Florentino Perez to acquire Antonini for € 50 million at the end of the year. Nothing surprises me anymore.
- Things to look out for: Will Nesta's injury cause him to miss the derby? He is indispensable at this point. Will Seedorf see any playing time? I'd rather have him in the formation than Gattuso, but injuries have slowed down the Dutchman as well. SoccerNet is reporting that Pato is out of the game, so Beckham will take his place. Will we see another twenty minute Huntelaar cameo? If it were up to me, I'd keep Borriello in the game throughout the length of the match. Inter's physicality can be countered by the Italian hitman. Huntelaar on the other hand, has the aggression level of a dead ficus tree.
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