THE ROSSONERI took a giant leap towards the Scudetto earlier tonight, as they beat Napoli 3-0 in the San Siro in what was a crucial game in the title race. In a totally dominant performance, Milan failed to take the lead in the first half despite intense pressure – in the second half, Milan were awarded a penalty after an Aronica handball allowed Ibra to score from the spot, while Pato provided a goal for Boateng before bending in a stunning goal for himself!
Still without some key players such as Andrea Pirlo, Milan lined up in a 4-3-1-2 formation, which was at least something close to a strong team, even if players in key areas were still missing. Abbiati started in goal behind Abate, Nesta Thiago Silva and Jankulovski in defence, whilst a destructive trio of Gattuso Van Bommel and Flamini made up the midfield. In attack, Robinho was just behind Ibrahimovic and Pato, with Cassano returning to the bench
Yet another Milan game was off to a flyer, but this time, it was Milan doing the pressing. After a poor Napoli free kick, Alexandre Pato intercepted the ball around the halfway line, and dribbled well at the Napoli defence. Paolo Cannavaro brought the Brazilian down just outside the Napoli area, and it looked like it may have been a free kick, but the referee waved play on. Nonetheless, an energetic start with Milan looking well up for the game!
Despite what looked to be an exciting start, the game seemingly settled down early on, despite Milan looking fairly threatening on the counter, there were no real goalscoring oppertunities for either side – Napoli’s passing just wasn’t up to the task, and aside from an Ibrahimovic shot which ended up over the bar, and a weak penalty claim, Milan hadn’t created enough in the final third to threaten Napoli in the opening quarter of an hour.
Milan begun dictating play with around 20 minutes on the clock. Massimiliano Allegri’s high pressure tactics were beginning to take effect, and for a brief spell Napoli could not get the ball out of their own half! Minutes of pressure and poor clearances from Napoli culmintated in a shot from 20 yards out by Gennaro Gattuso – but his scuffed shot sailed over the crossbar. Milan broke on the counter moments later after a clever Robinho flick, Ibrahimovic played the ball in to the box at the end of the move, but the pass was well cut out.
Napoli had resorted to playing long balls over the top, looking to get Cavani in behind and running at the Milan goal by this stage – but despite 2 attempts in quick succession, Thiago Silva was more than a match for both though, and other than these poor efforts, Napoli’s creativity had been stifled. The Rossoneri were now noticably the better side, and were looking very dangerous, but the scoreline remained level with around half an hour gone.
The Rossoneri came close to taking the lead just 5 minutes later. As Andrea Dossena tried to clear, Pato pressurised him and won the ball, and some excellent footwork from Van Bommel resulted in a ball in to the box. Napoli failed to clear well enough and the ball well enough and it fell back out to Gattuso – who found the Dutchman once more, but Mark van Bommel’s powerful shot was blocked as it flew goalwards!
It was all Milan, and Massimiliano Allegri’s tactics were working very well. With the midfield locked down by Milan’s 3, the pressure in the final third from Milan’s attackers (Pato in particular) were causing problems. Napoli’s passing had become slopping in their own half, and the back 3 was struggling to cope with the pressure, however, the score still remained level, as Milan were unable to take advantage. After some fantastic 1 touch football in their own half from Gattuso and Robinho, Pato managed to slide it out for Ibrahimovic on the counter – Ibra did well to play in Flamini, but Morgan De Sanctis managed to get a hand to it. However, the goalkeeper did not get enough on it, and the ball fell back out to Pato, but Napoli got defenders back, and Pato’s effort was cleared before it reached the line.
As half time approached the pressure was building, as Milan were clearly the better side but were unable to take advantage of their dominance. As Alexandre Pato ran inside, Aronica fouled him, and then picked up the ball, however, Pato retalliated and nudged him to the floor and picked up a yellow card for his troubles. For all of Milan’s dominance, they had failed to take advantage – despite Allegri’s tactics working very well, and despite the fact that Napoli were struggling to deal with the pressure, the Rossoneri still hadn’t managed to work a move quite good enough for a goal, and so, the scores remained level at half time.
Right at the start of the second half, Milan came out and attacked once more! After a mistake from Maggio, the ball ended up around the the Napoli box and Van Bommel went down looking for a penalty, it looked like it might have been a bit soft had it been given, but within a minute the ball was flung back in to the box at the backpost, and Aronica threw his hand up in the air and made contact with the ball.
The referee saw it and awarded a penalty and a yellow card for Aronica. Despite not scoring in all of February before today, Ibrahimovic confidently stepped up and slotted it in the corner despite Morgan De Sanctis guessing the right way, and Milan deservedly took the lead.
Napoli were completely shaken – and were still struggling to cope. The back 3 seemed all over the place, and Milan very nearly doubled their lead within minutes of scoring, after a clever pass from Robinho found Jankulovski in space on the left, but Jankulovski’s cross failed to find Pato, who was the only Milan player in the box.
It seemed as though Milan had a few more players on the field, as the Rossoneri were much more determined and won pretty much every knock down and second ball. The lead would have been 2 with almost 10 minutes gone in the second half, were it not for a sensational save from Morgan De Sanctis! As Pato cut inside on the ball, the Napoli defenders backed off, and so the Brazilian had time to pick out a shot which was curling perfectly in to the bottom corner – only for Morgan De Sanctis to pull off a magnificent diving save!
After a short corner Pato used his turn of pace well to get to the byline before pulling it back for Robinho, but as Robinho struggled to reach the ball his stabbed effort at goal was once again saved tremendously by De Sanctis.
With around half an hour to go, Kevin-Prince Boateng was brought on to replace Robinho, as Milan looked to add to their lead. Despite continuous pressure, Milan were unable to add to their lead in the next 10 minutes, and Marek Jankulovski (who had a decent game) was taken off for Urby Emmanuelson’s first appearance in the left back role.
With around quarter of an hour to go, Milan doubled their lead and effectively sealed the victory! Alexandre Pato did very well with the ball and managed to lay the ball in to the box for Kevin-Prince Boateng to run in and score! But within moments again, the result was definitely sealed, Pato sealing it in style! as the ball broke down the field, Pato was the first to the ball – he was challenged but the tackle was weak, and it fell back out to him. As Ibrahimovic made up the ground, he made a wise run to Pato’s left to take the defender with him – Pato used Ibrahimovic as a decoy and scored a fantastic goal from over 20 yards out, his curling effort leaving Morgan De Sanctis powerless to stop it!
The game drew to a close and it was a thoroughly deserved 3-0 victory in one of the most important games of the season. Napoli never really got going, whilst Milan initially struggled to take advantage of their dominance, the second half proved to be the time for Milan to make it count. It wasn’t an easy win but it was a very good one all things considered!
Best Moment: Pato’s outstanding 3rd goal
Man of the Match: Alexandre Pato
By Hefin Davies, Rossoneri Blog