Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Who’s the daddy now? Well, AC Milan in the title race and most definitely Alexandre Pato in the never ending struggle for dominance amongst the Rossoneri alpha-males.
Up until recently all Zlatan Ibrahimovic had to do was beat his chest and Pato would scurry off into the shadows: in the competitive world of the Milan frontline, the young man nicknamed Duck was more like a startled deer in the headlights.
Finally, last night the young Brazilian chose the top-of-the-table clash with Napoli as the moment to stand up for himself and decided there would be no more grovelling to the big Swede – or, for that matter, passing the ball to him either.
On two occasions, he could have set up his team-mate for a goalscoring chance but this was an evening for personal gain and glory, so with Ibra screaming for a pass on the edge of the six-yard box Pato waited patiently until Kevin Prince Boateng arrived in front of the goal before rolling the ball into the substitute’s path.
Ibra had broken the deadlock from the penalty spot – Pato was involved in winning it when his knockback from the by-line was needlessly handled by Salvatore Aronica – but he was very much on the margins from there on.
The real gem of what had been a glittering performance from the No.7 came soon after as he sprinted on to a headed clearance from Mark van Bommel before bearing down on the visitors' goal.
Ibra was again in support and this time had made a darting run to the left which Pato duly acknowledged by cutting inside and curling a wonderful shot beyond the sprawling Morgan de Sanctis. The Napoli goalkeeper had earlier denied his tormentor but was left helpless this time – and even Ibra was fulsome in his celebrations.
However, the pair still found time to exchange pleasantries as the final whistle blew after Pato made his fellow striker sprint forward into the opposition half before stopping and passing all the way back towards the defence.
Such was Pato’s newfound status that he dismissed Ibra’s complaints with a wave of his hand. As we already witnessed at Chievo, he is no longer a puny youth and to prove that there was plenty of testosterone pumping through his body, Pato even received a yellow card for swatting Aronica to the ground.
However, his real knockout punch came when he had the ball at his feet and his pace and verve was all too much for the labouring defence.Napoli had arrived at the San Siro looking to storm the northern citadel but hardly mustered anything approaching an attack – and in fact failed to test home goalkeeper Christian Abbiati at all.
They were as damp and insipid as the Milanese weather that greeted the players and the near 80,000 capacity inside the stadium which brought back memories of the rivalry of the mid-to-late 80s when Diego Maradona and Marco van Basten were in their prime.
However, this current Azzurri side is a long way from the finished article and Ezequiel Lavezzi’s absence was sorely felt, leaving Edinson Cavani isolated and outnumbered against Alessandro Nesta – sporting a sensible hair-cut – and Thiago Silva.
Walter Mazzarri had no back-up plan when his team went a goal behind but the real problem was an inability to retain possession while the high-pressure game further up the pitch does not come naturally to a side with counter-attacking tendencies.
No doubt owner Aurelio de Laurentiis will address the lack of depth in his squad come the summer but in the meantime they will have to set their sights on third place and leave the title race to the city of Milan.
The victory ensured Massimiliano Allegri’s men kept Inter at bay – and after Pato’s performance he also found a new leader of the pack.
How the Top Dogs have squared up in 2010-11 seasonZlatan Ibrahimovic 25 games, 25 starts, 14 goals2220 minutes played (158.5 minutes per goal)Alexandre Pato 17 games, 6 starts, 11 goals1074 minutes played (97.6 minutes per goal)
Milan must keep Pato. As for Ibra, send him back to Barca. Milan can't afford 24m on a player like that.
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