Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Out go the Serie A leaders to the English Premier League’s fifth-placed side along with the mesmerising passing movements in the best traditions of AC Milan. You can pass a team off the pitch – Milan produced 473 of them – but if there is no end product then the game can only pass you by: this is the stark reality of the situation that leaves Italy’s representation down to one after the Rossoneri exited the Champions League to Tottenham Hotspur.
Massimiliano Allegri’s game plan was ensure that Spurs had little or no space to work the ball wide – and with Mathieu Flamini and Kevin Prince Boateng covering in front of the full-backs they did very well in this task. Clarence Seedorf was in an unfamiliar withdrawn role in front of the defence, where his ageing legs had plenty of time to set the tempo for Milan’s forward motion.
Unfortunately, the problems lay further up the pitch where the front three failed to match the quick-fire passing from midfield with what was needed – a goal: Milan have now failed to score in their last three European outings.
Robinho is no natural goalscorer, as he demonstrated in the first half by miskicking in front of goal when set up by Alexandre Pato, William Gallas clearing off the line; then, late on, scuffing wide after the ball had fallen to him inside the six-yard area – although he did have a powerful effort deflected over the bar in the dying minutes.
Pato saw an angled shot well saved by Gomes and then came agonisingly close when he cut in from the left to drive a low shot just the wrong side of the post – but in general the Duck was Milan's most threatening presence.
In contrast, Zlatan Ibrahimovic produced one rasping free-kick which Heurelho Gomes pushed away and well, that was just about it. Once again failed to dissuade the doubters who believe that he will always fall flat in Europe. He has played for Ajax, Juventus, Inter and Barcelona – and not one of his previous employers have lifted the Champions League with the Swede leading the line, having to make do instead with becoming domestic champions.
Milan – who would be grateful for home-front success, having not won the Italian league title since 2004 – can at least take heart from the fact that Ibra is the man for the domestic chores, but he is prone to travel sickness when forced to leave those cosy confines for continental competition.
He may have scored four goals in the group stages but he has never found the net in the knock-out round – and coming into the return leg at White Hart Lane he hadn't scored from open play in seven games, his only goal in that time coming from the penalty spot against Napoli two weeks ago.
In his defence, he did set up Pato for a presentable chance and provided a neat lay-off for Robinho’s late effort but as everyone at the club keeps saying, the team is built around the big man and at times like last night he needed to carry the responsibility on his board shoulders.
He had the vibrant and pacy Pato and Robinho buzzing around him all evening but on too many occasions he failed to react to their darting runs. The Spurs defence on the whole ensured he was playing with his back to goal when the Brazilian pair had already set off on a run, but if you have pretensions of being the best player in the world then you have to produce that something out of the ordinary.
Once again Ibra was weighted down by over-expectation, especially amongst the Italian media who have been fawning over his every performance in Serie A where he has scored 14 goals. There was a different feel to Thursday morning’s press coverage, with his player-rating hovering around 4.5 out of 10.
If Milan are to ever regain their European crown then there will need to be changes in the summer. Alessandro Nesta will retire (or move to the States) with Philippe Mexes partnering Thaigo Silva in the centre of defence, but there seems to be no adequate left-back – which was highlighted last night when Marek Jankulovski failed to provide one decent cross into the area while Ignazio Abate only ventured forward late.
Youngsters Alexander Merkel and Rodney Strasser were introduced in the closing stages and had few opportunities to make an impression in midfield, but at least they offer some youthful hope for the future.
With the Rossoneri banished from Europe for the third consecutive season by a Premier League club, La Gazzetta dello Sport flicked through their get-by-in-English phrasebook to produce the headline “Bye Bye Milan" – but as Zlatan would no doubt echo, there's no place like home.
It was pleasing to finally see a decent performance from and Italian club in the CL. They were unfortunate not to get at least extra time out of it. But why wasn't this the starting 11(besides Boateng) in the first game?
I hope Leonadro was watching. Inter can take heart from Milan's attitude and spirit. If Milan can come this close to turning around a 1-0 home defeat, then there is no excuse for Inter against an average Bayern team. Let's just hope Chivu is out for Zanetti and Eto'o actually has someone to help him this time. One of Milito, Coutinho or Pandev would do.
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