Straight from the dark heart of Italy
As Silvio Berlusconi might note, you can say one thing in public and do exactly the opposite in private. Certainly Berlusconi's employee Massimiliano Allegri did so in the build-up to Saturday’s Milan derby. The AC Milan coach had been telling all and sundry that this Derby della Madonnina was of much more importance to Inter, who trailed his side by two points at the top of the table.
Away from the media spotlight, however, he was no doubt priming his players for something more akin to the game of the season – and certainly the most important match of what is still a fledging coaching career for Allegri, having only taken the Rossoneri reins from Leonardo in the summer. Largely unheard of outside Italy, Allegri first cultivated a brand of pressure football (similar in style to the approach adopted by Arrigo Sacchi during his time at Milan) in the lower leagues with Sassuolo before making the step up to Serie A in charge of Cagliari back in 2008.
The transition to the big time at Milanello has gone smoothly so far, the only black mark coming in Champions League elimination by Tottenham Hotspur. In fact, the jam-packed and feverishly humid San Siro was reminiscent of a big European night – the teams even trained on the newly-laid turf the previous day – but from the kick-off it was clear which side had their minds totally focused on the task ahead.
In no short measure, Milan tore into their city cousins and never let go of their iron grip from the moment Alessandro Pato opened the scoring inside a minute. If reports are to be believed the Duck is also stepping out with Silvio Berlusconi’s daughter Barbara who was in the stands – and the newly beefed-up and loved-up Pato was full of the joys of spring all evening.
Freed of the shackles of the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Brazilian whizz cut through the fragile Nerazzurri backline – itself shorn of the suspended Lucio – with darting runs from myriad angles.
With Robinho equally fleet-footed, Cristian Chivu, Douglas Maicon, Javier Zanetti and Andrea Rannocchia must have thought they were facing two Gareth Bale clones, such was the hesitant nature of their defending. One of them had to go and in the end it was Chivu, sent off for a last-man foul on Pato – although even before they went down to 10, Inter were only postponing the inevitable.
The outnumbered midfield of Thaigo Motta and Esteban Cambiasso had already been steamrolled by the imperious Mark van Bommel, Rino Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf well before Pato headed home the second just after the hour mark. Leonardo’s game-plan of a three-man attack was left in tatters.
Much had been made of the Brazilian knowing his old club inside-out – but by the same measure, Allegri (and more importantly his assistant Mauro Tassotti, who had shadowed Leo for a whole season) were well prepared for the opposition’s approach.
Milan were left to prepare for the game in relative peace and tranquillity while Leonardo faced the glare as the returning Judas – and so it came to pass. The Curva Sud, where the Rossoneri Ultras gather in the San Siro, unfurled a gigantic banner depicting the Last Supper fresco by that other Leonardo – Da Vinci – although the traditional meal scene had been replaced by glasses of beer.
Below it was writ large in no uncertain terms the feelings towards Leo’s defection to the other side of town – "Giuda Interista" ["Inter Judas"] – along with a poetic reference to selling one's soul for “30 pieces of silver".
They love a banner, those Ultras
It seemed for a moment that Gattuso was going to serve Leo’s head up on a platter when he ran to the Inter bench after the opening goal for a few choice words with the man he freely admits he never got on with, although thankfully the pit-bull midfielder managed to keep his head and did apologise as the teams walked off at half-time.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, Antonio Cassano failed to engage his brain when he came on with 10 minutes remaining as if he was some conquering hero – only to be sent off in injury time.
It was classic Cassanata – grabbing centre stage when the match had already been won; tearing off his shirt after scoring the penalty, thus garlanding a yellow card; and then moments later receiving a second booking for a needless challenge on Ivan Cordoba. There has never been a bigger airhead in Italian football, although Mario Balotelli seems to carrying the torch for those who brains remain firmly in their feet.
For once Berlusconi was scrambling for the moral high ground, forgiving Leonardo for pitching up at the court of Moratti and then claiming that the Manchester City striker was not a Milan type of player. Meanwhile, rumours grow that Cassano may be used as a makeweight to secure Kevin Prince Boateng’s permanent move from Genoa.
Well, few would have thought of Leonardo as a future Inter coach so tales of Cassano’s return to the red and blue half of the Liguria port city may not be that wide of the mark.
In the meantime, Allegri will continue to underplay the title run-in while Leonardo will have to remain in the shadows around Milan for some time to come.
1. Torres has until half-time to avoid surpassing Sutton Fernando Torres certainly hasn't enjoyed
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