Straight from the dark heart of Italy
As a general rule in the final third of the Serie A season, league titles aren't won by playing pretty football but ground out game after game. AC Milan certainly proved that point against AS Roma on Saturday.
After being outpassed by their visitors for most of the game, Massimiliano Allegri’s teak-tough title-holders dragged themselves back into the contest via an aerial assault on the visitors' backline to complete a stirring 2-1 comeback victory.
The sight of Zlatan Ibrahimovic chasing down one long ball after another or pulling down another hoofed clearance was contrary to what we have come to expect of a club that likes to put style before steel.
RESULTS Sat 24 Mar Milan 2-1 Roma; Palermo 1-1 Udinese Sun 25 Mar Atalanta 2-0 Bologna; Lazio 1-0 Cagliari; Napoli 2-2 Catania; Genoa 2-2 Fiorentina; Novara 0-0 Lecce; Cesena 2-2 Parma; Chievo 1-1 Siena; Juventus 2-0 Internazionale
However, Allegri had to tailor his gameplan to the resources at his disposal – especially after Thiago Silva limped off in the opening 10 minutes with a thigh problem.
Allegri had taken a major gamble with his influential Brazilian, who had gone through a personalised pre-game warm-up. Once he had to change gear into a sprint, pulled up immediately and will miss both legs of the Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona.
With a midfield of hard-hats like Massimo Ambrosini, Sully Ali Muntari and Antonio Nocerino, subtlety was never going to figure that highly; instead, Milan expertly used Ibra’s power and Stephan El-Shaarawy’s pace.
Wednesday’s San Siro showdown against the La Liga champions will be a world away from the Route One approach employed by Milan against the Giallorossi. Despite their neat possession football, the Romans created a grand total of two clear-cut chances; Pablo Osvaldo scored one and Francesco Totti attempted his trademark chipped finish when a straightforward drive would have done the trick.
Such pussyfooting was steamrolled at the other end by Ibrahimovic. The Swedish wrecking ball had one of those evenings where he lumbered around crashing into opponents and falling over himself – but still stumbled away with the man-of-the-match award and two goals to take his tally to 22 in the league.
Still chasing fifth place and therefore Europe, Roma gained more than pat on the back; it was more like a size-13 boot imprinted on their fragile backline.
If Milan were dogged, Juventus were dominant against Inter 24 hours later. Knowing that they couldn't afford to allow the leaders to maintain their overnight seven-point advantage, Antonio Conte’s men tore their old nemesis apart in a second half full of guile and craft.
With the visitors doing little more than aiming long hopeful balls towards Diego Milito or Diego Forlan, with Gianluigi Buffon foiling the former twice, Conte dispensed with a defender, bringing on Leandro Bonucci for three at the back, flooding the midfield with five and introducing Alessandro del Piero.
Not only did the veteran’s entry suddenly lift the crowd, his goal to make it 2-0 nearly took the roof off at the Juventus Stadium such was the delirium in the stands – not to mention on the home bench.
Juve had opened the scoring in a more routine manner when Martin Càceres headed home from Andrea Pirlo’s corner and the alarming lack of concentration in the away defence was further exposed when Arturo Vidal worked a neat pass into the area for “Mr Juventus” to finish with a low angled shot.
The old maestro will bring to a close his glittering career with the Old Lady at the end of the season, and having played a mere bit-part throughout the campaign it was fitting that his first goal in the league should come against Inter in front of his adoring public.
AC Milan will head to the Camp Nou next week knowing that they will once again have to exert every sinew
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