It’s that time of the season when the true depth and character of a team comes to light, as the league enters its twilight zone and the knockout stages are in full flow in Europe. The Scudetto has evaded Milan for ages, and after a long wait of six years, they find themselves leading the pack for the title. March has begun, and its first ten days can very well set the tone for Milan on both the League and European front. With March kicking in, the “Ten days of reckoning” have already begun for the Rossoneri. In this period, they first faced Napoli and now await Juventus, followed by a lip smacking return leg at the While Hart Lane in the Champions league; Milan have surely got their hands full this time.
Intent shown against the side from Naples
Since 1990, when they last won the Serie A, this is the first time that Napoli have been seen as serious title contenders, riding chiefly on the form of their striker Cavani. Therefore, when Milan ran into Napoli, sparks were bound to fly. But Allegri ‘s men gave a clear indication of the things to expect from them, after played a perfect game to clobber their title rivals by three goals to zero, thereby overcome their first obstacle late on Monday night.
The Azzurri have emerged as the biggest surprise of the season in Serie A, and were placed just below Milan prior to this match. In spite of a thumping win, Milan’s vice-president Galliani has not ruled out Napoli from the title race. But taking Monday’s result into consideration, it looks like the Scudetto will remain in the city of Milan this season as well.
An Angry Juventus next in line
The victory over Napoli will certainly help Il diavolo, before their much anticipated trip to Turin over the weekend. Although Juventus have won only three of their last eleven encounters in Serie A, they have always fared well against both Milanese clubs, racking up seven points from their three meetings with Inter and Milan this season. After getting the better of Inter in Derby d’ Italia in mid February, they have been humbled twice at the hands of Lecce and Bologna.
Galliani himself has gone on to admit, in a local daily, that facing a wounded Juventus could prove to be a tough ordeal for the Rossoneri, considering the atmosphere in Turin will be full of nervousness, problems and tensions following the Bianconeri‘s losses in two games where they were expected to win. Had they achieved the results, this trip would not be so tricky for Milan. Juve, being one of the only two teams who have beaten Milan at San Siro this season, will make the league leaders a little wary before their showdown on Saturday.
The chief reasons why this match is of such an importance to Milan are-
- A win over Del Neri’s side will give them a huge psychological advantage over their arch rivals and currently second placed Inter Milan
- It would uplift the morale of the team, and would ensure that they would walk into their Champions league fixture against Tottenham on the back of a famous win, which might just help them in turning the tide in their direction.
… And then Europe comes calling
Tempers are set to fly high when Milan travels to Tottenham for the return leg of their round of 16 clash, especially after what all transpired at San Siro during the first leg. Gattuso, who was at the center of controversy involving Joe Jordan in Milan, won’t be travelling to England as he is suspended. However, one can expect the English fans to give Milan a hostile welcome, especially after the incident was blown out of proportion by the English Media (Joe “Jaws”Jordan is not a saint either), despite Gattuso apologizing for his behavior after the match.
Coming back to the match, Milan finds themselves with a deficit of one goal to the English side; what makes the matter even worse is that they are down by an away goal. Also, since the past few years, it has been the English sides who have played the part of party spoilers for the Italian club at this very stage (Arsenal in 2007-08 and Manchester United in 2009-10). Frankly, if one looks at the present Milan squad for Europe, then one cannot help but notice they don’t possess the legs to go all the way to Wembley. They have the firepower for Serie A, but with players like Cassano, Van Bommel and Emanuelson all cup tied, they just don’t have enough creative poweress in the middle for Europe’s elite tournament.
All said, one never expected the Rossoneri to lose to the first timers Spurs. The result depicts the growing difference between the clubs in Italy and the fast paced clubs of up North. Tottenham enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the first half at San Siro, which is something that Allegri cannot afford to let happen again, if his side wants to stage a comeback in this encounter. Seedorf must be benched; it was only after he was taken off in the first leg, that Milan showed some real intent in the match. The news coming in from White Hart Lane suggests that their Welsh prodigy Bale is expected to sit out of the second leg as well, which will come as a big relief to the seven-time European champion; they would not have to suffer the wrath of Bale unlike Inter in the group stages. On their part, Milan will have Boateng available for them in the middle; if he is paired with the youngster Merkel, they might be able to provide much needed space and creativity for their team in the middle.
It is expected to be a daunting trip for the Italian giants, but it not an impossible proposition. It all boils down to how Max Allegri is able to inspire his players and uplift their morale before the all important fixture in north London. That is the reason why a win over the Bianconeri will go a long way in instilling the much needed confidence in the Italian outfit.
If Milan is able to pull it off in England, it will be the first time that they will make it to the last eight, since last lifting the cup in 06-07. Who knows, maybe it’s a jinx of the English opponents in the round of 16 for them; if they go through in this one, there is a possibility they might go all the way.