AC Milan Needs to Beat the Top Teams, Stat

February 3, 2012 — by Rob Kirby


The Tevez-Pato “will he? won’t he” questions ricocheted every which way this January as the musical chairs transfers song played at AC Milan, but at the end everyone retook their own chairs. Boring. Perhaps they were dating Berlusconi’s daughter, or were on £200,000 a week slave wages that no one else could match, but whatever the reason, that anti-climax will be followed up by a busy February and early March. The Rossoneri take on first-place Juventus twice in the Coppa Italia and once in the league, Napoli and Udinese in the league, not to mention the two Champions League legs against Arsenal.

It all starts with the home match/grudge match against Napoli this Sunday at 2:30 ET (Fox Soccer).

To put the upcoming matches in perspective, Milan has not beaten any team in the top five in a league match this season, including the painful loss to Inter in the Derby della Madonnina in January. Furthermore, Napoli beat Milan 3-1 in their only other matchup this season. If Milan continues to find itself unable to beat the top teams, this upcoming run could prove very difficult and very damaging.

However, aside from the Tevez-Pato dud of inaction, Milan did bring in five reinforcements over the window to deal with the second half of the season, including striker Maxi Lopez from Catania and out-of-favor midfielder Sulley Muntari from Inter. Coming off a disappointing 2-0 loss to Lazio that could have seen them take pole position, they have everything to play for—and conversely, everything to lose.

Napoli has stuttered to a string of draws and a defeat to Genoa of late, but Cavani fired them to a 2-0 victory over Inter in the Coppa Italia last week and they could come roaring back this Sunday.

Feb 5, 9:00 ET  AC Milan  vs.  Napoli
Feb 8, 2:45 ET  AC Milan  vs.  Juventus
Feb 11, 12:00 ET  Udinese  vs.  AC Milan
Feb 15, 2:45 ET  AC Milan  vs.  Arsenal
Feb 19, 9:00 ET  Cesena  vs.  AC Milan
Feb 21, 2:45 ET  Juventus  vs.  AC Milan
Feb 25, 2:45 ET  AC Milan  vs.  Juventus
Mar 3, 12:00 ET  Palermo  vs.  AC Milan
Mar 6, 2:45 ET  Arsenal  vs.  AC Milan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has 15 goals in the Serie A this season. But should he get injured or need a breather during the fast-and-furious fixtures ahead, Lopez may be called into action. Alexandre Pato suffered a thigh strain last month that may see him missing out on the next 4 matches, including the home leg against Arsenal. Lopez was not top-choice at Catania, so while there is cover, it’s not of the same quality. The decision between Lopez and Tevez was never one of equals, rather of finances.

New loan signing Muntari continues his international engagements with the Ghana national team in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon and may not be back in time for the Champions League fixture against Arsenal in the San Siro, either. Muntari was brought on to help bolster a depleted midfield that has lost Mathieu Flamini, Gennaro Gattuso, Alexander Merkel and Alberto Aquilani to injury. Kevin Prince-Boateng also has spent quality time on the injury table of late.

Obviously, with talented players such as Thiago Silva, Robinho, van Bommel, Seedorf, Ambrosini and Zambrotta all hale and hearty, the team is not in crisis, but performances this month could very well determine their fates in all remaining competitions: the league, the Coppa Italia and the Champions League.

It should be getting quite interesting quite soon.


Resurgent Inter claim il derby della Madonnina

January 16, 2012 — by Sean3


Atop the tallest spire of Milan’s cathedral sits a statue of the virgin Mary, her gaze fixed upon a Po valley split between the supporters of two giants in Italian football: A.C. Milan and Inter Milan. When these teams meet twice a year at the San Siro, the winning players symbolically join la Madonnina at the city’s highest point. They, adored by their followers as if sprung from the womb of Christianity’s mother themselves, are kings of the city.

In a game that showed nearly even odds, the red and black side should have been the favorites. First in the league, officially the “home” side and with exciting young talents like Pato, Boateng, and Emanuelson mixed in with sturdy vetarans, all three points were surely theirs for the taking. Instead, the transfer drama surrounding Pato’s possible move to PSG created extra tension before the match (not to mention his dip in form and seeming lack of passion on the field – possibly refocused on his girlfriend, Barbara Berlusconi, daughter of Silvio and VP of the club). But it wasn’t just distractions picking at Milan, all credit must go to the blue and blacks from Inter, who’ve been on the rise after a torrid start to the season.

The first half saw Milan consistently pressing , with Ibrahimavich dropping behind Pato and collecting the ball, while letting the very quick and skilled Emanuelson overlap into forward positions (the young dutchman generally plays on the left, but was here being used as a center attacking midfielder). Emanuelson was everywhere in the attacking half of the field, working hard to find space and only misplacing one pass in the first 45 minutes. But Milan could not find a way to goal, with Pato missing a decent chance and only Inter having a real shot – and that against the run of play.

Inter did create some danger down the right wing, where the combination of Zanetti, Maicon and Alvarez worked nicely formed one-two passes to pull Thiago Silva out of position (but what an amazing centerback the Milan man is, and partnered with Nesta…a sturdy pairing). But there was to be no score in the first half, and Inter would surely need to make adjustments if they were to properly challenge for the win.

Oddly,  Milan were the side to change, slipping into a 4-4-2 and moving Emanuelson out to the right. The dutch/surinam player then disappeared for the remainder of the game as Inter turned up the pressure.

It was Milito who had the breakthrough right after the start of the second half. Il principe always looked a threat to score if given the chance, and when it was there he took it, collecting the ball just outside the penalty box, settling sweetly and slotting home against the opposite inside post. His balance was perfection and the finish a thing of beauty. From then on Milan looked as dysfunctional as the pregame headlines suggested, while Inter were the team rising from the ashes, pushing toward the top of the league. Inter pressed and pressed looking for a second goal, and Milan couldn’t put together a proper attacking movement for the remainder of the game – save for a brief flash created by 19 yr-old El Shaarawy (of Italian/Egyptian parentage) who replaced the ineffectual Pato with ten minutes to go.

Inter ran out Sneijder for a bit at the end along with Forlan, both of whom are just back from injury. Milan countered with Seedorf and Robinho, but ultimately 35 yr-old Seedorf was completely owned by 38 yr-old Zanetti, and Robinho has stopped being a threat in front of goal. 1-0 to the visitors, Juventus leap ahead of Milan into first, and Inter continue to push toward a Champions League spot.


Two Seleção friendlies, a farewell to Ronaldo, preparations for Copa América 2011, and the accompanying roster intrigue

June 2, 2011 — by Mark

The Brazilian national team will play two friendlies in Brazil over the next week. First, on Saturday in Goiânia, a rematch of the quarter-final game with Holland that ended Brazil’s campaign in last year’s World Cup. And then on the following Tuessday, Ronaldo’s farewell game, against Romania, held at the Pacaembu stadium in São Paulo.

Ronaldo at World Cup 2002
This man really had quite a career. The Seleção has important business to do, but Ronaldo deserves his send-off

On the 19th of May, Brazil coach Mano Menezes announced the roster for those games and gave us a decent idea of the team he’ll use for the upcoming Copa América in Argentina. The list includes 28 players for the two friendlies, plus Ronaldo, who will only play for some part of the first half of the second friendly. The plan is for Ronaldo not to be a starter in that game, but to come on as a substitute some time before the first half ends. There will be some kind of celebration at halftime, and then Ronaldo’s time with the Seleção will be over. Another player will take his place in the second half of the Romania friendly, and the Seleção’s post-Ronaldo era will officially begin.


Ronaldinho & A Seleção

November 16, 2010 — by Sean1

In preparation for tomorrow’s Brazil-Argentina “friendly”, we in the CultFootball pressroom have been having some exchanges as to whether or not Ronaldinho’s form warranted his call up to the side, especially after having been so unceremoniously dumped for the summer’s big tourney in S. Africa. Mark Gannon, our man in Brazil, lays it out plainly below.

The best player in the world: ~2003-2007

I watched the season of The Simpsons after Conan O’Brien left to take over Late Night, but I didn’t like it, so I stopped watching the show. The next year, friends started telling me about episodes that actually sounded good. It seemed like the show might actually be back on track, so I thought I might try to watch it again. I’d still forget to tune in most of the time, and on the occasions when I did, it sucked. But frequently, when I didn’t watch, my friends would tell me about the episodes, and they sounded really good.

I mention this because I’ve been thinking about it since getting Sean’s e-mail, and it occurred to me that I’ve never actually watched a Milan game in which Ronaldinho played well. I’ve seen Milan games without him, Milan games in which he didn’t play well, and highlights of Milan games in which he did play at least well enough to make the highlights. But I don’t think Ronaldinho has ever had a good game for Milan when I sat down and watched the whole game.

I think Ronaldinho probably should have been on the Seleção for the 2010 World Cup, but I don’t expect him to be a starter in 2014 at age 34.

He is already a very different player from the one he was when he shone at Barça, and a good part of the difference looks to me like bad aging. That said, his peak was so high that he can still be a very useful player.


AC Milan’s New Strikeforce

August 31, 2010 — by Sean2

Robinho, 26, after passing a medical in Gallarate

With the signing of Robinho and Ibrahimavic to put alongside Ronaldinho and Pato, AC Milan have created the most impressive forward line in Serie A. Some will say that Robinho is too temperamental to play in Europe and should stay at home in Brazil. People will talk about how Ronaldinho is fat, slow, and old. Others will suggest that with so many creative sorts, there won’t be a willingness to win ugly, a necessity when facing physical, defensive minded teams.

I grew up watching Milan on the RAI Sunday morning feed on a local broadcast. Back then they had the magical Dutch trio of van Basten, Gullit, and Rijkaard, and though the broadcast was entirely in Italian, I could still pick out their names when the commentator mentioned them (they tended to stick out on the field, too). Milan have had some great teams over the years, but never have they had such a combination of attacking talent as they had then. But maybe now, with this trio of Brazilians alongside a lanky Swede with a sense for the fantastic, they may just create the sort of wonderful attacking style the rossoneri haven’t seen in years, and may just create a ripple in the power balance of European club football.