|El Matador Edinson Cavani ripped through Milan|
When the posticipo in question is a title-tilt, the pressure is unbearable. Luckily for me, Milan's 3-0 annihilation of Inter last season was on a Saturday evening, so I was spared the agonizing wait for Sunday. Furthermore, my nerves were fortunately less frayed than they might have been had the game been sinuous. As it happened, Pato made things easy after fourty-five seconds, and Milan strolled to victory.
Early in the season, when there is relatively little at stake, a fan like me watches for how the landscape will be laid for the season ahead. The hope is your team grinds its teeth against--with all due respect--the Cesenas and Sienas before tussling with the Scudetto contenders. Admittedly, Milan's shocking defeat to Cesena last season upturns even this assurance. Nevertheless, on Sunday, Napoli's resounding 3-1 win over the reigning champions at the San Paolo, during just the second week of the Serie A season, felt a bit like being kicked in the teeth.
It was a posticipo that kicked me out of complacency, at least. Despite the lack of a big signing, Milan went about their work intelligently this past summer, adding depth to an already parsimonious defence, and even creativity further up the park with Alberto Aquilani. A team that had led the standings from November to May triumphed deservedly last season; giving the coach options like Philippe Mexes in defence, Antonio Nocerino in midfield, and Aquilani in attack only seemed to set them up perfectly for a successful title defence.
Not so, suggested Napoli. Even allowing for the fact that Milan were missing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho, and Kevin-Prince Boateng, their defeat on Sunday was hideous. It's excruciating to pick out everything that went wrong with the Milan performance, but there are some points that have to be mentioned. Singling out Clarence Seedorf is always easy, so let's go with him. There are moments in the season when Seedorf decides that a competitive game is a jaunt. Last night's encounter against Napoli was one such game. And then there is Pato, who lilts when given space (as Barcelona's Javier Mascherano and Sergio Busquets found out in the Champions League) and wilts when he isn't. The striker is undoubtedly talented, but even in his fourth season at Milan he plays with a clumsy urgency, running into a wall of defenders when there are other options.
To be fair his team-mates didn't make anything easy--and neither did Napoli. Even after Aquilani had given Milan the lead with a dazzling header, Napoli didn't give up. Their coach Walter Mazzarri could not have asked for a more perfectly executed bite-of-the-thumb from the Southern upstarts at the Northern aristocrats. Napoli's president, Aurelio De Laurentiis, sat smiling, joyfully and wryly, as Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Walter Gargano and Gokhan Inler ran, often uncontested, at, through, and by the Milan midfield. Gargano's run to set up Napoli's and Cavani's second goal defied even an attempt at a brutal tackle by the normally pugnacious Mark van Bommel. It was a moment that indicted, not for the first time, a legless and senescent midfield. How Milan miss Boateng.
Yet, the game, for all of the dominance of Inler, and for all of the industry of Gargano and Lavezzi, can be summarized in three words: Cavani, Cavani, Cavani. The Uruguayan's hat-trick undoubtedly was possible because of a capable cast, and it would be unfair to elide their contribution in any way. Yet, Cavani proved that his twenty-six goals in Serie A last season were the signs of an awesome striker, the real deal who didn't achieve full flight at Palermo. He is soaring now at Napoli. His third goal, an agile reaction shot after Alessandro Nesta's clearance fell to him, proved that the man is always in the hunt.
It shouldn't be all despair for Milan. The new summer signings of Aquilani and Nocerino had decent outings (even if the former missed a simple chance to make it 2-2), and surely this Milan will be different when all their players return. It is too early to sulk. Yet, it must worry Allegri that the midfield lost so many balls--or perhaps Milan didn't play with any to begin with.