AC Milan and current champions Juventus played out a cracking match on Sunday in what was shaping up to be Clarence Seedorf’s biggest test since taking the helm at i Rossoneri. Whilst Emmanuelson made his 100th appearance, the line-ups were noticeable for two absences: Mario Balotelli and Arturo Vidal. Giampaolo Pazzini, in the personalized face mask, and Claudio Marchisio took their respective places.
It wasn’t vintage from Juventus – far from it – but I guess that’s the hallmark of champions, and that’s exactly what it looks like they will be by May. Whilst Milan dominated, Juve were clinical.
Taarabt was trying to inspire the opening proceedings, taking time to glide through the Juventus midfield and firing a shot straight at Buffon. A few minutes later it was Kaka’s turn but his connection with Pazzini’s headed lay-off was well off the mark. Pazzini came close with a reflex header just 11 minutes in as the chances were all falling Milan’s way early on.
Juventus began to click together and the Llorente-Tevez combo showed its first glimmer with Tevez connecting with the knockdown. However, Tevez could only fire straight at the keeper from 18 yards.
Taarabt on the wing drew a few eyebrows given his lax defensive nature, but he showed excellent resilience to defend a Juventus assault. However, after winning the ball back, Taarabt managed to give it away immediately. In a bid to get back, a Milan defender got a toe to the ball but could only poke it into Llorente’s path just 8 yards from goal. Llorente missed the ball with an air kick and Litchsteiner followed in but could only fire at the keeper, with Abbiati’s knee preventing an early goal in Milan.
Straight down the other end went the Rossineri and Taarabt was continuing to be involved. He waltzed past Pirlo and laid Abate to drill his cross in, with Pazzini a whisker away to knocking the cross past Gigi Buffon. Emmanuelson soon fired in a shot from 20 yards off his weaker right foot although Buffon got down well to keep it out. Milan were on top and Juventus looked rattled.
Milan sprang a quick counterattack and Pazzini was in behind Bonucci. The old timer didn’t have the pace to punish the Juventus back line and instead took an age to shoot. Instead of shooting he opted for a lay-off as Milan were 4 vs 3. The lay-off went right to Taarabt, who sent it right across the box as Kaka fired straight at Buffon when the goal was at his mercy. The rebound fell back to Kaka and his follow up beat Buffon but could only find Bonucci, who stood in the corner of the goal. Milan should’ve punished Juventus and needed to start making their chances pay.
Juventus were well drilled and organised in their defensive structure – a trademark of Conte. Milan were forced to shots from range and it was Montolivo’s turn to test Buffon after his well struck effort was palmed away by Italy’s number 1.
Only Tevez and Llorente were really shining in this Juventus team with their mesmerizing link up play, but the other stars were struggling. Pogba and Pirlo showed flashes of their undoubted class but the rest of the team were fairly ineffectual. Milan looked hungrier, faster and more confident under Seedorf than the grim performances under Allegri.
The little man with “Pazzo” written on his face mask was causing the Juventus and Italy back 3 all manner of problems. Taarabt though was truly the man pulling the strings. Darting through the midfield he layed off Kaka to his left, who jinked back inside and almost looked to replicate the Kaka of old as he forced a fantastic save from Buffon. The rebound fell to Poli, who fired over when he really should’ve squared it.
The ball hacked long from the goal kick though caused all sorts of problems for the Milan defense. Abbiati should’ve come out and swept the ball from Rami’s backwards header but Marchisio skipped in and took the ball wide. His pass into the box was laid off by Tevez to the onrushing running machine Litchsteiner. He succeeded where Poli didn’t and squared it across and with the goal gaping, as Fernando Llorente got away from his man and steered home. Milan were faultless for most of the first half but the Juventus goal will have really stung as it was criminally against the run of play.
Milan would’ve gone into the dressing room at half time fuming after the domination they orchestrated in the first half. Poli, Kaka and Taarabt were all overrunning Pirlo and this was where all the joy was coming from.
With the start of the second half, Tevez used his intelligence to get a run in behind. He barged off Rami and fired through the defenders legs but his shot met Abbiati’s gloves.
Kaka and Taarabt’s crossing was a threat and whilst Pazzini missed the first ball in, Poli connected with Kaka’s later cross although he headed wide when he really should’ve tested the keeper. He bashed his head into Cacares and ended up being stretchered off for his trouble. Cacares spent the rest of the game with a big white bandage around his head after being late with his headed challenge. The bandage made Cacares’ head look a bit like when you buy Christmas trees with the mesh they come in. Saponara replaced Poli in the 53rd minute following the incident.
Taarabt was knocked down by Pogba about 20 yards out and a free-kick was given. A long huddle followed as the Milan players looked confused by what to do. Rami smashed it into the encroaching Marchisio, who was booked and Milan were given a retake. Montolivo smashed it over and the chance was gone. You had to think, how many more chances did they need to find the net?
Pirlo was struggling to leave an impact on the game but he certainly made an impact on Saponara with a crunching tackle. This means he’ll miss their clash with Fiorentina following the yellow card he was awarded.
Carlos Tevez bagged his 15th goal of the season with an absolute beauty of a goal on the 67th minute. Picking up the ball 30 yards from goal, he found the space, took one look up and leathered it home beyond the despairing Abbiati. Juve were somehow 2-0 up and Milan looked stunned.
Honda entered the fray on the 70 minute mark with the captain Montolivo coming off. Montolivo was excellent on the night but Seedorf sacrificed him for the more offensive minded Japanese midfielder. Spaces were opening up for Juve as Milan pressed on, still in search for their first goal of the game. Rami’s volley was straight at Buffon, much like most of their other efforts on the night.
Padoin replaced Litchsteiner, and Pirlo clipped the crossbar from an exquisite free kick as Milan started to grow tired and looked out of ideas. It took Pogba 87 minutes to come into life and when he did, he left the woodwork shaking. Driving through the midfield like we’ve all seen him do so often, his right footed effort crashed wide off the post with Abbiati stranded.
Premier League’s bad-boy Pablo Osvaldo and Serie A’s resident midget Giovinco entered the stage late on, replacing the two goalscorers, but there was little in the latter stages of the game of note.
Seedorf’s last throw of the dice came in the shape of Robinho for the slowly fading Taarabt. Milan though were still just shooting from range and Emmanuelson stung Buffon’s hands after firing – you guessed it – straight at the keeper from 25 yards out. Robinho hit the bar from 7 yards out when it looked easier to score during injury time. Seedorf though will take heart from the fact that the shot wasn’t straight at the keeper.
Aside from the result, there was plenty to be positive about for the Milan faithful. Kaka and Taarabt were excellent in the first half. Poli and Pazzini showed great movement and caused plenty of problems, and Montolivo was excellent as well. Despite the two goals, the back four also looked fairly solid. Few teams have caused this amount of trouble for Juventus this season, so Seedorf and his men can hold their heads high. Juventus did their job and extended their lead in Serie A to 11 points, and remain on course for the Scudetto.
Written by Huw Saunders