Juventus’ Gonzalo Higuaín the latest star striker to burn Milan, and it’s proven to be the difference throughout the season.
On Saturday evening at the Stadio San Siro, Vincenzo Montella’s Milan hosted Max Allegri’s Juventus in a clash, despite the two heading in vastly different directions, posed as a match with great significance.
The Rossoneri played confidently early in the affair, applying pressure to the visitors who were ever so inviting – perhaps too much at times if you ask most Juventini. But, with every passing moment where Milan could not capitalize and go ahead, it allowed the likes of star men Gonzalo Higuaín and Paulo Dybala to settle in and leave their mark on the tie.
In the 23rd minute, Dybala would receive the ball just outside the penalty area before spotting a lurking, well positioned Higuaín being closely marked by Romagnoli, and firing home into the bottom right corner. Still, based on Milan’s play and taking what Juventus were giving, hope was Nikola Kalinic could respond with one of his several quality looks from 6-8 yards out. Unfortunately for the home supporters however, they would be left disappointed to see the Croatian fail to latch onto a few square balls and squander his side’s best chance of swinging momentum back in their favor just before entering the tunnel.
As we saw in the second half, the stark difference in class between the two attacking fronts proved decisive. ‘The Old Lady’s’ Argentine contingent built a tremendous understanding of where to be, how to link up to cause havoc in danger areas, and disjoint Milan in the end. An intelligent dummy pulled off by Dybala followed by ‘El Pipita’s’ clinical strike with pace and precision to beat Gianluigi Donnarumma yet again in the 63rd deflated Milan, giving Juventus firm control of the tie.
Time and time again, Higuaín’s physique has been the brunt of many jabs from his biggest critics. While he wasn’t in the best form entering the match, his class prevailed.
As they say, “form is temporary, class is permanent” – and that couldn’t be more true to describe the former Napoli gunman who, in an instant, is fully capable of winning a match on his own – of which Montella lamented himself in his post-match presser.
The former Fiorentina boss told Mediaset Premium (via Football Italia):
“The difference was made by Higuain with two great goals. On both goals, the defence was in position, but he scored two phenomenal strikes. We must also recognise the talent of the opposition.”
Unlike with Kalinic, Higuaín keeps the defence honest at all times, with his overall movement and work rate. His presence, even when not in his finest scoring form, only needs a chance with a slight window to deliver a daunting blow.
A reoccurring trend it seems, the level of quality in Milan’s biggest opponents this year is shown mostly in the quality of the number nine. First, it was Serie A’s leading goal scorer Ciro Immobile who bagged a hat-trick. Then, it was Edin Dzeko’s match-winner earlier in the month, followed by Mauro Icardi’s ‘tripletta’ in the Milano Derby, and the most recent to feed off the defensive woes being Higuaín.
Seeing these caliber of hitmen torment Milan is one of the main reasons why supporters begged for the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Andrea Belotti and Alvaro Morata to come in as it was mutually felt amongst the fanbase an elite number nine was paramount to stand with their biggest competitors this season.
While Andre Silva has shown plenty of promise in Europa League play, and even in the league despite not having a goal to his name, the Portuguese international is still adapting – and will take time to find his feet. Patrick Cutrone exerts the necessary energy and hunger for goal, but, still a teenager, is not ready to shoulder such a heavy attacking workload just yet.
Admittedly, I had my doubts about Kalinic the moment he was linked with a move away from La Viola, but remained hopeful that even if he didn’t bring the same clout as those mentioned earlier, still felt he could do a serviceable job. Lately, with the exception of his goal in the 4-1 win over Chievo, Kalinic’s looked noticeably wasteful in front, something that simply cannot be in matches like today. Though there is still much of the season left for Kalinic to get it together for Milan, by the time he does, it could be too late.
There is no disputing it. The difference in quality up front between Milan, and those top clubs comfortably above them in the table, has proven to be one of the primary reasons why they are unable to come away from big matches with positive returns.