It’s very easy to criticise Calcio, even with all of the beautiful, iconic history surrounding it. In recent Calcio history – besides Calciopoli – there’s been one main criticism of the game; its pace, especially from avid watchers of English football.
Milan vs Napoli, however, was the most fast paced game I’ve seen in a long time. The game started with Christian Zapata gifting Gonzalo Higuain a golden opportunity, but Abbiati managed to turn it away. Then, just minutes later, the Argentinian international was gifted another chance, but was once again unable to convert. Five minutes gone and Napoli’s attacking prowess was already evident. Milan perhaps thought the Napoli’s pressure was over, but it wasn’t. A corner comes in from the right, Raul Albiol climbs above the Milan defence and knocks it down for an unchallenged Miguel Britos to nod home from close range. An easy goal due to some sub-standard defending.
Napoli continued to press, something which was surprising due to the venue being the Giuseppe Meazza, a place where Milan tend to press high and dominate possession. With the squad assembled, you’d naturally expect the Azzurri to counter attack from the off set, but this wasn’t the case early on. After the 15 minute mark, Milan managed to finally adjust to the tempo of the game, with Balotelli at the centre of every attack. Zuniga and Mesto failed to cover the outside runs of either Balotelli, Abate or Birsa, and numerous chances were created. First half. 0-1.
Nine minutes into the second half, Napoli’s new number 9 showed why life without Cavani wasn’t going to be as bad as first anticipated for the Azzurri, with the Argentine finishing off a move which exemplified the attacking ability of this newly assembled Napoli side. Rossoneri 0 – 2 Azzurri. Frustrations grew in the depleted Milan side, especially from Balotelli, who had been the only figure thus far worthy of wearing the Rossoneri shirt. His perseverance was rewarded in the 61st minute, with the inexperienced Miguel Britos making a rash tackle on the eccentric centre-forward. 26/26 penalties scored so far, with some ill informed footballs fans even referring to him as ‘an overpaid penalty taker’. Pepe Reina and Xavi Valero had obviously spent a considerable amount of time studying Super Mario’s penalties, seeing that he waits for the keeper to move before striking the ball in the opposite corner. This time, however, a mixture of a poorly struck penalty and brilliant anticipation from the Spanish Goalkeeper meant Balotelli was denied from the spot for the first time in his professional career, a day that quite a few people never thought would come.
Even with Milan continuing to press, Napoli’s surprisingly resolute defence managed to hold firm. Balotelli, aggrieved with the yellow card he previously and also with his penalty miss, continued to argue with the referee, Luca Banti. Niang and Robinho entered the fray for the largely ineffective Birsa and Poli, but they still struggle to create meaningful chances. The clock hit 90 minutes, and the fourth official indicated there would be four added minutes, a length of time which has been enough for Milan to turn a game around in before. Then, in the 91st minute, Balotelli cut inside from the edge of the box and curled the ball past Pepe Reina. 2-1. Unfortunately for Super Mario and his team, that would be it. Napoli had won against Milan at the San Siro for the first time ever, Rafa Benitez had maintained his impeccable record as manager of the Azzurri, and the Neapolitan side are starting to play the style of football even the great Arrigo Sacchi himself would be satisfied with. For Milan, a lack of injuries is obviously worrying, but the incorporation of the 4-3-1-2 system means no room for El Shaarawy, a player which they should be treasuring, rather than keeping out in the cold.