At the end of Milan’s 2-1 victory over Fiorentina, Vincenzo Montella insisted on praising those ‘who have played less’, highlighting their importance during the club’s latest outings. In fact, in the past three matches, despite the numerous injuries, Milan have managed to collect as much as seven points, whilst having totalled a mere three in their previous six games.
Montella’s praises are certainly due, given the grit and dedication shown by the team against Bologna, Lazio and Fiorentina, where points were achieved after some truly suffered contests. In the first game, the winning goal arrived in the last five minutes, courtesy of Mario Pašalic. Likewise, in Rome, Suso brought Milan level with Lazio with only five minutes left on the clock. Lastly, Milan bagged three points of paramount importance against their direct contender Fiorentina, in a tight match, dominated by la Viola.
Paradoxically, whilst we have seen Milan’s style of play worsen, the results have blatantly improved. Prior to this, Milan had displayed some good football – especially with regards to ball possession – but had entered a deep crisis results-wise, as above-mentioned. The latest injuries of Bonaventura, De Sciglio and Romagnoli, on top of many others, seemed to have delivered the final, lethal blow to the rossoneri’s season. And still, Montella’s oddly assembled Starting XI’s (or should we say nine, in the case of the Bologna game?) was able to achieve some surprising and significant results.
In these vital past three weeks, in fact, Montella’s formation choices have been severely limited by both injuries and behavioural sanctions (Paletta, Sosa and Kucka respectively out due to red cards). In all three games, Milan’s starting line-up was very different from what most fans would regard as the team’s best possible XI. Players who had hardly seen the pitch all season, such as Zapata or Vangioni, were suddenly thrown into the mixer. Others, whose performances were often met by the media’s criticism, such as Sosa or Gomez, found themselves holding the team’s reigns, in midfield the former and in defence the latter.
To varying extents, these players do indeed deserve Montella’s compliments. Cristian Zapata, who endured a long injury at the start of the season, has come back at the heart of Milan’s defence after Paletta’s sending off and Romagnoli’s recent injury. Admittedly, he was not impressive, although one must appreciate his effort, considering that these were his first games since the summer break. Alongside him in defence was a player whom we’ve seen more of this season, although not enough of: the Paraguayan national, Gustavo Gomez. Arriving from Lanùs in the summer, Gomez’s performances have been inconsistent, with a few good games and many unconvincing ones. In the past three matches, though often worryingly imprecise and rash in his passing, Gomez has been overall solid and has done the job. One cannot expect him to replace Romagnoli – they are players with diametrically opposite characteristics, one rocky and rough, the other elegant and technical. But Milan fans needn’t worry: he is set to improve as he accumulates more game time, learning to release the ball under pressure – an adaptation that many South American defenders have to endure upon joining the Serie A. Completing Milan’s providential defensive department, another mysterious object: Leonel Vangioni, who arrived in the summer from River Plate. The 29 year-old, after a very brief debut, found himself in the starting XI against Bologna, supplying for the absences of De Sciglio, Antonelli and Calabria. His tears of joy at the end of the game were indicative of Vangioni’s will to play for his new club, after months in the reserves, and were much appreciated by the Milanisti. Aside from the much-admired professionalism on part of the Argentinian, some offensive qualities have also been put on show. In the past three weeks, during which Vangioni always figured in the starting line-up, the player’s progressions on the wing positively impressed both the fans and the media. Still, there is much work to be done with regards to his defensive abilities – some say Leonel is still looking for Felipe Anderson.
Lastly, two more ‘reserves’ surprised the midfield department: Andrea Poli and Josè Sosa. The former, who had thus far enjoyed very limited game time, contributed significantly in all three matches, coming on from the bench to pull some strings and to help out Milan’s in its defensive struggles. Always commendable for his dedication and work-rate, Poli didn’t disappoint under this aspect, and was specifically praised by Montella. The latter, the Ex-Napoli man Sosa, surprised everyone, especially during his first half against Fiorentina. Picking up from where he’d left against Lazio (he came on from the bench and assisted Suso), Sosa orchestrated Milan’s midfield manoeuvre with precise passing and creating many opportunities. Again, el Principito assisted a goal , Kucka this time, making his impact even more tangible. His performance even earned him our very own MOTM award. In addition, considering that he is new to the role of regista, having played in a more advance position for his whole career, Sosa is even more worthy of compliments.
Overall, Milan’s ‘reserves’ are using this chance to shine to their maximum ability, indisputably giving it their all on the pitch and, in some cases, with surprisingly positive performances. In addition to Montella’s praise, the players have undoubtedly achieved the fans’ respect. And whilst they might not match the quality of some of the usual starters, these five players deserve every kind word that Montella has spared for them. Bravo, boys.