Heading into the matchup between AC Milan and Juventus, the talk was of Milan’s high-scoring start to the Serie A season under former playing idol Pippo Inzaghi. The optimism was to prove short lived, however, as Juventus, winners of the Italian title for the last three seasons, asserted its authority with a cool, muscular display that silenced a noisy San Siro. Here are three thoughts on Juve’s 1-0 victory:
1. Still early days for the Inzaghi Revolution
After Milan’s rollicking, free-scoring start to the season, much has been made of the lift in morale that the appointment of Pippo Inzaghi as coach has given the club. Justifiably so – the eight goals the team scored in successive victories over Lazio and Parma has put smiles back on the faces of Rossoneri fans after last year’s miserable campaign, when Milan finished 8th, 45 points behind Juventus.
“A year of anger to become great again,” ran the slogan on one banner unfurled before the game, and there was a keen sense of anticipation among a big, boisterous San Siro crowd, eager to see how their team would match up against the imperious reigning champions.
There is some justification for the optimism. Inzaghi has a deep emotional connection with the club and has sworn to get the team playing the “Milan way” again, or to “recreate Milan’s DNA,” as he said at his opening press conference. And his first steps have been encouraging, at least in part – while some of the team’s defensive failings remain, Milan was bright and positive in its opening games, with the attacking triumvirate of Jeremy Menez, Keisuke Honda and Stephan El Shaarawy as dangerous, eager runners. Menez’s deliciously crafty backheeled goal against Parma summed up the team’s buccaneering spirit.
Against Juventus this evening, however, the gulf in class between champions and the would-be challengers was all too apparent. Juventus was in charge in a largely dull first half, shading possession (15.51 mins to Milan’s 12.21 mins) and efforts on goal (7 to 3), and, perhaps most importantly, subduing the home attack almost completely (while Menez battled boldly, Honda and El Shaarawy were mostly anonymous). At the other end, the muscular Nigel de Jong struggled to hold back the black and white striped tide led by Claudio Marchisio’s artful passing and the bursting runs of Roberto Pereyra. And when Paul Pogba and Carlos Tevez turned up the heat for Juventus in the second half, Milan had no answer.
Inzaghi’s team already looks like a sprightlier bunch than the dispirited Milan of last year. But the ease with which Juventus shackled the home side’s disappointingly limited attacking ambitions shows there is still a great deal of work to be done before Milan can hope to challenge the champions.
2. Juventus a cut above
There was considerable talk before this match about the matchup between Juventus coach Allegri, who was sacked by Milan back in January, and Inzaghi – particularly given the not always amicable nature of past relations between the two men. “Do you want my job?” Allegri reportedly asked Inzaghi two years ago, when he was in charge at the San Siro. “Sure, I’ll take your job, and I’ll do it better too,” Inzaghi is supposed to have answered. But this afternoon’s title bout was never going to be a fair contest between the two coaches – not with Milan very much a work in progress, and a swaggering Juventus having won the Scudetto for the last three years.
This was a marvellously controlled performance by Allegri’s side, who in truth rarely had to break into much of a sweat. While Marchisio and Pereyra highlighted the first half, Pogba and Tevez dominated the second. Fittingly, Juventus’ winner came when the two combined in the 71st minute – Pogba effortlessly holding off a gaggle of Milan defenders in the box before flicking the ball through for Tevez to slot home.
Inzaghi’s Milan side may be keen and lively, but his men were made to look positively Lilliputian by the magnificent Pogba’s power and guile.
3. Carlitos v Fernando
Until the 76th minute of this evening’s game, when Fernando Torres came on for his debut to a huge roar from the home crowd, the last time two of the most enigmatic, and at times prolific, forwards in Europe were on the pitch together was at Wembley in April 2013, when Carlos Tevez’s Man City beat Torres’ Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final.
Both men experienced their fair share of turbulent times in England – from Tevez’s tantrums at City (most famously refusing to come on as a substitute against Bayern Munich in a Champions League tie in 2011), to Torres’ prolonged, harrowing crisis of confidence at Chelsea. Both are now in Italy – with Tevez flourishing at Juventus (his goal today gave him four for the season, to add to last year’s 21), and Torres praying for salvation at Milan.
Despite his frequent off-field histrionics, on the pitch Tevez’s thrilling energy has rarely wavered, and he has scored goals wherever he has played. The same cannot be said for Torres, who since leaving Liverpool has at times looked so chronically short of confidence that he appears to be suffering from the soccer equivalent of Steve Blass Disease – he looks as though he’s lost all fundamental ability to play. Milan directors, who say Torres broke speed records when tested at the club’s renowned Milan Lab training and research facility recently, will hope that a change of scenery will reinvigorate their new signing, while Torres himself hopes he can recapture the glories of his Atletico Madrid and Liverpool days. If his redemption is half as successful as that of Tevez in Turin, no one will be complaining.