Tonight's game began with me willfully tuning in 5 minutes too late, finishing off work elsewhere, and it was just as well as I’d have enough of the Zlatan Ibrahimovic hype for this season already. And this is coming from someone who’s been an Ibra fan my whole life.
Do we still get to decide how much we enjoy Ibrahimovic at this point? Or do we just get it decided for us? Does Serie A’s next TV deal depend on how many times Serie A’s Youtube channel can namedrop Ibrahimovic?
This game began with the inevitable happening, and Serie A’s social media captions getting all they needed to write the headlines of this game, regardless of the final result.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic: 2nd Minute (Milan 1, Roma 0)
Rafael Leão to Zlatan Ibrahimovic!— ESPN (@espn) October 26, 2020
Ibra is now joint-top scorer in Serie A pic.twitter.com/FwzDaB7VmJ
Roma began this game 1-0 down, after Leao floated a ball in from Milan’s left wing over the top of Marash Kumbulla’s outstretched leg, and Ibra’s own outstretched leg sliced the ball in underneath Antonio Mirante drifting the other direction. You could audibly hear the Serie A’s broadcast team call in to their TV bosses to get an early night, wrapping up the match highlights right then and there. Their man had scored and the story of this game was already over.
For the rest of us though, we actually watched the full game. And much like your drowned out protests that an Ibrahimovic outstretched leg is nothing but an average goal to concede, San Siro was filled with the echoes of 22 players making their way around a empty stadium.
In the middle of the 9th minute, Edin Dzeko would advance to the edge of Milan’s 6 yard box, but found himself crowded out by Bennacer and Kjaer. But that was a warning sign from Roma’s number 9, who was about to strike moments later.
Edin Dzeko: 14th Minute (Milan 1, Roma 1)
Roma have needed to make better use of set pieces for a while now, so it’s good that the last two games have seen exactly that. Fuck possession football. This is just about putting a good delivery in—good enough to leave Tatarusanu guessing to the very last moment about how to cut out the flight of the ball—and getting Edin Dzeko to tower above Milan centre-half Alessio Romagnoli, like we all know Dzeko can do. Roma equalize with only a quarter of the match gone.
Then the rain started to come down heavier, and Milan seemed quicker about honing onto the idea that good goal chances were to come in the air. In the 21st minute, they managed to dig out a spinning ball from the left flank into Roma’s box, which was cleared at the last moment by Ibanez. Much later came another flash moment down Roma’s left side of the box, as Ibrahimovic backheeled a ball against Kumbulla inside the box, but the penalty protests from Milan were waved away since the ball rebounded off Kumbulla’s stomach before hitting Max’s arm.
The rest of the first half played out in an unorthodox shape, with both sides almost crowbarring all 22 men into just two banks of players over the pitch. Both were eager to look for the numbers in attack and defence, but rarely did a Roma or Milan player stand in the actual middle of play to give any semblance of a midfield department. Only really Lorenzo Pellegrini was stitching things together at the heart of Roma’s play between the lines.
Just before the half hour, Milan once again tried the aerial game by forcing a high parry from Antonio Mirante to push the ball wide for a corner. From the resulting set piece, Milan once again hit Roma’s post from Simon Kjaer’s glancing header. Not wanting to count themselves out of the goal chances, Roma tried a low shot from distance that Tatarusanu parried wide. But the Giallorossi were starting to pick up on the wide threat from Milan, so began to drop off of any kind of pressing on Milan’s backline for the sake of trying to trap the ball out wide on the flanks. This was billed to be a wide open game but, truth be told, Roma were paying Milan too much respect.
In the 42nd minute, Ibanez gave Ibrahimovic whiplash by flying into the side of the big Swede in the air. It was a blatant foul that gifted Milan a direct free kick on the edge of Roma’s area, which Hakan Calanoglu whipped in to sting the hands of Mirante, who reacted well to push it wide. That was all she wrote for the first 45 minutes.
Honestly, this plucky Milan side were doing well for a bunch of minnows. But that’s all they were in the end. How they’re topping the Serie A table is just another question we have to file under the burgeoning folder of pandemic-era football’s unsolved mysteries.
All this game was so far, was a home side looking to launch balls over the top to an Ibrahimovic outstretched leg here-and-there, and Roma playing a cautious hand at the San Siro. You could only hope that Fonseca was banking on Calhanoglu tiring mid-way through the second half, that Roma could step it up in the second half to close out this game.
The second half began with Rick Karsdorp getting everything wrong that you could get wrong in one sequence.
Alexis Saelemaekers: 47th Minute (Milan 2, Roma 1)
Leao ABSOLUTELY burned karsdorp,— Karim (@Futball_Karim) October 26, 2020
Saelemaekers niceeeee finishpic.twitter.com/mZ76Pa0y6k
Not only was Karsdorp positioning questionable as Milan worked the ball up his flank, but he then put himself in a one-on-one with Leao where Leao switched on the afterburners to blaze past Rick and cut a ball back inside the box. Jordan Veretout also continued his poor form by doing zero defending, and merely watch his Milan opponent Saelemaekers waltz in uncontested to slam the ball past Mirante for a Milan 2-1 lead on the night.
Once again, Roma virtually began the half a goal down from the very beginning. There was no more reason to keep dropping back and dropping off Milan’s backline. Roma had to go and chase this game.
It was left to Lorenzo Pellegrini to intercept a Milan ball on the edge of Roma’s box, then put through Mkhitaryan behind Milan’s backline at the other end. The Armenian would cross the ball all the way to Dzeko on the opposite edge of the box, but Dzeko flashed the final chance over the crossbar.
Moments later, Pedro played a one-two with Dzeko down the right flank, before the Spaniard floated a ball toward Milan’s six-yard area that Mkhitaryan just couldn’t get a meaningful final touch on it.
Meanwhile, Leonardo Spinazzola continued his tradition of doing nothing useful for the team in the second half of games. That’s a running theme that apparently refuses to go away anytime soon. Roma instead played an early ball out to the left flank that fell to Mkhitaryan instead, and Miki managed to get a ball into the box, but it was too close to Tatarusanu. In the contest of who could be Roma’s wide man, Karsdorp edged out Spinazzola in this game and won his place back on the bench, subbed off for Bruno Peres.
After the sub came a Lorenzo Pellegrini corner, beautifully spun into the box and right onto Mancini’s head, but the Italian defender glanced the ball wide and the chance to equalize went wide with it. That didn’t mean Roma would let up though. They won a free-kick in the subsequent action, and rapidly restarted play to get Mkhitaryan in on goal, who flashed a low shot that Tatarusanu could only parry. The resulting loose ball was either Bennacer’s or Pedro’s to win, and the referee ruled that Bennacer’s outstretched leg impeded Pedro’s run onto the ball, calling a Roma penalty.
Truth be told, it was a very contentious decision.
Jordan Veretout: 71st Minute (Milan 2, Roma 2)
The Milan players spent the whole of the penalty warm-up period protesting that their plucky, brave little team didn’t deserve to be on the end of such a call, but since Roma were the bigger team on this day, they got the big team decision from the ref. Jordan Veretout’s form, thankfully, didn’t take his penalty prowess down the toilet with it, and the Frenchman kept up his 100% record from the penalty spot for Roma.
It was now 2-2 on the night, and you just hoped Fonseca would wave goodbye any cat-and-mouse tactics from here on in, and drive the dagger home on this game, with less than 20 minutes left. Instead, Fonseca responded by subbing off Lorenzo Pellegrini for Bryan Cristante, but not before Ibrahimovic was booked at the other end for trying to win a penalty by fouling Mancini into the flight of the ball and one of Stefano Pioli’s staff was booked on the sidelines. Amid all the pro-active refereeing going around the game, the ref also found time to award a penalty against Roma. Calhanoglu ran into Roma’s penalty box, Mancini flew his leg into the air to try and cut out the ball, and ended up getting in the way of Calhanoglu’s run as Mancini was landing.
It that sounds like a convoluted explanation of a foul, well, that’s modern football. If you make any sort of contact, it’s a foul nowadays.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic: 79th Minute (Milan 3, Roma 2)
Milan go ahead for the third time on the night, this time from the penalty spot. And Serie A’s post-match credits staff will have to get called back onto the evening shift, as Zlatan scored another goal.
84th Minute: Marash Kumbulla (Milan 3, Roma 3)
Roma took a corner from the left side, floating in over Zlatan’s outstretched leg (this time at the Milan end), and skidding over to the far side for Kumbulla to redeem himself in this game with an easy, point-blank finish at the far post. I’m sure on Youtube, we’ll see something like “Zlatan assists Roma winner while Zlatan scores Milan brace” which somehow will be spun into a Zlatan hat-trick.
Plucky Milan refused to give up on the night, working a corner of their own into Franck Kessie that drew a point-blank save from Mirante. The loose ball was cleared to Mkhitaryan on the counter down Roma’s right, who was inches away from releasing the killer ball through the Pedro on the other flank, but was tackled at the last minute before he could cut in and do so. Then the game fell into extra time as Gonzalo Villar was subbed on for Veretout.
The moment we all feared finally came. Ibanez finally threw himself into one duel too many, this time coming out for worse in an aerial challenge against none other than Bryan Cristante. Cristante was left unaffected while Ibanez lay prone on the floor, so it turns out the Brazilian defender is, in fact, mortal. To compound his troubles, Ibanez then took a ball straight to his pelvis from Theo Hernandez minutes later as Milan won another corner at the death.
Then Milan had a golden chance to win this game with the last action of the match, but Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli headed wide from five yards out.
This evening saw a Roma weak-point that we’ll see be the undoing of this Giallorosso team many times throughout this season to come: the wide men.
Leonardo Spinazzola is good for about 45 minutes of play then shuts down for the night, while the right wing is frankly anyone’s guess as to how Roma dig themselves out of the selection problems on that side.
Bruno Peres was OK in this game, Rick Karsdorp much less so. It was clear Fonseca wanted to try and win the mental battle for domination of the flanks, and so felt the deep-lying Santon wasn’t an option. Meanwhile, the Roma coach simply doesn’t have a substitute for Spinazzola on the other end. That leaves Roma playing with grains of uncertainty sprinkled into their overall play.
If you could just find two men with the strength to dominate the flanks, the Roma’s opponents would be intimidated to trying their luck through the middle, where the core of this Roma side wants the ball to be played into the very strengths of this Giallorosso unit. That’d be in an ideal world; one where you’d get a Roma team shooting towards the top positions in the table. Instead, what we saw was Roma picking and choosing their moments to toil away to a point away at the San Siro.
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