Feature Photo: Reuters
Gonzalo Higuain? No. Patrick Cutrone. Better, both. Milan’s 2-1 win over Roma in Serie A Round 2 bears the mark of the 20-year-old homegrown striker, but his extra time goal wouldn’t have been possible without El Pipita’s pass. Gennaro Gattuso’s side thus collected their first three points of the season, in a game which saw two goals disallowed by the VAR.
Roma came from behind after conceding a goal to Frank Kessié, but unlike last Monday’s football rollercoaster with Atalanta, failed to keep the score level, losing control of the game at the very last gasp. Their second match in five days forced coach Eusebio Di Francesco to resort to personnel changes, but there were too many of them and the switch to an unprecedented 3-4-2-1 formation proved unsuccessful.
Ivan Marcano took a position on the right-hand side of a three-man defense, while Rick Karsdorp returned to the fray for the first time in almost a year after his horrific injury (he will understandably need some time to get back into the rhythm of regular games). Patrick Schick, deployed together with Javier Pastore to support Edin Dzeko up top, was exactly the same Patrick Shick that was seen last season – abulic, and only remotely connected to the lethal striker Juventus once craved for.
Gattuso, on the other hand, chose the path of continuity and stuck with the same eleven that succumbed to Napoli one week ago, with the exception of a recovered Hakan Calhanoglu in place of Fabio Borini. He eventually sent in Diego Laxalt and Samu Castillejo, who both indicated that they may provide good cover when times get tougher.
In a first half that offered few talking points, the Rossoneri were the ones pushing that little bit harder, calling Robin Olsen to work twice – from Higuain and then from Suso – who didn’t have to go above and beyond to parry their shots.
In the 39th minute he was powerless to prevent Milan taking the lead. Ricardo Rodriguez surprised his marker Fabio Fazio with a cross from the left and Ivan Marcano lost his marker Frank Kessié, allowing the time to convert easily to put the Rossoneri ahead. Rodriguez understood Roma’s vulnerabilities on the left flank and tried the same move just before half time, with the Giallorossi defenders struggling to clear the ball. Coach Di Francesco realized that things needed to change, and aborted his three-man defense experiment at half time, sending in Stephan El Shaarawy in placed of a confused Marcano, and moving Aleksandar Kolarov and Karsdorp back to full back positions.
In the 52nd minute, Gianluigi Donnarumma received his share of applause after anticipating the oncoming El Shaarawy – a desperate sortie out of his box which averted danger. A good boost of confidence for the young goalie, who minutes earlier made a hash of a back pass.
Gigio was beaten just five minutes later however, when defender Fabio Fazio caught hold of a clearance from the Devils’ defense and sent the ball towards goal with a right footed shot for Roma’s equalizer. But the Giallorossi’s relief only lasted a couple of rounds of the clock, as Higuain received a long-range pass from behind his midfield, danced along the offside line, squeezed between Fazio and Kostas Manolas, and put the ball past Robin Olsen.
Referee Marco Guida was of a different opinion however: El Pipita’s dance was an inch too far, and technology helped the ref to rule the action offside and bring the teams back to a 1-1 scoreline. The VAR stole the spotlight again in the 78th minute; this time to deny Roma a goal. Steven Nzonzi connected with the ball from a corner kick on the right, but touched it with his hand before advancing past the Milan defense and firing it into Donnarumma’s goal. Guida and his assistants were merciless in this case too.
With seven minutes to go, Gattuso made his third substitution – the one that changed the outcome of the game. Patrick Cutrone took the place of Giacomo Bonaventura, and positioned himself next to Higuain, doubling the Rossoneri’s striking options. Ringhio’s intuition eventually bore fruit in stoppage time, with El Pipita serving Cutrone an exquisite pass in the middle of the Wolves’ area. The 20-year-old did his job and gave Milan supporters (including a trio of former club legends watching from the stands of the San Siro Stadium – Paolo Maldini, Leonardo and Ricardo Kakà) a night of celebration.
It is too early to say whether the Rossoneri are back in the groove, but just seeing those three together must have sent an auspicious message to the victory-thirsty Devils supporters.
For Roma fans, on the other hand, questions arise from the club’s tendency to gift the full first half of games to their opponents (it’s the second time in a row) as well as from their concerning lack of concentration – exemplified by Nzonzi’s mistake that paved the way for Higuain’s decisive pass, and by Daniele De Rossi’s failure to put Cutrone through onside. For a team that has changed much – maybe too much – there still seems to be a long way to go.
August 31, 2018 – Serie A 2018-19 Round 3
SCORERS: 40′ Kessié (M), 54′ Fazio (R), 95′ Cutrone (M)
|MILAN (4-3-3): G. Donnarumma; Calabria, Musacchio, Romagnoli, Rodriguez (76’ Laxalt); Kessie, Biglia, Bonaventura (86’ Cutrone); Suso, Higuain, Calhanoglu (81’ Castillejo) (Reina, A. Donnarumma, Abate, Caldara, Simic, Bertolacci, Mauri, Bakayoko, Borini) Coach: Gattuso|
|ROMA (3-4-1-2): Olsen; Fazio, Manolas, Marcano (46’ El Shaarawy); Karsdorp (77’ Santon), De Rossi, Nzonzi, Kolarov; Pastore (68’ Cristante); Dzeko, Schick (Fuzato, Greco, Jesus, Zaniolo, Lu. Pellegrini, Lo. Pellegrini, Coric, Kluivert, Under) Coach: Di Francesco|
REFEREE: Mr. Guida from Pompei
NOTES: Attendance: 57789; Yellow Cards: Cristante, De Rossi (R); Extra Time: 1st Half 0′, 2nd Half 6′