He and Conte have different personalities, but the same defense at 3. And they have won the last two championships. Now the challenge for Europe. The Rossoneri need courage
Stefano Pioli looks the game in the eye and says: “You are the most important in my life”. Antonio Conte returns for the first time to the San Siro hut where he was happy and where he made her fall in love. On Valentine’s night, Milan-Tottenham also reads like this: whoever puts the most heart into it wins.
Pioli and Conte know and respect each other. They have won the last two Serie A championships. They look alike for a Juventus football past and for the coaching apprenticeship that brought them to the top (longer than that of the AC Milan player). They diverge in the trophy case (the one from Lecce is overflowing) and above all in their character: Pioli’s reflective nature, like an ancient philosopher; fiery impetus from a telemarketer that of Conte. Stefano seduces his teams with intelligence and words, demonstrating his knowledge and reliability. Antonio conquers them by taking them by the neck and shouting: “Follow me and I will make you happy!”. But recently the gap has closed because, in the emergency, Pioli counted himself and not only for the 3-man defense. After the honeymoon from the Scudetto, he had to cancel days off, impose nights at Milanello and show a frown hard. Conte, fresh from the beating of Leicester (4-1), does not disembark from London with a smile. Both fifth in the championship. If Milan is 18 points behind Napoli, Tottenham is 12 behind Arsenal who have two games left. Heavy absences for both. The Tatarusanu-Forster duel between the posts, not exactly Buffon-Neuer in good days, is a good emergency spot. Who will attack whom?
Pioli has always tried to win the match by running towards them, with or without the ball: mass attack, high pressing, possession. A generous lover. Since February 5, he has converted to Marco Ferradini’s Theorem: in love, those who run away win. Defense at 3, denser median, team crushed behind. He did it to protect a hole defense 9 times in two games. Against Inter and Turin, Milan conceded only one goal from a corner (Lautaro), the solidity of the team grew, at the price of lower offensive quality. Will Pioli repeat the strategy again tonight? Will he mirror himself in Tottenham (3-4-2-1) to wait for him and wrap him up? An answer from Pioli in yesterday’s conference suggests that the coach has something else in mind: “To be able to win, you’ll need a high-quality and intense Milan.” He is right. “High intensity” means assaulting the English to stop them from playing. “High quality” means raising the technical rate and recovering lost maneuvering fluidity in order to “be able to win” and not just survive, as was done in the derby. The road is this: raise the bar, impose more courage than the last two cowardly releases, without losing the solidity just found with the new module. Read the match intelligently to understand when to dare and when to close. As Ferradini suggested: “Dose well love and cruelty”. A more proactive attitude is suggested by two other factors. First: from the point of view of the 180′ this is the match to attack, in an exhausted and passionate Meazza, electrified by the Champions tune. It will be much colder in London. Second: Conte has the best in attack. Calling a trident like Kane (17 goals in the Premier League, fresh City executioner), Son and Kulusevski into the area would be suicidal. Let’s add the full-back Perisic whose incursions into derbies Milan have often paid for. Tottenham’s attack (42 goals) is second only to that of Arsenal and City. Retreating and allowing these people to spread around the perimeter hatching plays or conclusions would be too risky a gamble.
Better to keep them away from Tatarusanu; better, if possible, go and get what a midfielder transfigured by absences (Bentancur, Bissouma, Hojbjerg) and a defense that is only the 15th in the Premier League, weakened by the injury of Lloris, goalkeeper-captain, can concede. Substitute Fraser Forster, 34, is far less of a safety. Skipp and Sarr, 42 years old and 31′ in the Champions League in pairs, precepted in the center of the midfield, are not a heart of steel and surrounded by the passion of San Siro they could vibrate with emotion. In short, the conditions for an important performance that will turn the Devil’s season around and restore, at least in part, his lost certainties, are there. When you count your head in this crisis, we sensed it in the Rossoneri’s last outing against Turin. In the final game they ran and created a lot more than at the beginning, when they were fresh, because the opening goal freed their head and eased their legs. A victory over Tottenham and the prospect of advancing in the Champions League table, the family backyard, would help Milan recover its recent past even more. But the feat is possible on one condition: that on Valentine’s night, everyone squeezes their hearts as hard as they can.
Leo is urgent
Starting with Leao, the most absent in this dark period, but also the one who could most transform night into day, for reasons of talent. This is the right night for Rafa to demonstrate his love for the shirt, whether he wears it or not in the future, but also his love for his profession, for the game, for himself: to feel the pride of to be the best and to be able to help the team in difficulty. Not limiting yourself to the usual stroll to be admired, but aggressively attacking the ball as if it were the passion of a lifetime, in Ferradini’s face. For Stefano Pioli it will be the first time in a Champions League knockout round. Antonio Conte, in his 7th participation, has never gone beyond the quarterfinals. The noblest cup doesn’t let itself be taken by the neck, it must be seduced with the beautiful game. Milan proved it 7 times.
February 14, 2023 (change February 14, 2023 | 07:31)
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