Milan Find the Tables Turned on Them

Thanks for an online course I once did on sports writing, I’ve cultivated the (extremely useful) habit of jotting down important moments during a football match. It goes like this:

4′ – Arsenal score! Great cross along ground frm right by Walcott, Giroud scores. Wenger doesn’t celebrate.

6′ – Kroos long range shot, saved.

10′ – Bayern corner. Gustavo goes close, but strike goes over. Too high?

And so on. But on Tuesday, March 12, when Barcelona hosted AC Milan during the second leg of their Round of 16 Champions League match, I could barely take my eyes off the screen to jot down the important passages of play. There were just too many of them. That first half performance, which yielded Barca 2 goals, has been called arguably their greatest display in recent years — and that’s saying a lot, considering they’ve played in Champions League finals, semifinals and innumerable El Classicos during this period.

All Milan had to do was score once and Barca would have needed four goals to ensure qualification to the quarterfinals. Four. (Milan had won the first leg 2-0.) But the lone goal never came, and I gotta say it’s an absolute privilege we’re getting to watch this glorious team at its peak. (They can still cut out on the diving, though.)

That first-half display reminded me of another extraordinary first-half, by Milan against Liverpool during the 2005 Champions League final. Paolo Maldini had scored — his first goal in I don’t know who many seasons — in the 3rd minute, and Hernan Crespo had picked up a brace before the half-time whistle. When the players trooped off at half-time, Ricky Kaka had run Liverpool absolutely ragged from the middle of the pitch. It was of this performance that the great Brian Glanville wrote, “Milan had a great first-half. A half, but what a half!”

Liverpool fought back to eventually win the final, but that first-half remains one of the best displays of Carlo Ancelotti’s great Milan side of the early and mid 2000s.

I wrote on the same theme, along with another of this week’s Round of 16 tie, for my piece on the IBN blog. The other match saw Arsenal beat Bayern Munich in their own backyard, with a performance that left you shaking your fists furiously at the television screen, wondering aloud where all this guts and gumption had gone during their first leg, which Arsenal had lost 1-3. Wenger’s boys (and they’re still boys) won 2-0 on the night, but were eliminated on aggregate. What a waste.

The link:

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64413/champions-league-harsh-lessons-for-ac-milan-arsenal.html

Advertisements

Wenger: Not so clever, boy!

Im writing this on the night Tottenham have dispatched Internazionale 3-0 in the first leg of their Last 16 match up of the Europa League at White Hart Lane. Inter were so outclassed it was shocking. Spurs play a fluent, passing game with a lot of mobility in their shape but Inter looked like QPR on saline. It’ll take a historic performance in the second leg in Italy for Inter to qualify for the Quarters but I think that’s beyond this team on current form.

Anyway, four days before running the rule over Inter, Spurs dominated Arsenal in the North London Derby, winning 2-1 thanks to goals from Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon.

They could have scored much more. Following which, of course, Arsene Wenger claimed that all Tottenham had done after gaining a 2-0 lead was “defend well”. Nice try but unbecoming of a club like Arsenal. It’s interesting, but it’s extraordinary how Arsenal seem to be harbouring the same delusions that Milan did for the past 4-5 seasons, vainly claiming the club was good enough to challenge for trophies when it was clearly regressing.

On March 6, I wrote a piece on the Arsenal capitulation, and what it could mean for their future. It’s come out well. One of the rare recent instances in which I was kinda “alright'” with what I wrote.

Here:

http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64373/epl-arsenal-in-freefall.html

The only glitch was that they failed to add the hyperlink I’d sent them to add in the 5th para. I mean it’s alright if people know Spurs are also known as ‘Lillywhites’ but the hyperlink was for those who didn’t. Anyway, I was promised it would be corrected, but it’s all helium so far.

A Beautiful Offer

The GRE’s over and Im midway through this admissions process. Did surprisingly well in GRE, and was over the moon with my marks till I discovered all scores are calculated only between 130 and 170. That was quite a blow. I was sitting in front of the comp after my GRE test like Ranbir Kapoor in ‘Rocket Singh’, staring at the figures that had come up showing my unofficial score. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I’d scored more than 90% in Verbal and about 85% in Quantitative.

Later, of course, I came to know how exactly these guys scored GRE and was brought back down to earth.

In the meanwhile, I wrote these blogs on Ibnlive.in.com. Football helps me keep my sanity, with its fascinating tactical theories of how space is used. As if to prove the point, I lost my copy of Jonathan Wilson’s ‘Inverting the Pyramid: A History of Football Tactics’  and have been trying to forgive myself ever since.

Here we go, starting with the most recent blog and then working backwards.

1) http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64334/serie-a-fiorentina-spice-up-italian-topflight.html

Vincenzo Montella’s team were fabulous against Inter, who looked out of depth and out of breath. They were probably exhausted by their Europa League match, but a big club can’t be citing fatigue as an excuse. Fiorentina’s fluid attacking shape, if in form, can trouble even the best teams, and Inter at the moment are not one of those.

2) http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64301/steven-gerrard-still-pushing-boundaries-at-32.html

Gerrard has been playing deeper as he’s gotten older, probably taking a leaf out of Roy Keane’s book, but has not lost much of his influence of old. If Brendan Rodgers is to create a legacy of any worth at Liverpool, he needs his captain to be on the same page and he does seem convinced.

3) http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64187/epl-robin-van-persie-leads-the-line-for-united.html

Van Persie’s already been compared to Cantona in terms of the influence he has had on United ever since he joined them. As of today, United are 15 points — 15 — clear at the top of the EPL. Much of that is down to Van Persie. Roberto Mancini, otherwise a decent man, has whined this season that his club did not adequately strengthen themselves in the summer and has cited that as the  reason behind a lacklustre season after City won the title last year. But Im only reminded of Brian Clough, who won the old First Division — twice — with teams he had led to promotion from Division Two, Derby County and Nottingham Forrest. Different times, yes, but somehow you’d think Mancini had a better excuse.

4) http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arunpradeep/3389/64138/epl-united-silence-noisy-neighbours-but-city-still-in-this-fight.html

Highly charged match, with United leaving with the honours. I hate doing ‘I told you so’ but I did in fact say the effect of this loss on City could be more psychological. And so it seems.