Classic Serie A Game of the Day: Palermo punish Milan yet again.

2 Sep

One of the best games I’ve watched in recent memory, this classic Palermo 3-1 victory over Italian giants A.C. Milan helped the Sicilian side clinch a berth in European competition for the 2010-2011 season. This was also the game that helped bring Abel ‘La Joya’ Hernandez to the spotlight, and cement him in the category of great young players in Europe.

Palermo came out in their classic 4-3-1-2 shape that has seen much success under Delio Rossi, with Javier Pastore as the classic  enganche (link player; literal translation is hook) looking to find space and link the midfield to attack. The fantastic support striker Miccoli looked for space ahead and left of Pastore, while Hernandez looked to get beyond the defense of Milan. A.C. Milan looked to match this shape with Seedorf playing behind Huntelaar and Ronaldinho. However, Ronaldinho initially hugged very close to the left touchline, looking to face play and run at defenders,  or look for the overlap from Antonini. Ronaldinho played much deeper than his counterpart Miccoli, and basically left Milan with one striker.

The start of the game was back and forth, with the midfielders and wonderful fullback pair of Palermo looking to press Milan early on.  A very early Palermo corner taken by Miccoli was nodded on and found Cesare Bovo at the back post, who had all but the easiest task of tapping the ball past Dida into the net. A perfect start for the home side. They sat back a little bit, but to their surprise, Milan did not really pick up their pressuring in the midfield. Milan looked to play wide to Ronaldinho, who seemingly kept making the same mistake and looking to play through the middle to Seedorf or Huntelaar, leading to a few easy turnovers.

10 minutes later, Palermo had doubled their lead through a Massimo Oddo mistake. He took an aerial ball too casually, with Abel Hernandez swooping in to catch him in possession. Hernandez played a quick 1-2 with  Miccoli and he was in on goal, finishing wonderfully past Dida into the side panel. It was all too casual for Milan, who simply allowed Palermo too much space for the entire first half. There was a lot of neat interplay from the home side, and Pastore in particular had a lot of space to run at defenders with options on either side of him.

The 2nd half saw Milan come out as a different side. They pressed the midfield three of Migliaccio, Nocerino, and Liverani much better – which as a result stopped them from getting the ball to the key man Pastore. They also realized that they needed to keep better possession of the football, and wait for the right moment instead of forcing the ‘killer’ ball (looking at you Ronaldinho). The Milan goal came from a wonderful interplay from Pirlo-Ronaldinho-Seedorf, with Ronaldinho sliding an intelligent ball through the legs of Cesare Bovo to put Seedorf 1 on 1 with the young Sirigu. Seedorf side footed home, and it was 2-1.

The shocking lack of pressure came back to burn Milan once again however. Classic regista (deep playmaker) Fabio Liverani played the simplest of balls into Miccoli who was allowed the space and time to turn inside the penalty area. He punished Milan with a curling effort that sailed into the top corner and put the game to bed. After this, Palermo set up shop with 9 or 10 men behind the ball at all times, and the game was essentially over, as Palermo looked to break on the counter. They had a few good chances including a wonderful 1-2 between Liverani and Pastore which saw Pastore’s volley effort saved by Dida. This game essentially ended Milan’s scudetto dreams, but had Palermo having dreams of their own of playing in the Champions League in the 2010-2011 season.

Conclusion
Milan’s aging midfield and lack of width created a lot of problems for themselves. Palermo’s fullbacks were allowed to run the full length of the pitch, and were constantly ‘out-balls’ for Palermo central midfielders when they were finally pressured by their Milanese counterparts.  Another problem for Milan was the space and time they allowed all the Palermo players on the ball. The lack of pressure allowed Palermo to play at a tempo they were comfortable with , and could seemingly receive the ball, cook a 6 course meal, and then pass it. Pastore in particular had too much space to run into, and the space given to Miccoli by Oddo for the 3rd goal really makes you wonder what the figureheads in Milan are thinking even letting this guy near a football pitch.  This game also showed 3 players who I believe are truly ‘fuoriclasse’ in Pastore, Miccoli, and Hernandez.

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