Just two breaks are all it takes

Just two breaks are all it takes

With all apologies to Dua Lipa, it takes more than one kiss (I feel like if I met Dua Lipa I’d have an overwhelming urge to apologize for a lot of things, BUT THAT’S NOT WHY YOU CALLED).

Italian soccer still has a reputation — one that’s not really true anymore — of being overly tactical and defensive. It’s perhaps one it needs to work harder to shake off if it wants to even get in the same stratosphere of international popularity that the Premier League has, and it is a league full of vibrant attacking teams. Catenaccio is not the order of the day in Italy anymore, but decades of its use are hard to erase from the memory banks.

That doesn’t mean that it isn’t part of the book when needed, and AC Milan certainly referenced their and Italian football’s history when upsetting Napoli in the Champions League quarterfinals yesterday. And it was an upset, given that there are 22 points between these two teams in the league, with Napoli running away to claim the Scudetto and Milan battling just to remain in the top four. What’s even more amazing is that this was the third time in the span of 16 days that Milan had nullified Napoli’s smothering and artful attack. Napoli have scored 66 goals in 30 league games, for fuck’s sake. But they only managed one over 270 minutes against Milan, two legs of the quarterfinal, and a league defeat at home.

Aside from some spritely opening 10 minutes in both legs, Milan snuffed out pretty much every threat by having their two holding midfielders, Sandro Tonali and Rade Krunić, sit right on top of their backline, opening no space between those lines, which is where Napoli’s Piotr Zieliński or Stanislav Lobotka would run wild. This forced Napoli out to the wings to find any space.

Normally, Napoli would be OK with this, because Matteo Politano or Hirving Lozano on the right and especially Khvicha Kvaratskhelia on the left can create chances at will. But in the first leg, Napoli were without an injured Victor Osimhen and only had the freshly returning one in the second leg, and without him they really lacked a threat to get on the end of crosses.

Which might not have mattered as much, because both of Milan’s fullbacks were exemplary, especially Davide Calabria on the right side, who kept Kvaratskhelia in his pocket in a fashion that would have had Milan legend Paolo Maldini purring in the executive box, as long as we’re continuing the theme of harkening back to the good ol’ days (also it’s always a nice pick-me-up to think of Maldini and those eyes you could rediscover your childhood within).

Calabria plays lockdown defense

Kvaratskhelia has been maybe the revelation of the European season at Napoli, an inverted winger who has turned pretty much every defense he’s come up against into confetti. He was given nothing by Calabria, which blunted Napoli’s attack into not much more than a kitten’s paw.

And even when Napoli did manage to get crosses into the box, almost all of them found the defiant dome of either Fikayo Tomori or Simon Kjær. Napoli attempted 45 crosses yesterday, and only 10 of them found a teammate, such was the obstreperous nature of Tomori and Kjær (my principal once called me that in grade school and I’ve coopted the adjective for my own devices, in case you were wondering. Revenge is sweet).

The goals the Rossoneri needed

Of course, you still need to score, and Milan only required two marvelous pieces of individualism on the counter to get the goals they needed. We went over Brahim Díaz’s turn in the first leg that led to Ismaël Bennacer’s winner, but no reason we can’t enjoy it again:

Yesterday, it was Rafael Leão’s turn, as he picked up a loose ball some 85 yards from goal and thought he’d have a nice jog through half the Napoli team before setting up Olivier Giroud:

And that was that. Napoli pulled a goal back late, but it was always just a consolation. The beauty, so we’re told, of catenaccio is that it’s simple. You defend well, you take your chance when you inevitably get it on the counter, you win. A reference to the simplicity of Italian cuisine or life, really. Sometimes soccer is just that simple. When you have defenders playing this well, and players like Diaz and Leão capable of turning the field into their own personal F1 track, what more do you need?

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate as he talks himself into Xabi Alonso taking over for Jurgen Klopp in the near future.

Original source here

#breaks #takes

About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.