Patrick Cutrone and Gonzalo Higuaín are forming an unlikely partnership after both scored to boost Gennaro GattusoOld habits die hard for Silvio Berlusconi. It is more than a year since he sold Milan, and barely a month since he completed a takeover of Mo

Milan find their groove as two No 9s equal success against Sampdoria | Paolo Bandini

read Milan find their groove as two No 9s equal success against Sampdoria | Paolo Bandini

news Milan find their groove as two No 9s equal success against Sampdoria | Paolo Bandini

Info Milan find their groove as two No 9s equal success against Sampdoria | Paolo Bandini

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about Milan find their groove as two No 9s equal success against Sampdoria | Paolo Bandini
  • 2018-12-25 09:45:21 1 years ago
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Old habits die hard for Silvio Berlusconi. It is more than a year since he sold Milan, and barely a month since he completed a takeover of Monza in Serie C, but still he presumes to address his former club’s manager with tactical advice. “I don’t like [Gennaro] Gattuso’s team, because they only play with one centre-forward,” lamented Berlusconi recently. “Milan should always have two.”

It seems unlikely these words swung Gattuso’s thinking. This can hardly have been the first time he heard such a suggestion from a man with whom he remains in occasional contact. Berlusconi’s preference for two up top has been reiterated countless times down the years, though his knowledge of Milan’s playing staff appears to be similarly unchanging. In another interview on the same theme, he also proposed starting Kaká behind the attack.

Gattuso did not seek to lure the Brazilian back out of retirement for Milan’s game against Sampdoria on Sunday, but he did opt for a 4-4-2 for the first time this season. Suso was pushed back and Diego Laxalt brought forward to operate as wingers. Patrick Cutrone joined Gonzalo Higuaín in attack.

Supporters had been crying out for this combination. With a goal against Real Betis on Thursday, Cutrone raised his strike rate to four goals in eight appearances – all of them off the bench. Why not give this homegrown talent a chance to play from the beginning?

The obvious answer was that he and Higuaín were too similar, each doing their best work in and around the penalty box. In this era of false nines, could a team really get away with fielding two authentic ones?

Apparently, they could. Both got their names on the scoresheet in a back-and-forth game at the San Siro, Cutrone opening the scoring and Higuaín netting the equaliser after Sampdoria had responded with goals from Riccardo Saponara and Fabio Quagliarella. Milan went on to win 3-2, Suso scoring the winner.

Monday’s Gazzetta dello Sport tallied up the total time Cutrone and Higuaín had spent on the pitch together this season, finding a combined strike-rate better than one goal every 40 minutes. “Projecting that through an entire game, that means starting 2-0 up,” announced the optimistic analysis.

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Putting aside any trivial quibbles about sample size, we can at least observe that this partnership has shown promise. Far from treading on each other’s toes, Cutrone and Higuaín seem to have quite a natural rapport, seeking one another out in possession. The latter’s goal was set up by a sharp one-two between them.

Cutrone was only returning a favour. Higuaín had provided the assist on his winner against Roma back in August, dissecting the Giallorossi’s defence with a well-timed through-ball. It is tempting to wonder whether their shared experience as No9s might help each recognise the spaces the other would want to attack, and where they would want the ball played.

Whether or not Milan are better for playing in the 4-4-2 that accommodates them is another question entirely. Sampdoria dominated possession and their manager, Marco Giampaolo, argued that the game had been won only by acts of individual brilliance. Suso’s winner was a trademark solo effort, struck across goal from 20 yards.

Eleven Sports (@ElevenSports_UK)

| FULL-TIME | A worthy match-winner for #ACMilan. 👏Suso's strike sealed all three points for the Rossoneri. 🔴⚫️AC Milan 3-2 Sampdoria pic.twitter.com/Hu3S3rEcHD

October 28, 2018

Gattuso countered that his team had created more opportunities, conceding from two shots on goal. He was similarly resistant, however, to any attempt to colour this victory as a result of the formation change.

Most encouraging to him might have been the attitude of Cutrone and Higuaín, two players with a shared aggression and physicality in their way of interpreting the position. He had called on his team to play like “angry dogs”, demanding a reaction after limp performances against Inter and Betis. Defeats to those teams had fuelled speculation that he could be fired. Both Leonardo and Paolo Maldini had dropped by Milanello on Friday for conversations with the manager and his team.

Publicly, the leadership has been consistent in its support for Gattuso. But Maldini also reaffirmed that the club’s ambition is to finish in the top four. Champions League football is a necessary first step back towards financial stability for a club that posted a €126m loss on last season’s accounts.

Initially banned from European competition this year for failing to comply with Financial Fair Play requirements, the Rossoneri were reinstated following an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The latter ruling rested in part on the club’s recent repossession by Elliott Management, but further sanctions can be expected if they fail to improve the balance sheet.

This particular set of circumstances does also complicate the outlook with regards to Gattuso. On the one hand, the club will need to remove him if they believe he cannot obtain a Champions League berth. On the other, replacing him with a high-profile name would be an expensive undertaking.

Gattuso embraces Higuaín after the match.

The best scenario for Milan, then, would be for the incumbent to succeed. Gattuso is well-liked by his players, Higuaín praising his man-management in a recent interview with Gazzetta and likening him to Maurizio Sarri for his capacity to motivate. Alessio Romagnoli insisted he and his team-mates were “ready to die” for their boss.

Milan are not as far off the pace as you might imagine from the tone of some of the recent media coverage in Italy. A win in their postponed game against Genoa this Wednesday would give them 18 points from 10 games, and put them very much in touch with the top four.

What ought to concern Milan more than the standings is an atrocious defensive record, with 13 goals conceded already in the league. They have not kept a clean sheet in 15 Serie A matches dating back to last season, their longest such run since 1946.

Experimenting with a two-man attack does not need to compromise the defence. Just ask Carlo Ancelotti, whose Napoli side have been far tighter at the back since switching from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2. It might serve Milan’s interests to give Higuaín and Cutrone more games together. That alone, though, will not be a quick fix.

Talking points

• The one and only real talking point this Monday: how on earth did Sassuolo fail to score from here?

• “I’m not a wizard,” insisted Ancelotti after Napoli’s draw with Roma, and this was a game to remind us that even the best managers cannot stick the ball in the net. The Partenopei comfortably outplayed Roma yet needed a 90th-minute equaliser from Dries Mertens.

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| EQUALISER |Dries Mertens pounced late on to rescue Napoli a point at home against Roma.They stay six points behind Juventus in the #SerieA standings. ⚽️ #Contenders pic.twitter.com/ES83hH4Bxz

October 28, 2018

• The gap to first is back to six points, because Juventus beat Empoli 2-1 the day before. The Bianconeri were a goal down at the break and playing some way below their best but Cristiano Ronaldo once again made the difference, converting a penalty first before smashing home the winner from 20 yards.

• A first win of the season for Frosinone, and what a way to get it: thrashing Spal 3-0. It leaves Chievo as the only winless side, the former Italy manager Giampiero Ventura suffering a second consecutive defeat since taking charge.

Quick guide Serie A results Show Hide

Napoli 1-1 Roma, Milan 3-2 Sampdoria, Cagliari 2-1 Chievo, Genoa 2-2 Udinese, Spal 0-3 Frosinone, Sassuolo 2-2 Bologna, Torino 1-1 Fiorentina, Empoli 1-2 Juventus, Atalanta 3-0 ParmaMonday: Lazio v Internazionale

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Pos Team P GD Pts 1 Juventus 10 13 28 2 Napoli 10 8 22 3 Inter Milan 9 7 19 4 Lazio 9 4 18 5 Fiorentina 10 8 15 6 Sampdoria 10 7 15 7 AC Milan 9 5 15 8 Roma 10 4 15 9 Sassuolo 10 1 15 10 Torino 10 0 14 11 Genoa 9 -5 14 12 Cagliari 10 -2 13 13 Parma 10 -4 13 14 Atalanta 10 5 12 15 SPAL 10 -5 12 16 Udinese 10 -5 9 17 Bologna 10 -6 9 18 Empoli 10 -6 6 19 Frosinone 10 -15 5 20 Chievo 10 -18 -1
Topics Serie A Sportblog Milan European club football features Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via Email Share on LinkedIn Share on Pinterest Share on Google+ Share on WhatsApp Share on Messenger Reuse this content

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Milan find their groove as two No 9s equal success against Sampdoria | Paolo Bandini

The reinvention of João Mário and how Inter have found a new spirit | Paolo Bandini

João Mário sounded so certain. Interviewed by Gazzetta dello Sport at the start of June – just after he had completed a successful six-month loan at West Ham, and shortly before the start of a World Cup in which he would feature in all four matches played by Portugal – the midfielder insisted he would not return to Inter.

“I do not want to try again,” he said of life at his parent club. “I would not have the right motivation. That experience is over now. Zero doubts.”

You could understand the sentiment. Despite splashing out €40m to sign João Mário in 2016, the Nerazzurri had never found him a steady role. Constant changes of manager during his first season with the club did not help but even Luciano Spalletti, after taking charge last summer, only gave him five starts in as many months before packing him off to the London Stadium.

Inter were happy to grant the player’s wish to be sold. The problem was finding a buyer. Sevilla were reported to have an interest but wound up taking Maxime Gonalons on loan from Roma instead. Their neighbours Real Betis, likewise, preferred Giovani Lo Celso. When more concrete offers arrived from Turkey, João Mário turned them down.

And so he stayed at Inter, a situation which seemed to please nobody. For the first two months of this season, he disappeared from view – popping up only for a Sky Sports interview in which he acknowledged supporters who jeered the reading out of his name among the subs before kickoff at San Siro.

“I think it’s a body language problem,” he said. “Every now and then it can seem like I’m not present. That’s a thing I need to improve.”

It is hard to prove much of anything, though, when you never set foot on the pitch. João Mário did not get so much as a minute off the bench before suddenly being thrust into the starting XI for the visit to Lazio on 29 October. Fans and journalists scratched their heads. There had been little to indicate such a move was coming.

But he played well, and Inter won 3-0. This was their eighth win in nine matches across all competitions, and easily the most convincing. Better was yet to follow against Genoa on Saturday. João Mário started again, and had a hand in four out of five goals as Inter obliterated opponents who had drawn with Juventus last month.

The opener ought not to have stood. Lautaro Martínez’s attempted through-pass for Roberto Gagliardini was blocked and ran to João Mário. His initial control was clumsy, and he pulled out of a second touch as a pair of defenders closed in. This became an accidental dummy, all three players leaving the ball to run to Gagliardini, who had been in an offside position when it was last touched by his teammate.

What came next was more impressive. Inter’s second goal was glorious in its simplicity, the ball played out from defence to Marcelo Brozovic, who immediately squared it to João Mário. He released Matteo Politano with a first-time 30-yard ball, and the latter finished coolly.

Inter had gone from the edge of their own area to the back of the net in seven touches. Gazzetta called it “an anthem to vertical football”. The hope in Milan is that it might prove a potent counter to the patient lateral movement of the Barcelona team they will face at San Siro on Tuesday.

Inter’s Matteo Politano celebrates scoring his side’s second goal.

Spalletti’s team were well beaten at the Camp Nou in their previous Champions League outing, yet these last two league games have offered encouraging signs. Inter are finally starting to look like the team that Spalletti has always wanted them to be: using aggression and physicality to dominate the pitch as well as the ball.

A tactical shift has helped. With Radja Nainggolan sidelined by an ankle injury, Inter abandoned plans to play with a No 10, opting instead for a 4-3-3. The formation has offered Brozovic more support – giving him options when pressed, as he was on Politano’s goal.

It has seemed to suit the players alongside him – the extra cover allowing all midfielders to become runners, taking turns to get forward and break the lines. Gagliardini followed up that opening goal with another just after half-time. João Mário, along with two assists, scored one of his own in injury time. So did Nainggolan, an 87th minute substitute.

There was an awkward truth to confront here, in that neither João Mário nor Gagliardini, Inter’s two leading men on Saturday, will be available for selection against Barça. Both were excluded from Inter’s Champions League squad, which has been restricted to 21 players as a result of their breach of Financial Fair Play regulations.

How greatly they will be missed remains to be seen. Nainggolan’s return is a boost, though it may tempt Spalletti to revert to his previous formation. That could be a mistake. Matias Vecino was rested against Genoa, but had been excellent against Lazio on the right of a midfield three.

The specific terms of the FFP ruling, which limits Inter’s ability to include new signings made during the assessed period of overspending, means that João Mário and Gagliardini would likely remain excluded even if they do make it through to the Champions League knockout stage.

Yet if there was another positive note for Spalletti this weekend then it was to be found in the collective spirit he can see developing. “We’re Inter,” he said, “we have all the right cards to give ourselves a chance.” Spalletti will not have the full deck at his disposal, but João Mário’s re-emergence has shown us that he knows how to keep a trick or two up his sleeve.

Talking points

• Despite drawing with Juventus, Ivan Juric has not exactly hit the ground running since returning to the Genoa job – picking up two points from four games. Even more bothersome to the club’s owner, Enrico Preziosi, might be the manager’s decision to start with Serie A’s top scorer, Krzysztof Piątek, on the bench and deny him a spot in the shop window at San Siro.

• Even Franco Baresi was moved to tweet after Alessio Romagnoli scored his second injury-time winner for Milan in as many games. But the real story here was that the Rossoneri kept their first clean sheet since April.

• Juventus made it 31 points from 11 games – the best start in club history. They weren’t great against Cagliari and it is reasonable to ask questions about just how solid the champions are at the back. Four clean sheets in 11 games is underwhelming.

• A rampant win for Napoli over Empoli, and a hat-trick for Dries Mertens. He is now Serie A’s most prolific Belgian ever.

• Three games in charge of Chievo now for former Italy manager Gian Piero Ventura, and three defeats. Aggregate score: 9-2.

Quick guide Serie A results Show Hide

Napoli 5-1 Empoli, Inter 5-0 Genoa, Fiorentina 1-1 Roma, Juventus 3-1 Cagliari, Lazio 4-1 Spal, Chievo 0-2 Sassuolo, Parma 0-0 Frosinone, Sampdoria 1-4 Torino, Bologna 1-2 Atalanta, Udinese 0-1 Milan

Photograph: Ciro Fusco/ANSA Was this helpful? Thank you for your feedback.
Pos Team P GD Pts 1 Juventus 11 15 31 2 Inter Milan 11 15 25 3 Napoli 11 12 25 4 AC Milan 11 7 21 5 Lazio 11 4 21 6 Sassuolo 11 3 18 7 Torino 11 3 17 8 Fiorentina 11 8 16 9 Roma 11 4 16 10 Atalanta 11 6 15 11 Sampdoria 11 4 15 12 Parma 11 -4 14 13 Genoa 11 -11 14 14 Cagliari 11 -4 13 15 SPAL 11 -8 12 16 Udinese 11 -6 9 17 Bologna 11 -7 9 18 Empoli 11 -10 6 19 Frosinone 11 -15 6 20 Chievo 11 -20 -1
Topics Internazionale Sportblog Serie A European club football features Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via Email Share on LinkedIn Share on Pinterest Share on Google+ Share on WhatsApp Share on Messenger Reuse this content

European roundup: Barcelona suffer first home defeat in more than two years

Barcelona suffered their first home defeat in La Liga for more than two years, the champions losing 4-3 to Real Betis despite Lionel Messi scoring twice on his return to action.

First-half goals from Junior and Joaquín gave the visitors a 2-0 lead before Messi pulled one back from the penalty spot midway through the second half.

However, Barcelona goalkeeper then let a shot from Giovani Lo Celso slip through his hands and although substitute Arturo Vidal reduced the deficit on 79 minutes, Ivan Rakitic was sent off moments later and Sergio Canales made it 4-2 soon after.

Messi finished off a flowing move in stoppage time to make it 4-3, but Betis held on to inflict Barcelona’s first defeat at the Nou Camp in La Liga since they lost 2-1 to Alavés in September 2016.

AC Milan striker Gonzalo Higuaín endured a terrible night against parent club Juventus as the Old Lady ran out 2-0 winners at San Siro.

Argentina international Higuain, who joined Gennaro Gattuso’s Milan on loan from Juve to pave the way for Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival from Real Madrid, saw a first-half spot-kick saved by Wojciech Szczesny which would have levelled the score before he was dismissed late on.

Higuain tangled with defender Medhi Benatia and reacted furiously to receiving a yellow card, which prompted referee Paolo Mazzoleni to dismiss the striker for dissent following an angry outburst.

Mario Mandzukic headed Juve into an eighth-minute lead and Ronaldo wrapped up victory with nine minutes left when he was on hand to tap in Joao Cancelo’s parried effort.

Inter Milan were thoroughly outclassed in a 4-1 loss at Atalanta on Sunday for their first Serie A defeat in nearly two months. Hans Hateboer gave Atalanta an early advantage with a tap-in and the hosts wasted numerous other chances including an attempt off the post to add to the lead before the break.

Mauro Icardi equalized with a penalty two minutes into the second half following an Atalanta handball but Gianluca Mancini restored Atalanta’s lead after the hour mark with a header from a Josip Ilicic free kick.

Berat Djimsiti scored with a header on another set piece from Ilicic and Inter was then reduced to 10 men when Marcelo Brozovic picked up his second yellow card.Papu Gomez completed the scoring with a long, curling shot that left Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic motionless.

Stephan El Shaarawy scored twice in a win over Sampdoria.

Stephan El Shaarawy scored a brace, including a no-look chip shot into the far corner in Roma’s 4-1 win over Sampdoria. Juan Jesus had given Roma an early lead then Patrik Schick doubled the advantage against his former club. Grégoire Defrel pulled one back for Sampdoria before El Shaarawy converted a rebound to restore the three-goal advantage.

Bottom-placed Chievo drew 2-2 with Bologna to earn their first point since former Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura was hired a month ago. Empoli, playing their first match under new manager Giuseppe Iachini, beat struggling Udinese 2-1.

Thierry Henry endured another miserable evening as Monaco manager after Edinson Cavani’s hat-trick ushered Paris St Germain to a 4-0 victory at the Stade Louis II.

On a night when the linesmen came under scrutiny, Cavani scored twice inside 12 minutes - with both goals overturned on the video assistant referee system having been initially flagged for offside.

Cavani used his predatory instinct to complete his treble before Neymar completed the rout from the penalty spot, putting the defending Ligue 1 champions 13 points clear at the top of the standings.

Edinson Cavani took home the match ball.

Leipzig’s Yussuf Poulsen scored once in either half to help his team beat toothless Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 on Sunday and move into third place in the Bundesliga ahead of champions Bayern Munich.

The Denmark striker chipped in after 26 minutes and added a second in the 85th, pouncing on a Bayer Leverkusen mistake. Teammate Lukas Klostermann scored Leipzig’s second goal in the 68th minute as they earned their second straight win and stretched their unbeaten run to 10 league games.

Leverkusen keeper Lukas Hradecky denied Timo Werner from point blank range late in the game but Leipzig counterpart Peter Gulacsi was equally effective in palming a Leon Bailey free kick wide, the visitors’ first shot on target, after 76 minutes.

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AIK secured the Swedish title on Sunday, thanks to a goal from defender Robin Jansson just seven months he left his job making horseshoes to join the Stockholmers from third-tier side Oddevold.

Jansson and his teammates knew that a win away to Kalmar would guarantee that they would lift the Lennart Johansson trophy, and the 26-year-old headed home a first-half goal that proved enough to give them a 1-0 victory and the title.

“It’s the sickest evening in my life, it’s completely wonderful,” a joyful Jansson told Swedish radio.

Topics Soccer European club football La Liga Serie A Barcelona Real Betis AIK Solna news Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via Email Share on LinkedIn Share on Pinterest Share on Google+ Share on WhatsApp Share on Messenger Reuse this content
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