In the space of one night, Milan have gone from over-aged, slow and toothless, to genuine Champions League contenders, in the mind of some of the less studied media writers, and to many who do not watch Serie A on a regular basis.
Arsenal meanwhile, have disappointed through much of the season, and through ill-advised purchases, sales of their star players without adequate replacements, are in for a challenge to qualify for the Champions League again.
Yet even for Milan fans, the nature of the victory may have been a surprise – whilst Arsenal had their own injury worries, Milan were without Antonio Cassano, Gianluca Zambrotta, Alberto Aquilani and Gennaro Gattuso, Alexandre Pato and Alessandro Nesta were coming back from injury, as was Kevin-Prince Boateng, even though he didn’t show any rustiness. They were also in poor form, having won only one of their previous four matches.
What will have surprised Arsenal was the pace of the Milan attacks. Whilst much is made of an ageing side, only three of the players that played the bulk of the game were over 30 years old – Christian Abbiati (34) the goalkeeper, Mark van Bommel (34), and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (30). Three players who didn’t put a foot wrong on the night. Too much is made by the English media about playing a fast tempo and getting the ball down the other end as soon as possible. What the Premier League prides itself on, is not the model that has won the Champions League in recent seasons.
Barcelona enjoy close passing, making the ball do the running. Inter did not have lightening pace in their side that won Europe’s top trophy under Jose Mourinho. And while Kevin-Prince Boateng can be pacey, it was the inter-passing between the Ghanaian, Ibrahimovic and Robinho, with support behind from Antonio Nocerino, and on the wings from Luca Antonini and Ignazio Abate, moving up the pitch as a group that provided the attacking threat. A model that Arsenal would appreciate, previously more than any other Premier League side.
At the other end, Arsenal failed to get possession up to their world-class player Robin van Persie, with the Rossoneri defence, led by the very highly rated Brazilian Thiago Silva, and a tight defensive midfield, not allowing them the space and time in the final third.
In the end it was comprehensive by the Italian side, probably slightly better than even their biggest fans would have expected, but it is by no means a surprise that they take a lead into the second leg in two weeks time.
Next week provides a second Premier League vs Serie A clash as Chelsea visit Napoli, the team that advanced in place of Manchester City from their Champions League group. While both are out of form, and Napoli will not be felt favourites, a tag some in Europe would have placed with Milan yesterday, it does mean that Serie A should be taken a little more seriously in the coming months.
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