A mixed bag of a match from Milan ended up being neither the stellar start many fans wanted, nor the complete collapse some feared would ensue. For preseason though, it is perfectly fine.
The first half started out with many of the same issues that plagued Milan throughout last season. The flanks, poorly guarded by Luca Antonelli and Ignazio Abate, were frequently subject to attacks from Bayern’s quick wingers and mobile midfielders.
Though both teams were unable to find the net for the better part of the opening portion of the match, in the 23′ Milan became the first to score. M’Baye Niang seized an opportunity after Holger Badstuber gave the ball away in his half and sprinted one-on-one with Sven Ulreich, quickly slotting the ball past the helpless goalkeeper. Against all odds, Milan were in the lead.
This 1-0 advantage did not last long though, and six minutes later, Bayern drew level. A quick break from several players on the right flank drew out Milan’s defenders, allowing Franck Ribery to position himself at the top of the box and smash in a devastating strike that left Donnarumma with no chance. Though he was seemingly being covered by two Rossoneri midfielders, the Frenchman ended up with plenty of space to work his magic from.
This goal highlighted one of Milan’s biggest flaws, not just in this particular match, but as a team in general. The attacking flanking fullbacks leave the central defenders spread thin, forcing midfielders to track back and stretch themselves out, allowing for huge pockets of space to appear for quick-thinking wingers to thrive in. As long as Abate and Antonelli are the club’s first-choice left and right backs, this is not an issue that will be remedied soon.
The Bayern goal stunned Milan a little bit, and if during the Ribery goal buildup the club was looking somewhat comfortable after going ahead, then ten minutes later Milan was completely asleep. Once again the midfield left a large void in the center of its third, allowing David Alaba to slip through and send a long shot into the back of the net, putting Bayern up 2-1. Sixteen minutes after taking the lead, Milan had a one-goal deficit to make up.
The half ended 2-1 to Munich, a fair reflection of Milan’s inability to protect the lead. While both goals came from defensive lapses, the opening 45 minutes was not a complete disaster for the club. M’Baye Niang was a major bright spot, and his continuous movement and searching for opportunities made him a threat for Bayern defenders. Though this is only preseason, seeing Niang constantly looking for space and pockets to slide into is important. He is likely going to be a huge x-factor in Milan’s upcoming season, and having him mentally strong in preseason only bodes well for Serie A in a few weeks time.
Bonaventura and Suso also contributed positively towards Milan’s occasional attacks, with Bonaventura in particular making regular bombing runs down the left, searching for a window for a cross into the box. His form suffered a drop towards the end of last season, and in the first half, he looked like he has something to prove, a healthy mindset when going into one of Milan’s most dire-looking seasons in recent memory.
The halftime talk did wonders for the Rossoneri. Montella’s likely animated speech invigorated his new charges, and Milan went out guns blazing as soon as the referee blew the kick-off whistle. Four minutes into second time Bertolacci drew his club level. A scuffle in the Bayern box led to the ball being dropped at the Italian’s feet before the midfielder sent it past an immobile Ulreich.
The goal put new life into Milan, and after spending most of the first half sedated and stationary, Bertolacci’s strike put the Rossoneri into (relative) overdrive. Aggressive plays were attempted more often, and the midfield even showed some semblance of cohesiveness and motivation. Bayern’s players were caught unaware by their opponents’ abrupt change in pace, which led to another second-half goal for Milan.
Juraj Kucka, finding space in the center of the final third, unleashed a powerful deflected low strike that Bayern’s goalkeeper proved unable to save. Against all odds, the Rossoneri found themselves ahead once more. With just under half an hour remaining, all the club had to do was close out the match.
For 28 minutes, Milan did just that. The defenders kept the wings in check as much as they could, and the midfield put up what resembled a fight against Bayern’s half-hearted preseason pushes forward. While the Germans visibly did not care much about the result, their counterparts desperately tried to keep their narrow lead.
In the 89′, mere minutes before the end of the match, Jherson Vergara gave away a silly penalty. The Colombian defender has to date done nothing notable for his club, and in his rare friendly appearance, he cost the Rossoneri a regular-time victory. Franck Ribery easily converted the ensuing spot kick, and several minutes later, drawn up at 3-3, the match headed to the penalty shootout.
After nine strikes and eight goals, Milan ran out unlikely winners. The Rossoneri scored all five of their spot kicks, and Gianluigi Donnarumma, after failing to save three penalties in a row, managed to guess which way Rafinha was going to stop the defender from scoring.
A 1-0 lead turned to 2-1 deficit turned to a 3-3 penalty victory was not at all how most fans envisioned the match would go, and certainly not how the author expected the events to unfold. Though it is preseason, a victory over Bayern should do well for morale.
Hopefully the club can translate results like this into league play a few weeks from today, or all the talk and praise of players will be for naught.