Is this really a soulless, clinical league? That's certainly its reputation among most followers of the three other "big" European leagues. Reviewing the table after one week doesn't help any defense of Serie A; four draws and six one goal wins. The table can't tell it all, can it? This season, I plan to throw myself into Serie A. For a few years now I've watched a lot of soccer, but not very much of the Italian variety. I did watch last spring's Milan derby, and it was one of the most entertaining games of the 08-09 season. It certainly belied my presumptions about Italian soccer. If this Saturday's game is one half as good as that one, we are all in for a treat. In my quest to immerse myself in calcio, I plan to watch at least one game a week, and then write about it here. I'll try to avoid watching, and writing about, only the big teams, but frankly, that may be harder in practice than in theory.
Siena and AC Milan opened their season in Siena's Stadio Artemio Franchi on Saturday. Figuring out if there is life after Maldini, Ancelotti, Kaka, and to a lesser extent, Beckham, has to be the first question for supporters of the Rossoneri. New additions Oguchi Onyewu and Klaus Jan Huntelaar did not make the starting eleven as Milan relied heavily on old hands. Watching Pato in action was one of my main goals of the game, but I quickly became more enamored with the team oriented style of play than any individual brilliance. There may not be a more talented midfield in any league than what Milan have in Pirlo, Gattuso, Ronaldinho, and Flamini. Each excels in his own distinct midfield role.
Both managers were dressed like GQ models or Europeans on Miami Vice (the TV show, not the movie). Are the Europeans fashion forward...or twenty years late? Other random pregame thought: Did I just see an ad for Sex Beans?
The game began average enough, each team possessing enough energy to seemingly run for days. However, both teams' adrenaline wore off after about 20 minutes and Milan's class began to show. Other than Pato, and perhaps Flamini and Silva, Milan is filled with players on the downside of their career arc. What they lack in youth, they make up in tactical superiority. The outpossessed Siena 2:1 over the course of the game. Milan's supremely professional style of holding the ball as much as possible should serve them well against the minnows of Serie A. Whether they have enough youth to challenge for the scudetto remains to be seen.
Pato opened the scoresheet in the 29th minute off a well weighted pass from Ronaldinho that took advantage of Siena's lazy offside trap. The duck was clearly onside, and he slotted past Gianluca Curci easily. Siena's only goal of the game came completely against the run of play, when Ghezzal tapped home a wide open rebound from Lukas Jarolim's shot from the left. The game tying goal, and subsequent confident Siena play forced Gennaro Gattuso to send a trademark growl to his teammates.
Other than Ronaldinho's assist of Pato's goal, he was not as involved in the game as I would have thought beforehand. He plays a role reminiscent of Juan Roman Riquelme. He doesn't run much, but when he does get the ball, he tries to supply well weighted passes to his attacking teammates.
Milan began the second half buzzing around which quickly led to Pato's goal in the 48th minute from Mathieu Flamini's unselfish cross. Other than a five minute stretch beginning in 75th minute or so, Siena did not offer much to challenge the Milan defenders. When challenged, Jankulovski and Silva were rock solid.
After the game ended, tempers flared with a few Siena players going after Pato. He must have said something while he ended the game by killing time in the attacking corner, and earned a yellow for berating the linesman. His teammates quickly came to his rescue as he was surrounded by Siena players. Pato made his exit with a smug look on his face. Can't really blame him for that.
One game in and it remains to be seen if this league is soulless and overly tactical. While it’s no Boca/River superclasico, Saturday's Milan derby is certain to have its share of passion in the stands. Let's hope the play on the pitch is deserving of it.