Nobody will rejoice if they have Napoli, not even Guardiola. The Milanese have rediscovered the beauty of defense
Three Italians in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, it hasn’t happened since 2005-06. Then Milan, Inter and Juve entered the top eight and it didn’t end in glory. In the quarterfinals, Inter were eliminated by Villarreal and Juve by Arsenal. In the semifinals, Milan defeated Barcelona, who were destined to win the Cup in the final against Arsenal. In 2006, three Italians in the Champions League didn’t make the news, it was almost normal. A year later, in 2007, Milan, finalists in the 2005 infamous match against Liverpool, would take their revenge on the “Reds” in Athens. The golden age of our football would have ended with Inter, with the 2010 Champions League.
Not by chance
Almost twenty years after the reviled Serie A returns to being the European championship with the highest number of teams in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Best regards to the Premier League, La Liga and the Bundesliga. Do we deserve it? We have been lucky? Is it a parenthesis or is Serie A less ugly and more competitive and training than it seems? We have to distinguish. Napoli, Milan and Inter reached the quarter-finals with different strategies, but three teams try, it can’t all be reduced to chance. Our clubs have understood how impossible it is to compete with the immense resources of the Premier League and Real in Spain, with the solidity of Bayern in Germany, and have remodeled themselves. They invest less in expensive players, no longer engage in compulsive shopping and bankruptcy. They make less bombastic and more functional choices. And the coaches have adapted, they make what they have return. A little they get by and a little they create.
Napoli reached the quarterfinals with the strength of the game and with the skill of players acquired just before they became unapproachable, and we are referring to Osimhen and Kvaratskhelia. Luciano Spalletti worked for two seasons on building a team that today knows exactly what to do and how to do it. He has squeezed the best out of the best ideas out there – Guardiola’s positional evolution, Klopp’s reconquest pressure, Sarri’s rising triangles – and has composed a mosaic of him. Today’s Naples is multi-thinking, not bound by a dogma or a single guide book. He can adapt to anyone. Kvaratskhelia and Osimhen ensure the difference in technique. There is no scheme or reasoning that can ignore the play of a great player, necessary to complete the action or to get out of the swamp that is created when the opponent crosses over. Kvaratskhelia and Osimhen alone, however, would not be enough, the context of Shoulders enhances their capabilities. Spalletti’s format has multiplied the skills of each player. Of the three, Napoli is the Italian that the other five would like to avoid. Even City would spare it, Guardiola knows that competing against today’s Spalletti is equivalent to a journey into unknown depths. Napoli is the Italian most likely to win this Champions League. The only risk will be the championship, the temptation to bask in the warmth of the upcoming championship.
Beautiful there, Milan. At the beginning of the season it was difficult to predict a double quarter for the Milanese, we would have been happy for one of the two to succeed. Yet it happened. A 1960s wind blows around Milan and Inter’s entry into the eight-player elite, of heroic nights defending themselves and starting over, without the refined genius of a Rivera or the snakelike speed of a Mazzola, but with the same tenacity. The other night in Porto, Inter gave us an extraordinary return to the past, with an epic recovery. All behind, to defend the open goal scored in the first leg at San Siro. Dragao’s Inter made happy those who claim the superiority of the result over the game, the beauty, the strength of ideas. Give us a goalkeeper and a couple of defenders in the evening of grace, two midfielders devoted to martyrdom and nothing will scare us, this is the sense. If one of the three Inter strikers had made good use of the two or three chances that have arisen, Inter in Porto would have won and the rebirth of the old irreducible Italian game would have bordered on perfection.
Last week, in the second leg against Tottenham, Milan played a different game, but not too much. Stefano Pioli’s conversion to the three-man line was sublimated in London, with a less showy, but still prudent defensive game. Milan also needed a great save from their goalkeeper, Maignan, and a super performance from the central three, especially from the young Thiaw. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about, no one has the truth in their pocket and everyone has the right to express themselves as they see fit. Italy hasn’t won the Champions League for thirteen years, since 2010 with the Inter treble. Italy has won twelve European Cups/Champions, seven for Milan, three for Inter and two for Juve. He is ahead of England (14) and Spain (19). Let us hope that one of the three this year scores 13. And let’s stop self-flagellation, Serie A has become attractive again in its own way.
March 16, 2023 (change March 16, 2023 | 00:23)
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