Serie A re-started with a thrilling weekend to end the winter break: Inter stumbled to a 1-1 draw at home to Cagliari (Cagliari’s Acquafresca missing a simple chance to take all three points late in the game); Genoa trash Torino 3-0 (permanently-two-defeats-away-from-crisis-Toro slip into relegation zone); Palermo manage a 3-2 victory in a thriller against Atalanta; Fiorentina crash against Lecce at home and it’s two all for AS Roma and AC Milan.
Milan tactician Carlo Ancelotti surprised everyone by playing Beckham in the opening line-up on Sunday night. The former Man United and Real Madrid midfielder hadn’t played a combative match since October but didn’t look out of his depth at the Olimpico. He worked hard, his passing was generally neat, he curled a few dangerous crosses, got a shot or two on target, gave all Milan corners and looked good in the white jersey until being substituted on the 89th minute. It was nice to see Beckham back playing in a top European league where he still belongs. Despite Beckham’s contribution, it was for the 19-year old Pato to provide the needed spark in a game controlled by the home side. As the second half progressed, Pato stepped in to pull Milan out of their usual autopilot mode by scoring two goals: the first a tap-in from a Kaka cross and the second a beautiful chip over unnecessarily on-rushing Doni from a tight angel. Pato’s (and Milan’s for that matter) brace lasted for about a half-an-hour after which he began showing signs of his young age. Most of the time left on his own up front, as the uninspiring Kaka and Ronaldinho couldn’t provide adequate support, he grew frustrated being the only Milan player for the Roma defence to kick at. Regardless of his talent, he shouldn’t have to be the player to drag a stale Milan team, where most players are old enough to be his father, on his back.
It wasn’t surprising that after the match Ancelotti was missing Borriello more than celebrating Pato’s two goals. If Milan means to add another dimension to their customary passing game, they need someone with aerial presence to get to the end of Beckham’s crosses. In the first half, Milan banged their head against Roma’s defence as the diminutive Brazilian was stranded amongst four Roma defenders who coped with relative ease against anything Milan threw at them from the flanks.
If Pato and Beckham perhaps were the ones grabbing the biggest headlines, there was one Giallorossi player who again deserved more credit than he is accustomed to getting. It has taken a few years for Vucinic to harness all the bags of potential he has carried but now, at 25, he seems to have matured into a match-winner. He’s always had the touch, the movement, the power and an eye for goal to be the first choice striker of a big club but what has maybe been lacking in his game is composure. The way he scored the opening goal showcased just why clubs like Man United have been sniffing around the Olimpico for his signature. He received a cross inside Milan’s box, sidestepped Jankulovski with his first touch and placed the ball in the near corner with his second. Milan defence was well organized but he still was able to beat his marker with admirable subtlety. His second goal was not as spectacular but almost as difficult as the first. After a moment of confusion in the Milan defence, he nodded the ball with a diving header past the frozen Abbiatti. Vucinic had two chances in the game and he made both of them count. The first one (on the 22 nd minute) was pure quality and the second (on the 72 nd) an opportunistic effort that put Roma back in the game just when it seemed that they had lost their coherence and self-belief. Pato’s brilliance lasted for about 10 minutes but Vucinic’s the whole match.