Inter 4 Milan 2 Player Ratings

There are games of two halves and then there was this Milan derby! How do you possibly rate players when most of them had almost diametrically opposite halves? I give it my best effort below.

Inter Milan

Daniele Padelli 4

The veteran backup standing in for the veteran regular wasn’t convincing at all, betraying some nerves trying to needlessly punch balls away from the box in Milan’s dominant first half. It was no surprise to see him static and positionally poor in the concession of both goals.

Stefan De Vrij 8

Tempted to give him a seven on the merits of his brilliant go-ahead header alone. It may go unnoticed because of the second half comeback, but were it not for De Vrij making several important blocks in the first half, Inter could have gone in four or five down at the interval.

Milan Skriniar 6

Not the finest game by the Slovakian, but like the rest of his teammates improved in the second half and calmly cleared danger when Milan looked like they were gathering a head of steam even after Inter had equalized.

Diego Godin 4

The veteran hard man had a torrid time in the first half, being dragged all over the place by the movement of Ante Rebic, Theo Hernandez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Hakan Calhanoglu. That the decisive phase of play in both Milan goals came on his side was no surprise. Back to the bench Godin goes for the big game against Lazio.

Antonio Candreva 6

Ran down blind alleys in the first half, but as one of the key exponents of Conte’s intensity-first approach, his desire and energy were crucial in Inter gaining momentum in the second 45.

Ashley Young 5

Completely out of his depth in the first half, but his experience came to the fore later on as he frustrated Milan’s attacks on the flanks with some dogged defending.

Marcelo Brozovic 8

Started the fightback out of nothing with a wonderfully controlled strike for Inter’s first goal. Pushed Inter forward from then on with his vertical passing and incessant drive. His efforts in the defensive third in the first half shouldn’t go unnoticed either, with one block in particular depriving Milan of a certain goal.

Nicolo Barella 5

We’ve come to expect better from the precocious young Italian. Barella seemed to have lost all sense of position when Milan were dominant, and was probably the only Inter player who didn’t noticeably improve in the second half, even running right into Donnaruma when he had a chance to seal the game.

Matias Vecino 7

The Uruguayan is one of those players you struggle to see making a discernible impact on the state of play. However, that belies how stealthily Vecino takes crucial positions in both boxes. Its no surprise that he had two blocked shots defensively, and two at the other end, including Inter’s equalizer. That’s Vecino for you.

Romelu Lukaku 9

Scoring Inter’s fourth goal was simply the cherry to top off a superb performance. Even as Inter were being completely outplayed, Lukaku did his best to drag the hosts forward, even managing to create a few chances to release the pressure. His quality outside the box continues to be underrated, despite almost always managing to beat his markers and linking well with other attackers. A display to further cement his place as a bonafide modern day Inter legend.

Alexis Sanchez 7

Tried his best in the first half despite Inter’s midfield doing nothing for him. Showed fantastic movement and guile in setting up Vecino’s equalizer and looked to be on the same wavelength as Lukaku when Inter pushed forward. A tad unfortunate to be substituted after Inter took the lead.

Substitutes

Christian Eriksen 7

Immediately made Inter calmer in possession, thus ensuring the Nerazzuri defended well with the ball. Almost scored a stunner that would have been the free kick of the season. Eriksen can certainly add another dimension to Inter’s play and it’s on Conte to be brave enough to act on the Dane’s skillset.

Victor Moses 6

Maybe Conte knew what he was doing with these ex Premier League signings after all. The Nigerian provided extra security to the defence when he came on and assisted Lukaku with a delightful cross that reminded one of Moses at his best under Conte in Chelsea’s 2017 title winning campaign.

Cristiano Birgahi N/A

Ate up the seconds at the end.

AC Milan

Gianluigi Donnarumma 5

It might come across as harsh considering Inter scored two beauties and one wonderfully crafted team move. But Donnarumma was dragged hopelessly out of position by Sanchez’s run for Inter’s equalizer. The goalkeeper of the Italian national team should never be out of the goal frame when his defenders are still in the box.

Andrea Conti 4

Maybe injuries have taken a big toll on Conti, but he isn’t the same flourishing right back that he was at Atalanta. Completely out of his depth in the second half, and didn’t contribute further up the pitch even when Milan were the dominant side in the first 45.

Simon Kjaer 4

Kjaer was signed in January to bring some leadership alongside Romagnoli, but like the rest of the side, fell to pieces in the second half.

Alessio Romagnoli 5

Made some crucial interceptions to try and stop the floodgates as Inter got a hold in the game, but couldn’t do much to stem the tide. A chastening experience for a player who has given his all for Milan in these tough years.

Theo Hernandez 6

Yes, the Frenchman leaves gaps at the back, but what he provides going forward offsets that. Milan’s highest scorer this season was at his bamboozling best in the first half, and even as the game slipped away he almost created an equalizer at the end when Ibra headed his cross against the post.

Samu Castillejo 6

The first half was the best I have seen the Spaniard perform in a Milan shirt. Had Ashley Young on a sixpence and linked beautifully with Calhanoglu to create overloads on the right flank. Rendered helpless in the second half.

Ismael Bennacer 7

Orchestrated play beautifully from a deep position at the base of midfield in the first half. Even at 2-2, the Algerian was the only Milan player who attempted to assert control and slow down the temp of the game, but his efforts were in vain.

Franck Kessie 6

The Ivorian made some excellent runs into dangerous spaces throughout the game. However, the final ball was always lacking and instead of taking up a deeper position as the game changed, Kessie tried too hard to push forward with ill-advised forays further up the pitch.

Hakan Calhanoglu 7

Simply brilliant in the first half. The freedom of a roving role suits Calhanoglu to the tee, and was desperately unfortunate not to score early in the game. Like the rest of his team, couldn’t extend his influence once Inter got back in the game.

Ante Rebic 6

From being on the verge of a January exit, the Croatian has finally developed an understanding with the rest of the Rossoneri forward line. Dovetailed well with Zlatan and Hakan, while his interplay with Hernandez on the left flank made Godin and Candreva helpless.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic 7

One of Milan’s favourite sons was certainly up for the occasion. Zlatan clearly wanted to make his mark on a big game and did so with a goal and an assist. His goal threat in the box remains undiminished, however there were a fair share of promising moves broken down when Ibra took deeper positions trying to link up play. Should Pioli have taken him off to try and change things?

Substitutes

Rafael Leao 5

Why was he not brought on earlier than the 79th minute? The Portuguese youngster’s ability to glide with the ball could have brought another dimension and much needed relief further up the pitch.

Lucas Paqueta 5

And again? Answers on a postcard please Mr. Pioli.

Giacomo Bonaventura 5

Guess what? Again! Why were these three substitutions made in the 79th, 80th, and 83rd minute? Between the three substitutes, they had one shot and two key passes in ten minutes. Enough said.

Bayern 0 Leipzig 0 Player Ratings

The Bundesliga’s top of the table clash lived up to the billing with a tense high quality affair. In recent seasons, Bayern have used their home games against the closest challengers to dish out a lesson, so it was nice to see Leipzig actually come with a plan to negate the champions and make this a contest. Here are my ratings for all the players involved.

Bayern Munich

Manuel Neuer 5

While he wasn’t called into action when it came to shot-stopping, he made a series of terrible decisions in the first ten minutes of the second half for which Bayern should have been punished but for Leipzig’s profligacy.

Benjamin Pavard 6

Delivered some dangerous balls when found on the overlap in the early stages of the game but struggled to get the better of Angelino as the game wore on.

David Alaba 8

An excellent display by the Austrian, confirming his status as one of the most tactically astute players in the modern game. Rarely troubled in one-on-one duels and comfortably cleared and intercepted balls when needed. Made the key block on Timo Werner after Neuer was ludicrously caught outside the box.

Jerome Boateng 6

Slowly but surely returning to the form that made him one of the best centre-backs in the world. Expertly cleared all of Leipzig’s crosses in the first half, but the pace of the game began to tell on him in the second half and was correctly substituted as Christopher Nkunku started to get the better of him.

Alphonso Davies 7

A phenomenal track back to steal the ball off Werner in an early counter set the tone for the Canadian’s game in which his pace caused the visitors all sorts of problems. Leipzig barely got any joy down Davies’ flank, and it was a bit of a mystery as to why Bayern didn’t try to find Davies on the overlap as much as Pavard.

Joshua Kimmich 6

Expected better from his set piece delivery when Bayern were all over Leipzig in the first half. Didn’t do much when in possession either, but redeemed his game with a brilliant header to deny the visitors in injury time.

Thiago 7

Synonym for metronome, the Spanish maestro looked like he would dictate the entire game with his pass-and-move rhythm. While his influence reduced as Leipzig got better, his passes remained the best outlet for Bayern to create chances in the second half.

Thomas Muller 6

As usual took up intelligent positions in the final third, but despite his best efforts it was a day when he wasn’t going to get any change from Leipzig’s three centre-backs.

Leon Goretzka 5

Like Muller, didn’t really perform to the standards he has set in the last month and was comfortably shackled. Could have scored the winner with ten minutes to go, but denied by excellent goalkeeping.

Serge Gnabry 4

A complete non-entity in this game, and while its only one game, for a match of this magnitude, Ivan Perisic was missed on Bayern’s left flank.

Robert Lewandowski 6

Starved of service and expertly marshalled by Messrs Upamecano, Halstenberg and Klostermann, Bayern’s stalwart still came closest to breaking the deadlock in the first half and then set up Goretzka’s big chance to seal the game with his imagination and vision.

Substitutes

Philippe Coutinho 5

Came on for the ineffective Gnabry, but wasn’t able to do much and failed to provide the expected x-factor to unlock an organized defence.

Lucas Hernandez 7

A significant return from injury for Bayern. The French World Cup winner came on for Boateng and he immediately nullified Nkunku’s threat with excellent positioning and game reading.

Kingsley Coman 6

Though only on for ten minutes, Coman created enough danger in a short space of time thanks to his natural dribbling and ability to stretch the game on the flanks. Another timely return from injury for Bayern.

RB Leipzig

Peter Gulacsi 8

A good save early in the game to stop a Thiago curler, but his outstanding save to deny Goretzka at the end gave Leipzig a point that yet may prove to be defining this season.

Dayot Upamecano 9

A towering performance from the 21-year old Frenchman whose aura continues to grow. The numbers tell part of the story. Two tackles, four interceptions, eight clearances and three blocked shots. But how do we quantify the composure, presence of mind and bravery? To top it all off, he brought the ball out of defence superbly and sprayed some raking balls to set up Leipzig’s counter attacks. A performance that elevates careers.

Marcel Halstenberg 8

Shifted to left-sided centre back from his usual position as left back, Halstenberg barely put a foot wrong and his discipline was crucial in the visitors executing Julian Nagelsmann’s altered tactical plan. Contributed with six clearances and six interceptions, most of them to withstand Bayern’s dominance in the first half.

Lukas Klostermann 8

Was afforded no protection against Davies’ surging runs on the left thanks to a static Tyler Adams, but to his credit dealt with the threat brilliantly, making seven tackles to negate Bayern’s threat on his flank.

Tyler Adams 5

Made to look like a passenger against Davies’ pace and trickery; Nagelsmann is unlikely to repeat the experiment of playing the American at wing back. Improved in the second half in more central positions.

Marcel Sabitzer 6

A disciplined defensive performance by the Austrian, which resulted in the curbing of his attacking instincts. The one time he made a run into the box, he shanked a sitter that would have given Leipzig the lead within a minute of the restart.

Konrad Laimer 8

Leipzig’s other Austrian midfielder put in one of his best performances of the season. It was the very definition of all action. Five tackles, three interceptions, some excellent diagonals to bypass Bayern’s midfield; all the while mixing calmness on the ball with the steely resolve of not letting anyone past him.

Angelino 7

League debuts don’t come much tougher than Bayern away, but after a very uncomfortable first thirty minutes, the former City man was rarely beaten, showing a resolute side to his game that we hadn’t seen before.

Dani Olmo 5

A first start away at Bayern where Nagelsmann prioritized defensive solidity for once, meant this wasn’t the kind of game where the Spanish creator could have much of an influence.

Christopher Nkunku 7

A handful for Bayern’s defence with his movement across the final third. The perfect outlet for Leipzig on the counter. Must still be wondering how his assist didn’t deliver the game winning goal for his side.

Timo Werner 4

For the third consecutive game, Werner’s frustration got the better of him. Not able to get any change from Alaba or Davies, Werner tried to interchange positions across the frontline without much success. Could have given Leipzig the lead after Neuer’s brain fade but was too rushed. Should definitely have given Leipzig the lead after Nkunku’s excellent square ball, but missed. Failed to make an impact on a big game again.

Substitutes

Patrick Schick 4

Came on for Olmo, but in 22 minutes all I can remember is one touch leading to a corner and not much else as Leipzig shut up shop.

Ademola Lookman 5

A rare outing for the Englishman. Actually found himself in good positions in the final third and could have made a decisive late contribution but for Kimmich expertly diverting his cross.

Yussuf Poulsen N/A

Came on to eat a few seconds right at the end.

Mourinho and Klopp meet along divergent paths

Was this really a Champions League final just seven months ago? In truth, it didn’t even feel like a replay of the final when the two sides met at Anfield at the end of October. More than anything else, it illustrated all was not well with Mauricio Pochettino, the dying embers of his reign characterized by tactical blunders not seen by the Argentinean in previous visits to Merseyside. And now another confused Spurs manager takes on Jurgen Klopp’s rampant Liverpool.

Mourinho vs Klopp was meant to be one of the apex managerial battles in England. Or at least that’s what everyone thought in the seminal summer of 2016 when Mourinho, Conte, Klopp and Guardiola joined Wenger and Pochettino to dine at the top table of managers in the Premier League. Three and a half seasons on from then, it is pertinent to ask — does Mourinho welcome Klopp as an equal?

Klopp’s irresistible inspirational qualities have only become stronger but he hasn’t rested on those laurels. There is a greater understanding of tactics augmented by an increasing variety to the way Liverpool play nowadays. Importantly, we see a transformation in Liverpool because Klopp knows how to connect with his players. The implementation of new ideas on the pitch have come about as a manifestation of excellent communication off it. Klopp continues to learn, looking for any and every marginal gain.

Exactly who is it that Mourinho now connects with? On taking the Spurs job, the famous anecdote about Mourinho was asking Dele Alli if it was in fact his brother who was putting on the Spurs shirt. Perhaps a case could be made for the Spurs dressing room to now ask their boss if there is an imposter managing them.

Mourinho’s greatest strength was his ability to organize a defence and make them watertight. We’ve seen none of that so far at Spurs. He loved working with experienced campaigners and reinvigorating them. Yes, Toby Alderweireld has finally signed a contract extension but has he shown anything under Mourinho to actually deserve it? Why has there been no upturn in the form of Jan Vertonghen or Eric Dier? For all intents and purposes, Christian Eriksen is not a Mourinho prototype. However, Jose used to rightfully delight in his ability to motivate playmakers and make them integral parts of his success. Think Mesut Ozil and Cesc Fabregas. Yet if anything, Eriksen seems even more distant from the cause than under Pochettino.

It also appears quite evident that Mourinho is trying his best to portray a new identity, both, on and off the pitch. Ostensibly playing with four attackers should result in a side that creates chances and thrills fans. However, his midfield two has been such a disaster, that the lack of fluency has completely nullified the threat of the quartet higher up the pitch. A Mourinho at his best would surely have reverted to a midfield three by now. Troubleshooting was his thing. To compound his woes, he has now lost both Harry Kane and Moussa Sissoko till April.

All this is not to say that Mourinho can’t throw a spanner in the works for Liverpool. Even when he was getting Manchester United to play uninspiring football, he somehow managed to rouse himself to his Machiavellian best to frustrate Klopp. (For what it’s worth, Klopp himself hasn’t got rid of the knack of overthinking such games, almost like teams without an identity confuse his teams into playing their worst football.) Coincidentally, Mourinho’s only defeat to Klopp was  his last game in charge of the Red Devils. There is also something about Liverpool that stirs the passion in Mourinho — a sort of acceptance that for all the nouveau riche, the Reds still have an aura about them that transcends, a sense of glory that the Portuguese probably admires and envies in equal measure. One need only go back to that fateful day in 2014, when his injury ravaged Chelsea side featuring Tomas Kalas at centre-back and Demba Ba upfront, stopped Liverpool from winning their first ever Premier League title, extending their wait that goes on till this day.

In truth, there’s a diminished sense of importance to this game. Yes, Spurs are still in the hunt for fourth. But Tottenham look the farthest thing away from a Champions League side right now. Mourinho has nothing to lose. If Spurs suffer a defeat, he can point to the injuries and say he lost to the best side in the land. If Spurs win, it won’t really affect Klopp or Liverpool’s seemingly inevitable march to the title. This is in a way, a credit to Liverpool and their excellent first half, but in another, a sad picture of how one of the league’s most exciting sides in recent times has hit a wall so quickly. That being said, the curious mind (and the media, lest we forget) can’t help but wonder if Mourinho and Klopp can after all, bring something to make this a memorable occasion.

The Villa Grealish Dichotomy

Considering they have just put in their best performance in a big game, it may not be the most opportune time to say this. I have not been impressed by Aston Villa this season. Many observers will disagree. The overriding narrative of their season has been one of playing good football without getting just rewards. Now, I can’t speak for others, but just because a team plays vertically doesn’t necessarily mean they are playing well. Some examples to illustrate my point further.

Earlier in the season Villa were 2-1 up against ten men at the Emirates. Remember, this was Unai Emery’s Arsenal. The Villains still ended up losing 3-2. It wasn’t a hard luck story. Arsenal actually dominated despite their numerical disadvantage and deserved the comeback win. A few rounds later, Dean Smith’s men were 1-0 up against Liverpool at Villa Park. Despite having the lead, it was alarming how many counterattacking moves the Reds were able to orchestrate, and while it is easy to say with hindsight, it really wasn’t a surprise that the table-toppers left with a late win.

Both cases were presented as heartbreak, but to my eyes both results were just and reflect a season-long pattern of Villa not really understanding the flow of the game. They have been tactically poor, not really understanding how to protect leads while also appearing a tad clueless when chasing games. Their attack hasn’t been good enough and their defence has shown varying levels of naïveté.

It is in attacking midfield that they have shone brightest and it is here that I bring in the nuance. Yes, I am not impressed with Villa, but I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Jack Grealish. To my mind, he has been one of the best midfielders to watch in England this season. I now get why Spurs were so interested in signing him during the summer they signed nobody. I now get why there was so much hype about this player and I can totally see what pundits were saying about him being the best player in the Championship, without having watched a lot of that division myself.

It’s no surprise that he is the Villains leading goal scorer, assister and passer this season. Grealish is a technical footballer’s dream. He has a varied passing range allied with easy dribbling and an excellent shot. He sees passes that nobody sees and is always an option for his teammates because he can be found in good positions, perennially drifting into open spaces. On a recent episode of the Totally Football Show, Michael Cox said he is an old-school midfielder who just knows how to run things. It is probably the reason that makes him such a joy to watch. Pass, move, pass, create, pass, shoot. All the while looking elegant and classy on the ball.

Then there’s the leadership. He is a boyhood Aston Villa fan. His passion for his team clearly shows in his game. His inspirational qualities are easy to see, without being an overtly chest-thumping heart-on-sleeve captain in the classic British sense. To Grealish, leading the team means being accountable. Need a moment of magic, Grealish is your man. Under pressure, give the ball to Grealish. He could have left when they were relegated from the Premier League. Yet he stayed and led them back to the top division. The actions speak louder than the words and that’s refreshing.

Make no mistake, Aston Villa are mired in an increasingly complex relegation battle. Arguably, a team — maybe even two — could be relegated this season without necessarily deserving it. As of one the big historical clubs in England, the pressure is even greater on Villa to survive. There is no question about who is the most integral protagonist at Villa Park. In truth, when people say Aston Villa have been good to watch, what they are really seeing, is that Jack Grealish has made them look good. Villa’s fate is inextricably linked with that of their captain’s.

The VAR “crisis”

Adam Crafton writing about VAR on the Athletic makes a lot of valid points about the prism through which we saw referee’s mistakes before VAR:

It suited players because it deflected from their own shortcomings and mistakes. It suited managers because it gave them somebody else to blame. It suited supporters because it gave them somebody else to shout at. It suited live television broadcasters, because it provided material to fill the post-match hour with their handsomely-remunerated pundits in the studio.  It suited highlight shows because these were isolated incidents easy to identify and scrutinise in a short, time-confined period. It suited newspapers, particularly for late games, as it was quick, easy copy for journalists filing on late deadlines.

It is important to remember this context when dealing with the maelstrom around VAR. Those who are shouting loudest against VAR are the same people who were shouting loudest against the competence of referees. I think if football media and perhaps more importantly football fans were just a bit philosophical, they would see that a referee’s mistake would very rarely be the underlying factor in a result.

Mark Ogden also wrote a strong piece on ESPNFC about VAR:

“Some people are saying it gets the right decision, but we’re the players on the pitch and it doesn’t feel right to me,” Wolves defender Conor Coady said after his team had lost 1-0 at Liverpool on Sunday following two key VAR decisions. The first, when referee Anthony Taylor’s decision to disallow Sadio Mane’s goal for Liverpool following a handball call against Adam Lallana was overturned, and the second, when VAR ruled out Pedro Neto’s goal after Jonny had strayed marginally offside in the build-up. Both decisions were correct, so what does Coady want? Decisions that keep everybody happy even if they are wrong?

I think Ogden hits the crux of the issue with his question. Whether supporters admit it or not, a vast majority of them can only see things through a tribal lens. It’s not surprising to me in the least, that footballers are now echoing the fans and playing to the gallery with such nonsensical and irrelevant quotes.

We can have a legitimate debate about how the Premier League has implemented VAR and why they have introduced barriers and elements that no other leagues and competitions use. We may even come across some good solutions as a result of said debate. In an ideal world, the football ecosystem would be a mature one and we wouldn’t need VAR. But unfortunately for inexplicable reasons tribalism and petulance is rampant. That’s why we have VAR now. The least we can do is accept it for what it is, celebrate the correct decisions and just be patient as VAR evolves.