“We already have too many injuries and we must change something. It’s not good because this is the time of the campaign when we all have to be on the field giving our contribution,” lamented Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Milan Channel on Saturday evening.
The tone and choice of his words disguise the fact that, hours before, his double-strike at San Siro had put Roma to the sword and temporarily extended Milan’s lead at the top of the table to seven points, before Juventus played the next day.
Despite yet again proving the difference for his team and netting his 21st and 22nd goals of the season from just his 23rd appearance, Ibra’s focus was on the loss of Thiago Silva to a thigh injury. Indeed, for taking questions on how the Rossoneri turned around Pablo Daniel Osvaldo’s opening strike just before half-time to finish the game against a traditional bogey side with all three points, Coach Massimiliano Allegri also fielded as many on the Brazilian’s condition.
Primarily, it is because Silva’s misfortune – a thigh strain suffered in the pre-game warm-up that forced him off after just 10 minutes of the Saturday evening match and rules him out for the next month – is bad timing twice over. Not only does it rule the team’s most consistent and fittest defender of the past few seasons out of probably the next seven games – including both legs of the Champions League quarter-final with Barcelona – but it accentuates the recent debate surrounding the club’s injury troubles.
Allegri went into Week 29 without nine first team players through injury and with doubts on a further two – Kevin Prince Boateng and Alessandro Nesta – on the bench. The week before had seen a season high of 13 unavailable players – 42 per cent of the first-team squad – and not once through the season has Allegri had a fully fit squad to pick from. The past week began with the news of Alexandre Pato’s journey out to America to try to get a hold on recurring problems that have seen him suffer 10 muscle injuries in the past 27 months, and ended with reports of President Silvio Berlusconi scepticism of Allegri’s training methods.
Comparisons have been drawn between the workouts the Milan squad are put through under Allegri and those that they were put through during Carlo Ancelotti’s era, with the general consensus being that the current Coach is working the players too hard in sessions. Allegri has defended his work, first in suggesting that most of the injuries sustained this year are impact rather than muscular-based and second in suggesting that a major contributing factor could be psychology.
“When a player is under stress they are more likely to suffer injuries and this applies not only to Pato,” mused Allegri on Friday. “When there are so many injuries, errors may be behind it, but there is no scientific data to support the human psyche and that counts a lot.”
Silva’s injury, however, will only bring the issue back to how Allegri and in particular his fitness team are handling the players. It is under scrutiny because, as Ibrahimovic puts it, this is the time of the season when a majority of the players should be fit, not on the injury table. Silva’s injury was a misjudgement by management, more than anything else, only adding to the sense of frustration by the likes of Ibra. The MilanLab that was heralded not so long ago for prolonging the careers of Billy Costacurta and Paolo Maldini through ground-breaking fitness-management, is now drawing the ire of its biggest stars.
Even so, where Milan go into midweek without their best defender and with only two fit strikers to play, as they showed against Roma in a relatively-comfortable game against the Giallorossi, whoever figures for the Rossoneri on the pitch is still producing the goods.
Juventus kept pace with a hard-fought 2-0 win over Inter in the Derby d’Italia, though it wasn’t without calling upon Gianluigi Buffon heroics at the other end of the pitch too. The 34-year-old’s saves mainly came before Martin Caceres’ opening goal at the other end, which as Claudio Ranieri described, ‘ended Inter’s game’.
Elsewhere, Napoli-Catania and Genoa-Fiorentina provided entertaining 2-2 draws, although the first also carried a couple of strong penalty shouts that would have been in the Elefanti’s favour. Manolo Gabbiadini produced the type of performance and goal that Atalanta needed to wipe away fears that the team would miss top-scorer German Denis, with the Bergamo outfit not only inflicting just Bologna’s second League defeat of the calendar year, but moving into the top half of the table for the first time in 2012.