Maybe it was the presence of Marco Van Basten in the stands to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his four-goal haul against Gothenburg. Perhaps it was the pre-match visit to the dressing room by Silvio Berlusconi. Whatever the secret ingredient, it was just enough to give Milan their most significant League win of the season when Juventus came to town.
It was the second Rossonero miracle in a matter of days. Having qualified for the knock-out stages of the Champions League midweek, they followed it up by beating the top team in Serie A. Not bad for a side dubbed by many as the worst Milan in living memory and a manager more under fire than an MP quitting the constituency for a spell in the celebrity jungle.
The first half of the key encounter in the San Siro produced, depending on your viewpoint, one of the best Milanese displays of the season or one of Juve’s worst. It was capped by a contentious penalty and endless replays struggled to establish whether the ball had brushed Mauricio Isla’s arm. Robinho duly converted and while the spot-kick could be debated, Milan’s lead was entirely deserved.
“From the bench it seemed like a penalty but, seeing the replays, it doesn’t look like one,” admitted Max Allegri after the match. “The team worked well together and we did not concede much to Juve. We have lost games this season giving the opposition just one chance on goal. We are getting better match by match.”
Juve responded well enough to what was presumably Angelo Alessio channeling his inner Antonio Conte-style rage at half-time and did their best to fight back. However, they looked the more jaded side after their Herculean midweek European efforts. You wait 49 games to see them suffer a League defeat and then two come along in the space of a month.
“When we don’t play as a team, we can lose a game like we did tonight,” said the stand-in Bianconero boss. “Sometimes decisions go in your favour and other times they go against you. I can imagine what might have happened if we had got a decision like that.”
There seemed to be a dash less bitterness in the post-match comments than on previous occasions, perhaps because of the large gap between the sides. Gigi Buffon hit the nail on the head when he said that it was important to get the message across to fans from time to time that their team had not played well and might have deserved to lose – regardless of individual refereeing decisions. As he rightly pointed out, Juve had about an hour to get back into the game but could not carve out many clear chances to turn the game around.
The result left the door open to other challengers to close the gap at the top of the table with Fiorentina doing half the job earlier in the day. The Viola suffered a serious test of their resilience as, without Stevan Jovetic (injured) and David Pizarro (suspended), they twice came from behind to get a point away to Torino. With Luca Toni and Alberto Aquilani also having to leave the pitch with knocks during the match, it was a gutsy display. Almost inevitably, their controversial old boy Alessio Cerci was among the Granata scorers in a gripping 2-2 draw.
“It was a good game between two teams who wanted to win and might have deserved to do so,” said Fiorentina Coach Vincenzo Montella. “We showed maturity, quality and personality. But to keep ourselves in third place will be difficult.”
Elsewhere, Roma continued their rise with a win over Pescara and another clean sheet. There were also morale-boosting victories for Genoa, Sampdoria and Palermo. They allowed their followers to breath a little more easily than they have been doing of late.
But with Napoli, Lazio and Inter still to play, there are plenty of question marks over how the week will play out. The Nerazzurri could close the gap at the top of the table to a single point. A victory could catapult the Partenopei into serious Scudetto contention. Or the Biancocelesti might get themselves back into the hunt for a top three slot.
One of the only things certain was that there were big smiles around the San Siro on Sunday night. Adriano Galliani was full of jokes, Allegri looked a little more relaxed and the fans hoped they might have reached La Svolta – the turning point – in their season. Only time will tell if that is actually the case but, in the meantime, the Rossoneri can at least savour their best week of the campaign by quite some distance.