Mario Balotelli converted a late penalty to give Clarence Seedorf a winning debut, beating Verona 1-0 at San Siro.
Seedorf was still a player at Botafogo until Tuesday, when he terminated his contract to begin this new career as a Coach. Massimiliano Allegri was sacked after a 4-3 defeat to Sassuolo left the Rossoneri in 11th place at the halfway stage of the season. Seedorf was without Stephan El Shaarawy, Giampaolo Pazzini, Ignazio Abate, Kevin Constant, Marco Amelia, Riccardo Saponara and the suspended Sulley Muntari, but he introduced a new all-attack 4-2-3-1 system. Verona sold Jorginho to Napoli yesterday and missed centre-forward Luca Toni due to flu symptoms, so Daniele Cacia and Ezequiel Cirigliano stepped in.
Verona beat Milan 2-1 in the opening weekend with a Toni brace. The Rossoneri dominated possession early on and Kaka’s glancing header was off target, while Mario Balotelli drilled wide from Ricky’s assist.
Keisuke Honda’s first touch let him down in front of Rafael and Balotelli curled over the bar. Verona slowly came out of their shell and Juan Manuel Iturbe fired his free kick over Christian Abbiati’s goal.
Honda and Mattia De Sciglio combined in the box, but the final pass was intercepted. Abbiati had to pluck an Emil Hallfredsson snapshot out of the air and Riccardo Montolivo’s effort was deflected out for a corner.
The first real shot on target was after 38 minutes, Balotelli cutting in from the left to unleash a powerful angled drive that Rafael got down well to beat away.
Moments later Balotelli’s free kick dipped over the wall and bounced off Rafael’s chest, as Domenico Maietta was on hand to clear the loose ball. The last kick of the first half saw Riccardo Montolivo’s screamer flash just past the near top corner.
There was an early scare after the restart, as Iturbe robbed Montolivo in midfield and Romulo fired off target. Iturbe sparked another dangerous counter, but Daniele Cacia was marginally offside for the finish, then Cristian Zapata intercepted Romulo’s pass for Cacia after Honda had been left standing.
Honda blasted wide from distance, but Martinho went close when he stung Abbiati’s palms at the base of the near post with his cross-shot.
Robinho had their best chance of the game so far on 68 minutes, as his strike from 20 metres took a huge deflection off Maietta and smacked against the upright with Rafael stranded.
Balotelli spun round between defenders only to fire low straight at the goalkeeper, as did Robinho, but Abbiati had to beat away a powerful long-range Iturbe effort was fortunate nobody could get on the rebound.
Kaka pounced on a defensive error to surge into the box, but again Maietta was decisive to charge him down. Romulo fired over from an improbable angle, but there was a turning point in the final minutes.
Alejandro Gonzalez came sliding in for an entirely unnecessary tackle on Kaka, who was running the ball out of play, so the referee awarded a penalty. Balotelli had seen two penalties parried this season, but kept his cool to send Rafael the wrong way and convert the first goal of Milan’s Seedorf era.
Verona would not give in and Abbiati flew to punch a cross away from Martinho and Balotelli was back in defence to charge down a Juanito Gomez Taleb effort.
Zapata needed a well-timed sliding challenge as Martinho burst into the area in stoppages, while Iturbe's long-range strike almost turned into an assist for Martinho, but he just failed to get a toe to it.