Saturday, July 25, 2009
Ancelotti all smiles as Chelsea tops Milan
Ives Galarcep, Special to ESPN Soccernet
Carlo Ancelotti rarely smiles, but he had reason to crack a smile as he surveyed his new team and his old team on the same field together on Friday night. The Chelsea manager had cause for changing his usually expressionless face as he watched a sharp Chelsea club outplay an undermanned AC Milan team. Ancelotti couldn't be blamed for feeling some sense of relief over having left an AC Milan club, which for a club with such a loaded roster still has many question marks.
AC Milan showed flashes of its former greatness, but the glaring absence of the brilliance of Kaka was evident in an attack that struggled to generate chances. Even with the creative skills of Ronaldinho and Andrea Pirlo, Milan looked old and predictable far more often than it looked dangerous and effective.
Chelsea, on the other hand, played its direct brand of soccer to good effect, with Didier Drogba drawing first blood with a stunning long-range blast in the first half. New signing Yuri Zhirkov rewarded his new employers with a game-winning goal late in the second half to help the Blues remain undefeated in the World Football Challenge.
Both clubs played most of their first-team starters, with this matchup drawing much more significance than the previous friendlies on the American tour. Despite that, the game wound up lacking much in the free-flowing soccer department. Ronaldinho did his best to entertain the sellout crowd of 71,203 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, and succeeded at times with his trademark ball tricks, but he committed as many turnovers as he converted passes.
Milan found a moment of magic late in the first half when Ronaldinho laid off a pass to Clarence Seedorf at the top of the arc for him to turn into an equalizer, but that was one of few moments for the Rossoneri. Ronaldinho nearly scored a goal of his own in the 58th minute, when he powered a long free kick off the crossbar.
U.S. national team defender Oguchi Onyewu enjoyed a homecoming of sorts, having grown up just minutes from the stadium. His second match for AC Milan wasn't as eventful as his debut (against Club America on Wednesday), but still had its moments. He came on in the 67th minute and just two minutes went by before Zhirkov blasted a score for the Blues.
Onyewu even had the chance to play hero late in the match, but saw his free header from close range go wide of the net. Despite the miss, Onyewu was solid for Milan, making some good tackles and passing the ball well. His early appearances for AC Milan have shown a confidence on the ball and crisp passing, but Friday's match also showed that Onyewu is going to have to battle for minutes. Young Brazilian central defender Thiago Silva got the start alongside veteran Alessandro Nesta and impressed.
Onyewu will have one more chance to start for Milan before the club returns to Italy, with a World Football Challenge match versus Inter Milan looming on Sunday. That match will also provide one last chance for Milan's attack to show some goal-producing ability. As it stands, Milan has looked largely toothless during its American tour, making the need to sign a striker like Brazilian Luis Fabiano that much greater. Alexandre Pato is a dangerous striker, but hasn't proven an ability to carry an attack, while Marco Borriello has done very little to justify his switch to Kaka's old number, 22.
Chelsea's American tour has been much more successful. Wins against former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and Inter, as well as Friday's victory, have shown a confident club that should benefit from having a second full season together as a group. It also looks as though the transition from Guus Hiddink to Ancelotti has been a smooth one, which bodes well for the upcoming EPL season. The season begins in earnest on Aug. 9 versus Manchester United in the Community Shield.
In fact, aside from the potential sale of John Terry (to Manchester City), which appears increasingly unlikely, Chelsea is looking like a team ready to challenge Manchester United for the EPL title, and challenge Ancelotti to break out a few more smiles.
AC Milan vs. Inter
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
5 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN360.com
Chelsea vs. Club America
Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN360.com
Ives Galarcep covers the U.S. national team and MLS for ESPN Soccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.