How bizarre a feeling prior to the whistle was blown and first flurry of passes connected! Somehow unable to shake that ludicrous notion that the complete absence of any managerial experience could well lead to the players running around like headless chickens…a catastrophe. No chance, though I suppose it is prudent to at least harbour some doubts when diving close to fully and deeply into the unknown. And yes this unknown, which so many pundits have spoken and written of, is more a concept, than a logical appraisal.
All of the players in the squad know how to play football. They have long been trained by various managers, in various systems and all understand the flow and tactics of the game. None of them need to be filled with precision instructions on the eve of each game, to ensure they know where to run and what to do when they reach the point of contact with the action. This would only matter IF Pirlo had the ill sense to expect them to learn afresh a complicated system which had never been applied anywhere but the manager’s head. No, he is far from brainless enough to make unreasonable demands. And instead – in the short time he has been with and had the squad together – he has effected some small but significant adjustments to a basic 3-5-2, pretty much kept the players in the positions where they are most comfortable and mainly focused upon building the enthusiasm and belief, the revival of hope and hunger, which came about merely from the departure of Sarri and arrival of Pirlo.
Perhaps that is a little too simplified, as we do have some new players in the squad, and yet largely this was the same group of players as Sarri was given to work with last campaign (12 of the 15 used). Which is not meant to reduce the praise and value of the new recruits, more making a case for the the position that our issues last term – which I covered in depth and with steady despondency – were not solely or even mainly rooted in a lack of quality…
Tek: Hardly more than a spectator for the first half but was very much called into action late on in the second, making a series of decent saves, one of which was incredible, when a deflection of Bonucci was pawed off the goal line. His ability as a shot stopper from close range has never been in question. Would like to see him get more command of his box and regain that unerring concentration of the 18/19 season.
Gianluca Frabotta: A surprise starter with many including myself pleading for Pellegrini who seems set for Genoa and assuming that our old friend Mr De Sciglio would be found on the team-sheet…but no, Pirlo pulled a surprise in selecting the 21 year old left-back who had made twenty appearances for the U23s in their league campaign and six in the march to coppa italia victory.
He began not gingerly but carefully, a little stiff perhaps to the occasion, as to be expected when making his full bow in such an important game. And yet as the game wore on he grew in confidence, began to get forward with more determination, put in a few decent crosses, even tested the keeper one on one. A superb and unexpected performance 7/10
Leonardo Bonucci: I have long been a detractor of using Leo in a back four, adamant that his fines form has always shown in a back three. And whilst it would be wrong to suggest he was instantly back to his very best, this was a strong and positive step into the new system. The goal he scored helped his cause and balanced out a fluffed clearance when he bizarrely aimed his head at a ball he could have chested and of course the unfortunate deflection which almost resulted in an own goal…other than which he was comfortable throughout, looked a considerably better fit with two other defenders in the rearguard when stepping forward and I swear I saw him get up the field and stay up the field as our highest player briefly! I up his rating from a 6.5 to a 7, not so much for the goal, but for a flick over a players head then lay-off which brought a smile to my haggard countenance! 7/10
Giorgio Chiellini- It’s superb to simply see him back and physically able to perform. I will retain my expectations of his body proving unwilling to perform week in, week out and be happy whenever we see him involved and in fine form 7.0/10
Danilo: The Brazilian receives far too much criticism from people when he rarely does much wrong. Operating as a hybrid CBR he was solid, even threatened on goal and did not leave us short on any forage of the opponent into our read third. 7.0/10
Juan Cuadrado: Preferable to see him higher up the field where he can be more comfortable and dangerous, Juan fared well enough. Nothing special and I remain hopeful that we can upgrade that position as he is our best there and his best is often well below what any elite side seeks to find on the flank. 6.5/10
Weston McKennie: As Pirlo mentioned in his press conference, ‘the american’ misplaced a few passes early doors, but regardless, put himself about brilliantly, tried to support and worked damn hard to defend the centre. Was also a menace in aerial combat, made a few lovely tackles and for a debut, this was very promising indeed. 7/10
Adrien Rabiot: Happy to find the Frenchman picking up where he left of last season. Bossed the midfield along with Mckennie, the double pivot working well, made a few stray passes but seems to have such momentum, if a pass goes to an opponent, he is soon upon them to win it back. As good as we have seen him, clearly like every other player, enjoying the early reign of our new mister 7.0/10
Aaron Ramsey: The best player on the field from start to finish. Unbelievable transformation from lacklustre, unfit, lost soul of last season to a world class attacking midfielder who was ubiquitous, absolutely outstanding in every area of his game. Combative, creative, dynamic with as much flair as grit…Even when clearly losing his legs after 60-70 minutes, he still managed to put on the assist for Ronaldo. It is a huge IF…but IF…we can keep him fit, it adds world class talent and technique and experience to our ability to create from deep, connect midfield with attack. 8.5/10
Cristiano Ronaldo: Worked hard as always and was perhaps a little surprised to have so much of a supporting cast in the final third and whilst taking his goal very smartly indeed, as was the case often last year, he missed a fair few chances. The argument of course is how many of those chances does he make himself? Still, hardly a stellar outing yet far from poor. 7/10
Dejan Kulusevski : I have been lauding this kid for months now, even going do far as to suggest he might prove as potent a signing as Zidane…not to suggest he has the same talent, but similar in terms of for many a relative unknown, no fanfare accompanied his signing. And yet…clearly from last season and his form before at various youth levels, Dejan is a special talent. Operating as a CF with licence to roam, he opened the scoring with a well placed pass of a shot into the box, then carried on creating openings, charging deep to make tackles, retrieve and move the side up the field intelligently and swiftly. This was a splendid debut for the kid who is likely to improve and can play across the front line and in midfield. Great head on his shoulders and wonderful technique in those big feet 7.5/10
Mattia De Sciglio: Hard to judge but did manage to test the keeper and avoided any glaring errors – usual story with Mattia 6.5/10
Rodrigo Bentancur: N/A
Douglas Costa: Quick mention on Little Doug, who I saw lose the ball in out half, and just walk off in the opposite direction to the ball without any care of what developed behind him, as his team mates then picked up the chase to retrieve the ball. I hope Pirlo noted this as it was on stark contrast to every other player who was involved and indicative to me of Costa’s attitude since joining the club.I felt it was insulting to the fans, to the club, to the new boss and to the rest of the squad
Merih Demiral: N/A
Overall I was very happy with the opening game against a tricky opponent. Far more reasons to be cheerful and to remain excited than to worry.
The new lads all showed definite promise. We still have Sandro, Dybala, Demiral, Arthur, Bentancur and now Morata to include in the mix so will likely only get stronger as a unit.
It is important however to note that without some smart defending and top notch saves we could have drawn this 2-2. For Samp had their chances in the second period, they had their pressure and forced us back and what I saw resurface was just a hint of calamity a step away in defence when hit with speed on the counter.
This is to be expected. We have not become a completely different team just by changing coach and with a week or two of training together. A period of adjustment is to be expected and there will be disappointing results. This is as important for the team and Pirlo to learn and build as the victories and strong performances.
What I feel strongly confident of suggesting however is that the change in coach has made a major difference already. In the energy, enthusiasm, confidence and freedom of the side. And this cannot be down to Pirlo proving already a tactical genius.
Yes, we must take into account the new players involved – Kulu and Mckennie gave much to gain this result – but 12 of the 15 had played under Sarri last season.
The importance of a positive human connection on emotional and mental levels is rarely given enough value in discussion. Many of these players love Pirlo, most seemed to despise or in the least dislike Sarri…Character is essential to lead. This difference has already helped us become a better team.
Briefly on Morata…
I was not particularly excited to learn of our interest in Suarez. Concluded Dzeko would be fine if a stop-gap measure when my focus is more inclined towards building a new side and identity. And so I was very happy indeed to learn of Morata’s return.
The move has many detractors which I can understand, to some degree though do question what player these lacking happiness for the move expected us to bring in. There is no guarantee of a starting place (but surely the likelihood of considerable playing time) in a side which has a coach with no experience and was very much in a shambles late last season. Also, there is Dybala to consider alongside the heavy preference Ronaldo demands in regards to his playing time and role.
With all these considerations, to bring back Alvaro, still at a great age, for a 10m loan fee and reasonable wages seems a great piece of business to me. I remember feeling saddened by his departure as he always gave his all, scored some important goals and ever proved a man who works for the team brilliantly.
His form for the clubs he has featured for since – Real, Chelsea, Atletico and of course Spain – is high level. He is nowhere near the failure some are making him out to be. Add to this his emotional and sporting bond with the club and I remain very pleased with the move.
Still feel we have need for a stronger RWB than Juan and the hapless (of the last TWO seasons) Freddy Bernardeschi, yet this may well be addressed. There is also the lingering rumours of Auoar amid further departures. The mercato is perhaps not yet finalised.
Essentially, we have made some very positive acquisitions, began to move on the dead wood and have plenty of talent to come into the reckoning as fitness and sharpness is gained.
Our new adventure under Pirlo has begun strongly. Leaving me still bubbling with more youthful excitement than I can remember at this stage in the season for many moons.
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