It was a game that Milan would have been expected to win quite comfortably. Instead, they frittered away a chance at three valuable points by playing a sloppy game. In reality, the Rossoneriwere lucky to come away with a point against the minnows.
Mattia Destro returned to the side after missing the Juve game due to yellow card accumulation, and with him came a change of form. As inDestro‘s first game with the team, Inzaghi deployed a 4-2-3-1, with Nigel de Jong and Andrea Poli holding, Giacomo Bonaventura andKeisuke Honda on the wing and Jeremy Menez in the hole behind the new striker.
It was Empoli, however, that came out brighter. In the first five minutes long, high through balls put Manuel Pucciarelli behind theRossoneri defense. The first time he fired into the side netting, prompting a stink from strike partner Massimo Maccarone. Two minutes later, Pucciarelli tried to square it to his partner, butMaccarone overran the play and the ball passed harmlessly behind him.
The defense looked unsettled as the Azzurri darted around the attacking third, and things were further destabilized when Alex took an inadvertent shin to the head, leading to his departure from the field after only seven minutes, replaced by SalvatoreBocchetti.
Less than two minutes later, Milan nearly conceded an embarrassing opener. Defender Marco Ruispotted Diego Lopez far off his line and lofted a ball from the center line. Only Rui‘s imprecision spared the Spanish ‘keeper’s blushes—the ball floated a ball’s width wide of the post.
Balls over the top continued to trouble the Rossoneri as the first half progressed.
Milan, meanwhile, couldn’t get anything going in attack. When they weren’t penned in by Empoli‘s surprisingly brisk attack, they were wasting possession with wayward passes and shots from great distance that weren’t coming anywhere close to Luigi Sepe’s goal. Any momentum they did begin to generate was immediately scuppered by simple mistakes. Passes were wayward or the ball wasn’t controlled. In the 21st minute, Menez simply dribbled the ball over the end line while in possession on the wing under minimal pressure.
Empoli was playing a high line, and Milan’s wingers took advantage of that a few times by slipping through, but none of the final product looked like it would threaten the goal. Just short of the half-hour mark it was again Menez who disappointed, getting caught flat-footed when a wayward clearance came his way and missing the chance to take the lead.
Throughout the first half, Destro became increasingly isolated up front. No one was able to break Empoli‘s pressure well enough to give him any good service, and he was reduced to going after aerial balls and trying to make something out of nothing with the scraps of service and loose balls.
Thirty-eight minutes in it was again the through ball that nearly saw Milan go behind. On the ground this time, Pucciarelli was again put clean through, but instead of taking the shot himself tried to square it to Maccarone, killing the momentum and allowing Milan to recover and clear.
Two minutes and a snap of the fingers later, it looked as though theRossoneri might have something to smile about after all.
Menez, after disappointing all game, was the spark. He powered down the left channel of the penalty area and slipped the ball ahead toBonaventura, who was arriving on the wing completely unmarked. The summer signing snapped off a low cross into the center, and Destroeasily tapped the ball home to open his account for his new club.
The goal lit a fire under Destro, who powered through two defenders to advance the ball into the attacking third shortly after play resumed. But even after picking up the goal, the home side still looked sloppy, missing passes and allowing Empoli a few side-eyed glances at a quick equalizer.
Milan looked stronger when the second half kicked off than they did at the beginning of the game. They still, however, lacked the quality and incisiveness to consistently threaten for a second goal. Instead, things started getting chippy. Adil Rami, playing out of position as a right back, was booked three minutes after the restart, and a few more hard fouls made it look like Milan were content to beat their opponents up and hold rather than seal the deal with a second strike.
By the hour mark, that was looking like a more and more dangerous tactic. Elseid Hysaj was able to loop a cross to Daniele Croce on the back post, but the midfielder only managed to scuff the ball into the hands of Diego Lopez. The ease with which that cross managed to get to its target was a harbinger of things to come.
Empoli had grown into the second half, but the 64th-minute introduction of Francesco Tavano into Empoli‘s attack breathed life into the Azzurri. His first touch was a shot on goal from a through ball, but there was no sting in the ball and Lopez was able to gather easily.
Tavano weaved his way through the attacking third, pulling theRossoneri defenders out of position and creating attacks that were looking more and more dangerous.
By the 68th minute, the inevitable came. Hysaj fired in a cross, and Gabriel Paletta—one of the major pieces brought in by Adriano Gallianito reinforce the defense—completely lost Maccarone. It gave the veteran a free header, which he cooly dispatched past a flailing Lopez.
The equalizer visibly sucked the confidence from the Milan players. While Maccarone, Tavano and Milan loanee Simone Verdi strung together passes and looked to slip through Inzaghi‘s defense, theRossoneri were reduced to hoofing the ball forward. No one seemed able to create in the attacking third.
With 11 minutes left a sliver of hope came. The buildup was almost identical to the team’s goal. This time Bonaventura put the ball high toward the far post, but when Destro rose he could only push it well wide of the post.
Alessio Cerci arrived on the scene moments later, taking the place of the ineffectual Honda. Before the former Torino man could work any magic, however, a foolish mistake killed their hopes for a winner.
It started again with Tavano. After intercepting a clearance and bursting through the defense, the veteran was one-on-one with Diego Lopez. The ‘keeper came out to meet him and Tavano fired high and wide when it looked easier to score.
At first glance it looked like a horrible miss. Closer inspection, however, revealed that Lopez had made a fingertip save—and that he was outside of his penalty area when he did so.
Referee Paolo Valeri deserves credit for spotting the infraction and doing his job, sending the Spaniard for an early shower. Inzaghi was forced to use his final substitution to sacrifice Destro for ChristianAbbiati rather than use it to look for a winner. The only consolation was that Verdi put the ensuing free kick into row Z rather than test the cold goalkeeper.
Things went from bad to worse with two minutes left in regular time when Paletta pulled up with a hamstring injury. Playing with nine men, any chances Milan had for a winner were fully scuppered. They keptEmpoli from creating any serious chances, but at that point that was all they could have hoped for.
It was another sloppy and uninspired performance from Milan, and at the worst possible time. The beginning of a four-game stretch against relatively weak opposition, Inzaghi‘s men again proved incapable of beating smaller sides. Hopes for Europe are practically gone. After a game in which Milan was responsible for its own failure, the questions about Pippo Inzaghi‘s job will be as loud as ever.