STADIO ENZO RICCI (Sassuolo) – If you had tuned in to watch Sassuolo take on AC Milan in Serie A Femminile on Saturday afternoon a little late, you could be forgiven for not having noticed that one of the two sides was playing with a numerical advantage for the best part of 80 minutes.
It mightn’t have seemed like it, but Milan were doing just that after Benedetta Orsi’s 14th-minute dismissal for a foul on Lindsey Thomas that was deemed to have denied the Rossonere forward a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Despite that, though, Maurizio Ganz’s side had just slightly more of the ball – 53.6 percent to Sassuolo’s 46.4pc. Although the visitors had 17 shots in total, they were only able to find the target with as many as Sassuolo’s ten players – four.
The 2021/22 season promised so much for Milan, and they were supposed to build on their second-place finish last term reaching the Coppa Italia final, but they’ve already fallen a long way short of expectations and are as close to mid-table as they are to Serie A Femminile leaders Juventus.
Piovani got it right, AC Milan’s Ganz had no response
Against a side with the talent that Maurizio Ganz’s Milan have, Sassuolo boss Gianpiero Piovani would have been forgiven for prioritising his side’s defensive efforts after one of their starting centre-backs was dismissed inside a quarter of an hour, but it didn’t come as a shock that he didn’t make any reactionary substitutions.
Instead, the Neroverde stayed true to who they are and played their football. In the 75-or-so minutes that followed Orsi’s red card, it was necessary – and more than once – to count how many players each side had on the pitch to be sure that it was still 11 against ten.
Milan had 17 shots, but not many gave Diede Lemey too many problems. She saved well from Christy Grimshaw in the first half, and did well to gather a number of crosses that were pumped in from open play and from corners.
Lana Clelland was excellent in a lone striker role, but she dropped and floated around the pitch as always and was a master at protecting the ball. But it was clear that she was missing the injured Sofia Cantore and the Italian’s usual runs beyond the opposition’s backline as an outlet.
At the back, captain and centre-back Maria Luisi Filangeri was unpassable. She won every header she challenged for, and in possession she couldn’t be dispossessed. Despite having had one of her two central-defensive partners send off early, Filangeri was often seen starting attacks on her own by abandoning her defensive duties to embark on meandering runs through the midfield or down the flanks. Davina Philtjens was just as good at left-back, and Kamila Dubcova’s efforts of defending from the front were tireless.
While Milan’s coach has had problems with his squad this season – even leading to both Veronica Boquete and Valentina Giacinti leaving mid-season – Piovani’s relationhship with his players couldn’t be better. His embracing of Philtjens as she took a late throw-in showed that, as did the celebrations post-match as he gathered his team on the pitch for their usual chat.
“Something that makes this group different is the harmony between everybody here,” Sofia Cantore told Forza Italian Football in an interview last October. “There’s a lot of unity between the staff and the players. It’s an ideal environment for everyone to grow together.”
The reason for this environment? Cantore puts it down to Piovani and his work, with his skillset going far beyond tactical innovation.
“The coach is very good at this,” Cantore added in that same interview. “As well as his technical merits, he knows how to lead this group very well, he knows how to create a perfect balance.”
Sofia Cantore: Turning Sassuolo’s unexpected, beautiful dream of a title challenge into reality, by @ConJClancy. https://t.co/zFjZFd9IQ9 pic.twitter.com/2rgyE1c1yZ
— ForzaItalianFootball (@SerieAFFC) October 22, 2021
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