Monday, February 28, 2011

Irresistible Pato Finally Comes Of Age

- 0The aftermath of Milan's 3-0 win over title rivals Napoli may well be draped in bullish statements of intent and analyses of the Serie A table, but the by far the most important aspect of AC Milan's win is the renewed form of Alexandre Pato.

Much maligned over the course of the season, Pato has suffered injury problems as well as lapses in form. Though his goalscoring record throughout his time at Milan has been solid, this latest match is the first brilliant Pato performance the San Siro fans have had the pleasure to witness. Many thought that Pato's superb solo goal away at Chievo last week was the beginning of a renaissance, and they may well be correct. However, it is one thing to drift past the defense of one of Serie A's struggling sides, but it is a completely different undertaking to do so against a back line as solid as Napoli's. From the off Pato troubled the azzuri defense with his silky skills and blinding speed. But in a half  fraught with cynical tackling, minor handbags and Gennaro Gatusso temper tantrums, the Brazilian number seven was unable to carve out an opening for his side.

Fortunately for Milan, however, all that was soon to change. It was Pato's challenge for the ball which resulted in Aronica's foolish handball (gifting Milan a penalty which Ibra duly tucked away) and it was also Pato, following some terrific play on the left hand side, who whipped in a pin point cross, for Kevin Prince Boateng to flick into the net. As the clock wound down and the intensity of the game diminished, at this point Napoli had given up all hope of a fight back, one wondered whether Pato would get the goal his performance deserved. It's probably fair to say that when it finally came, it was more than worth the wait. Latching onto a Van Bommel header, Pato drove into the heart of the Napoli defense, ignored Ibrahamovich's run, and curled a sumptuous shot into De Sanctis' top corner. As the man they call the duck was mobbed by a crowd of jubilant team mates, and Adriano Galliani blew kisses to the Milan faithful, you got the feeling that this goal was, perhaps, not only the just deserts of what had been an exhilarating performance, but the horsd'oeuvre, a mere taste of what is to come.

Looking away from Pato's performance, and towards the broader picture, one would imagine that this loss will spell the end of Napoli's valiant title chase. Yes, Matzarri's men rebounded well after their last embarrassing defeat in Milan, but one struggles to see a way back into the race for them, with both Milan and Inter in excellent form. Before this match, Marek Hamsik told the press that the only team that had anything to lose in this game was Milan, seemingly indicating that the Napoli camp never really saw the Scudetto as a possibility, but, whatever he says, Napoli will surely be disappointed by what was an anemic display.

The red and black side of Milan will celebrate tonight, a victory, putting them in the driving seat of the Serie A automobile, but few of them will realize that, what they have just seen is only the switch of the ignition, in the career of Alex Pato.

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