Urby Emanuelson does it again.
The 26-year-old Dutchman was once again the most impressive player on the pitch for AC Milan. His 68th minute goal was enough to give AC Milan their second consecutive preseason win as they took down European champions Chelsea, who finished their preseason tour of the United States with one win, one draw and two losses.
Following the club's 1-0 win at Schalke on Tuesday, they returned to Milan for only a short while to get ready for their two-week trip to the United States. The club landed in Miami on Friday afternoon and had to play less than 36 hours later.
However, without Olympic-tied Alexandre Pato, injured Christian Abbiati, Sulley Muntari and Rodney Strasser and Robinho who was tied up in Frankfurt because of passport and visa issues, Milan were able to take the game to the Blues.
Milan were playing at a distinct disadvantage, and it showed through the first 25 minutes or so of the match.
Chelsea, starting basically their strongest possible lineup with the exception of Romelu Lukaku up top instead of Fernando Torres, controlled the play, getting the better of the ball and seemingly exposing Milan.
However, Milan, playing with a half-strength lineup, showed discipline and were able to come back and challenge the London club.
Allegri had the side line up in a 4-3-2-1, with Boateng and Traore behind El Shaarawy, but more often than not, it looked like a 4-3-3 with El Shaarawy, Boateng and Emanuelson shuffling along the front line.
Milan were able to get out on the counterattack on a regular basis, and Emanuelson, Stephan El Shaarawy, and even Bakaye Traore, were threatening in the attacking third. Kevin-Prince Boateng was playing out of position, as he is not used to playing with his back to goal, and it showed.
To his credit, Boateng once again played several threatening balls into the box, most notably when he was able to slide to a ball down the middle and tap it out to the right for Emanuelson to latch on to, but the Dutchman couldn't get a foot through it precisely, and the ball skied over the bar.
The counterattacking style of Milan payed off in the 68th minute when a ball off a corner was cleared up to Emanuelson who was able to break through the fractures of the Chelsea defense left in the back. He unselfishly passed to El Shaarawy, who couldn't quite place the ball, and it deflected back to Emanuelson who fired into the open net for his second goal this week.
It may not have been the beautiful football that Chelsea were trying to display, but a scrappy, disciplined Milan team did exactly what they wanted to do. Here are some of the things to take away from the match:
Man of the Match, Urby Emanuelson
Emanuelson has been Milan's best player through the preseason hands down. He's a player who really looks set to make an impact this year wherever Milan put him on the pitch, be it at left back, midfield, or in the attacking part of the pitch.
He plays with an energy that Milan need and he has the explosiveness to really captivate Italy this season. There has been a lot of hope for this young man since his move from Ajax last January. It's time for him to show why.
No Thiago Silva? No problem. What was most impressive about Milan's defense today was their ability to shut down one of the most talented dribblers and playmakers in the world—Eden Hazard.
Compared often to Messi, he was shown the same courtesy that Milan give the Argentine or lack thereof. Messi has a reputation for being unable to do anything away from the penalty spot against Italians, particularly Milan, and the same was the case for "the next Messi" as he has been dubbed by some who have watched him play.
Daniele Bonera, Luca Antonini and Ignazio Abate all stopped critical runs by the Belgian who was Chelsea's biggest threat on the pitch.
What a lot of people forgot when Silva was sold is that Italian football is built on the basis of defense, and Silva would not be gone if Milan didn't have faith that their defense could remain strong. It will take another signing or two, but the players on the pitch on Saturday performed well.
What We Learned
El Shaarawy Cannot Be a Lone Striker
Stephan El Shaarawy is a great footballer at the very young age of 19. Having just signed a five-year contract that keeps him at Milan until at least 2017, the Pharaoh is expected to soon be the lethal strike-partner of Alexandre Pato.
However, with Pato at the Olympics, Robinho stuck in Europe, Cassano deemed a malcontent and still no replacement for Ibrahimovic, El Shaarawy was placed up top on his own.
The youngster was menacing at times, but he looked like he would have been better placed on the wing or paired with Boateng behind a main striker. Obviously, this wasn't possible today, but when the full team is together, don't expect El Shaarawy to be a lone target.
Could a 4-3-2-1 Work?
It's an interesting concept for Milan, a 4-3-2-1. The club has regularly used a 4-3-1-2 which, at times, has looked more like a 4-1-2-1-2, but this could work when Pato rejoins the team.
There's a lot of talk about the return of Kaka, according to ESPN. If Kaka were to be deployed in combination with Kevin-Prince Boateng behind Pato, Milan's attack could be so good, everyone will forget how angry they are about the loss of Ibrahimovic (who scored three minutes into his PSG debut Saturday against DC United).
Obviously, the same system that worked with Ibrahimovic in there can't work without him. There was too much focus on getting him the ball. Now, they have to change that, and with a counter-attacking style like the 4-3-2-1, they may have found their revision.
With the 4-3-2-1, the lineup could look like this, assuming the current negotiations for new players go through:
Abate Mexes Yanga-Mbiwa Antonini
Nocerino Montolivo Emanuelson
Very hard to think that that lineup can't compete at a high level.