Milan scrape past Sassuolo


After conquering San Siro in Serie A action with a 1-2 win Jan. 6, Sassuolo returned to Milan on Tuesday night to face the Rossoneri for a place in the Coppa Italia quarterfinals. Fortunately, Filippo "Pippo" Inzaghi's men were able to secure a win on this occasion, and it sees them advance in a tournament they harbour hopes of winning. The Coppa Italia run is vital for various reasons, most important of which is to build confidence and prove this squad has a winning mentality, which in turn will see them potentially add more trophies to the cabinet at Casa Milan. Christian Abbiati, among others at the club, has described the competition as "this year's Champions League," and Inzaghi must take that kind of approach in his preparation. The Coppa Italia is the only competition in which Milan have a legitimate shot at silverware this season, and it would be a welcome boost for all concerned if they went on to win. The veteran goalkeeper made several important points in the pregame press conference, and he discussed what irritates him the most at this time. Abbiati insisted it bothers him how teams come to San Siro aiming to win, whereas at one time, opponents arrived hoping to avoid conceding five or more. That is the level the Rossoneri must return to at home, but they failed to convince Tuesday night. While they must face reality, they can also use the win as a stepping stone and continue their progress in the competition. As well as the experience of advancing through a knockout tournament and playing for trophies, the Coppa Italia represents a direct path into the Europa League. Naturally, it would be ideal for Milan to finish in the top three and qualify for the Champions League for next season, but competition to get into final qualifying spot could be difficult, as Milan are competing with six other clubs (Napoli, Sampdoria, Fiorentina, Genoa, Inter and Palermo) within reach of Lazio, who currently sit third. Inzaghi's side might need to consider an alternative route to European competition next season — whether it'd be the Champions League or Europa League. As a result, at this stage of the rebuilding process, Milan must start to acknowledge where they are and where they want to be. Inzaghi's men are not the finished article, so they must use the Coppa Italia as a way of building momentum. In terms of the more immediate benefits, Tuesday's win also presented Inzaghi an opportunity to rotate and give players on the fringes of the squad a chance to feature. Abbiati was a welcome sight between the posts in place of starting goalkeeper Diego Lopez, while it was pleasing to see Ignazio Abate given a place in the starting lineup after being in a reserve role over the past few weeks. Beyond that, midfielder Alessio Cerci continues to improve his fitness level, as he played 83 minutes Tuesday, and forward Giampaolo Pazzini scored on his return to the starting lineup. Holding midfielder Nigel De Jong netted the all-important winner in the 86th minute and continues to display a high level of consistency, no matter the game or competition. Now, Milan march on as they wait to see whether it will be Torino or Lazio in the next round.