The thing about playing defense is that any mistake made is likely to get amplified. Strikers can miss dozens of chances, but score that one goal, and they may just end up the hero. Meanwhile, defenders can play impeccably for 89 of the 90 minutes, but have that one lapse in concentration, that one misjudgment, that one bad bit of anticipation, and they could very well end up the scapegoat.
Chelsea loanee Fikayo Tomori had just such a night at Old Trafford yesterday, as AC Milan battled to an eventful 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Europa League Round of 16 matchup. Tomori, deputizing as expected for injured captain Alessio Romagnoli, played quite well for 89 minutes of the game, but rather horrendously misplayed a ball over the top from Bruno Fernandes, which Amad Diallo then cheekily headed over goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma for his first ever Manchester United goal. Donnarumma didn’t exactly cover himself in glory on the play either, getting stranded in no-man’s land as he was caught between two minds on how to play the chip into the area, but Tomori lost his man and misjudged the flight of the ball badly enough that he couldn’t even challenge for the header.
Amad Diallo's first Manchester United goal is a beauty. pic.twitter.com/RCDShwCP3i— Champions League on CBS Sports (@UCLonCBSSports) March 11, 2021
Fortunately, Tomori has largely escaped being scapegoated for the result, and rightly so, as Milan came back to score in the dying minutes from a corner (Simon Kjær scoring his first ever AC Milan goal), while earlier in the game, they had what looked like a perfectly legitimate goal ruled out by VAR for a supposed handball. And, Tomori did play quite well indeed — as did Milan — even if United managed to contrive to miss two open goals as well.
Here’s one very nice example of Tomori’s quality performance, including a fantastic challenge in the area on Marcus Rashford, followed immediately with some good footwork to get Milan out of trouble.
Milan head coach Stefano Piolo was satisfied with the result afterwards, which does give the Rossoneri a slight advantage on away goals heading into next week’s second leg.
“I am satisfied. I keep repeating my players I am not training a regular group. This is an extraordinary group, under any aspect. When I see the lads give their soul to get a good result, I can only be happy. It’s probably a result we would have accepted before the game. After it, I can say we may deserve something more, but it’s a good result.
“The team’s spirit was great, we wanted to dominate the game and give our best. We must have a high level of application to play as we do.”
-Stefano Piolo; source: Football-Italia
Tomori himself was happy enough with the result as well, and he will surely learn from his mistake, as all good players do.
“It’s a great result, we scored away and it’s positive, we remain focused. When you play away it’s important not to lose, we scored and that’s crucial. We didn’t deserve anything less, we could have won the game.”
-Fikayo Tomori; source: Football-Italia
Obviously, it’s just one game and one result, but performances on a big stage can go a long ways towards setting expectations and setting the narrative. The mistake was unfortunate, but there was plenty of good on display from the 23-year-old. And until he signs the contract with Milan, we can have hope that we would see similar (and even better) performances from him in a Chelsea shirt in the near future.