In recent years, Serie B has often been resolved with surprising and dramatic verdicts, which have led to the crowning of real sports tales and as many failures. Last season we witnessed the direct promotion of Salernitana and the victory in the playoffs of Venice, two teams that on paper started not to be relegated, and managed to parade the promotion to more solid and quoted realities than them. This year the surprise was Cremonese, who after closing last season in 13th place managed to earn direct promotion with merit, finishing second behind Lecce. Yet, even in a championship like this, it was difficult to expect an exciting playoff final full of twists like the one between Monza and Pisa.
The two teams had closed the championship with the same points in the standings, but with a completely different path and moods. D’Angelo’s Pisa had a great start to the season behind them, which had allowed them to cherish for a long time the dream of first place, definitively abandoned only in the final part of the championship. Stroppa’s Monza, on the other hand, had had a far from exciting start, and had managed to earn the playoff zone only in December, after a long climb.
In the final part of the season the inertia of the two teams seemed to have reversed: on the one hand the Nerazzurri, who after losing contact with the first two positions seemed destined for a mediocre closure; on the other the Brianza, who at the decisive moment – in March, with 5 games in 17 days – had found the impetus to get closer to the top places in the standings. On the last day at Monza a victory was enough for direct promotion, but the defeat at Curi against Perugia marked the overtaking of Cremonese and the support of Pisa, who in this way had gained an important advantage in terms of playoffs.
The result in the regular season certainly influenced the first leg, in which Pisa played a more wait-and-see game than usual, in an attempt to limit the damage and play everything back. D’Angelo had confirmed the usual 4-3-1-2 with Lucca in place of the cautioned Torregrossa, while in the Stroppa team the novelty was the position of Ciurria, who passed from the midfielder to the offensive department, alongside Dany Mota in 3 -5-2. The move is immediately successful, because after less than 10 minutes the two forwards are the protagonists of the goal of the advantage, signed by the Portuguese. From then on Monza made the race, and 15 minutes from the end they managed to score the double thanks to Gytkjær. The doubling in the final could represent a serious mortgage on the promotion, but the goal of Berra in recovery was enough for Pisa to call everything into question.
The minimum difference in the first leg and Pisa’s advantage in the event of a tie have transformed Romeo Anconetani’s challenge into a straight match. D’Angelo’s team didn’t take long to move the inertia to his side, because after 45 seconds the Nerazzurri were already ahead thanks to Torregrossa’s goal, on an assist from Beruatto. A goal that in many ways tells what Pisa’s first half was, in terms of intensity and aggression without the ball, which allowed the Tuscan team to recover many balls on the trocar and create some scoring chances.
On the first possession of Monza the hosts have six players in the opponent’s trocar: the two forwards (Torregrossa and Pușcaș) are under pressure on the central ball side (Pirola and Marrone), the attacking midfielder (Sibilli) marks the opponent half (Barberis), the two middle ones are high and ready to go out. On the back pass of Pirola, Torregrossa continues the pressure and forces the launch of Gregorio, who goes in search of Molina, the fifth on the right, who had risen to give space to the central right-hand side Caldirola, who got on the trocar to give a solution in amplitude .
Molina receives under the pressure of the opposing full-back, Beruatto, while Caldirola is covered by the midfielder Marin; without solutions, the red and white side is forced to put down a complicated ball for Barberis, who gets the ball out of Sibilli. On the ball the first to arrive is Beruatto, who goes down on the left wing and puts in the winning assist for Torregrossa, who 15 seconds earlier had started everything with the pressure on the goalkeeper.
The advantage only lights up the Pisa game even more, which in the following minutes maintains a very high intensity, taking the breath away from a dazed Monza and unable to lower the pace. The hosts’ tactical plan seems to work perfectly: D’Angelo’s men put a lot of pressure in the central area to force the red and white to lift the ball or play on the wing, where the two half-winger-full-back pairs are very aggressive. Once they have recovered the ball, the Nerazzurri immediately go vertically, immediately looking for the gap in the width of the three in front or the conduction of the full backs.
The Nerazzurri’s attitude is at times unscrupulous, at high pace and at high risk, but D’Angelo’s team takes the right countermeasures in preventive scoring, in particular in the defensive line, which in the possession phase passes to three (with a full-back, usually Birindelli, close to the central players) to always have numerical superiority over the two Monza forwards. The start of Pisa is overwhelming: in the first 15 minutes the hosts leave no space for the opponents, and already in the ninth minute – after having collected half a dozen set pieces – they double on a corner with Hermannsson, still on an assist from Beruatto .
For its part, Monza had the strength not to disunite, and after the initial quarter of an hour they managed to find a little more order and above all breathing space. In the defensive phase of Pisa there were two possible cracks: the high position of Caldirola, which could widen the distance between the midfield and the opponent’s attack, pushing the mezzala far back; the count of the defensive line, which by squeezing a lot could allow space in breadth, especially in transition.
A little by necessity and a little by choice, Monza has started to exploit these channels of play, with Di Gregorio’s throws for Caldirola, and the in-depth unmarkings of forwards and midfiels, in particular with Dany Mota and Mazzitelli on the right, behind Beruatto. Initially the defense of Pisa holds, but when the Brianza manage to free a player on the outside great dangers arrive. On the first real occasion of the race, Monza shortens the distances in one of these situations, with Machin receiving wide left, entering the area and beating Nicolas out.
After Machin’s 1-2, Monza touches the net with Dany Mota, on a situation very similar to that of the first goal.
The goal puts the Brianza back on track, but does not change the flow of the game: Pisa continues to attack, looking for a safety goal, while Monza tries to play above all in transition, so as not to discover too much the side of the opponents. The result is a very tense and fragmented game, with continuous changes in front which, however, prove inconclusive. Taking away the opportunity of Dany Mota in the 47th, the biggest blast comes only in the second half, when Pușcaș takes advantage of Marrone’s early error to go one-on-one with Di Gregorio, hitting the crossbar.
The risk gives a further boost to Stroppa’s team, which in the final increases the pressure on the opponents, taking advantage of a Pisa that after an hour at a high pace was starting to administer the result. As the minutes pass, Monza’s growing aggression and Pisa’s progressive fatigue feed each other off: the hosts begin to restart less and less dangerously, while Stroppa’s team takes courage and begins to raise the center of gravity. To make the final explode is an episode: in the 78th minute Monza beats a long free-kick from halfway, which hits the face of Carlos Augusto and ends up on Leverbe’s feet. The defender is alone, but his control is imprecise: the ball stretches and almost slams into Nagy, who at that moment is with his back to the ball and cannot move in time; the defender is forced to go into conflict with Machin, and ends up involuntarily serving Barberis, who intercepts triggering the equalizer of Gytkjaer.
Despite everything, Pisa still has the strength to react, and for the third time in two weeks – after the victory on the last day with Frosinone and the goal in the recovery of the first leg – the Nerazzurri manage to reopen the promotion discourse once again. : this time the help comes from a great goal by Mastinu, who in the 90th minute manages to transform yet another desperate throw into the bolt that is worth the 3 to 2 goal.
In extra time, despite everything seemed to be going on the side of Pisa, Stroppa’s team gave the first blow, which proved to be the most lucid team in the decisive moment. In the sixth minute of the first overtime, Monza goes on with Marrone, freed in the area from a pattern on a corner, five minutes later – again with Gytkjaer – takes advantage of the error of an exhausted Pisa to definitively close the game.
The scheme for Marrone on a corner: in the first half the goal was thwarted by a great save by Nicolas, in the second half leads to the goal promotion
In the post-match interview, both coaches responded on the verge of emotion, demonstrating a game – and a season – with a strong emotional impact, both positively and negatively. Luca D’Angelo made his own the words of Mancini after the elimination from the next World Cup at the hands of Macedonia, affirming that he loved his players more in defeat than in victory. Despite the defeat, for Pisa it remains an incredible path, which started only four years ago from the third series.
Stroppa, on the other hand, wanted to dedicate the victory to the property and to the square, which expected this promotion after the large investments. High expectations were the double-edged sword of this season at Monza, always halfway between exaltation and depression for a season in chiaroscuro. As in Serie C, Monza’s goal of promotion came at the second attempt, this time in a more painful and daring way, but also for this more heartfelt. In these two seasons of Serie B, the Brianza-based club has shown an economic power and out-of-scale appeal for the category: now that the club has reached the first level of Italian football, the most difficult work begins.