AC Milan beat Cagliari 0-2 on Monday and reclaim first spot in the Serie A table after Inter Milan moved level on points with the Rossoneri by beating Juventus at the weekend.
After a prolonged period of struggle, there have been signs of light at the end of the tunnel for a prestigious club like AC Milan. Their title charge has been led by manager Stefano Pioli, who earned a two-year contract extension by improving Milan’s performances since arriving at the club on a short-term deal last season.
Milan are flying this season, playing a possession-based, attractive brand of football ably supported by strong defending. Backed in the summer transfer window with the signings of Diogo Dalot, Sandro Tonali and Brahim Diaz, Pioli has managed to get the best out of the squad, whilst being aided by strong individual performances by the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Theo Hernandez, Ante Rebic, Hakan Calhanoglu and Franck Kessie.
Pioli’s side have lost just one of their opening 17 games of the season, winning 12 and drawing four. They are a team on the upward curve and very much look primed for a title challenge. The question is—can AC Milan win their first Serie A title after a decade?
Here’s a look at three reasons why the Rossoneri have a chance to win the Scudetto this season.
Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson once said that “Attack wins you games, but defence wins you titles.” Having a strong base at the back is very crucial and Ferguson’s then United teams proved it time and again, winning 13 Premier League titles.
Milan’s success, too, this season has been built on a strong defence marshalled by skipper Alessio Romagnoli and Simon Kjaer. Full-backs Theo Hernandez and Davide Calabria have been excellent, while goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma is a household name in world football at just 21.
The Rossoneri have the fourth-best defensive record in the division, conceding just 19 goals in 17 games so far. During this time, Donnarumma has kept five clean sheets. The solid defence has put Pioli’s side in the hunt for the title, providing a perfect platform for their exciting attack to rip apart opponents.
The presence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Widely regarded as one of the best strikers in the game, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has definitely changed the mentality of the squad at Milan. The big Swede’s attitude has rubbed on the team, while young guns such as Daniel Maldini, Pierre Kalulu, Emil Roback and Jens Petter Hauge are all benefiting a lot from his presence in the dressing room.
Despite struggling with Covid-19 in September, the striker was the player of the month in October. Ageing like a fine wine, Ibrahimovic—now 39—has not lost even the slightest of appetite for scoring goals and winning games.
The former Swedish international netted a brace to inspire Milan to a 2-1 Derby della Madonnina victory over traditional rivals Inter Milan in October, proving he’s still a big game player. In Ibrahimovic, Pioli and co. have a leader and charismatic figure who’ll have a big say in Milan’s title charge.
The best is yet to come
On the injury front and Covid-19 problems, Milan have been hit massively. Milan will be without Hernandez and Calhanoglu for Monday’s game in Cagliari following positive Covid-19 results. The duo have joined Ante Rebic and Rade Krunic, who have not featured since their positive tests were announced on January 6.
It comes as a big blow for Pioli who is already without Alexis Saelemaekers, Matteo Gabbia and Ismael Bennacer, as the trio are all injured. That’s quite a lot of players from the starting XI who won’t be available to the Milan boss for the upcoming games that include a weekend trip to Atalanta and the Italian Cup quarter-final against cross-town rivals Inter Milan on January 26.
Given how the Rossoneri have coped very well without some of their first-team regulars, it’s a tantalizing prospect to imagine what this team will be like once everyone’s fully fit and up to speed. Certainly, we are yet to see the best of Milan!