Oct 3, 2010

Is Milan Ready to Win the Scudetto?

By Henri Neuendorf

It has been six years since AC Milan, the historic Italian powerhouse have been able to win the Italian title. In previous seasons they have been consistently outshone and outplayed by their bitter city rivals Inter. However this season AC Milan have managed to assemble the most dazzling collection of offensive talent in Europe, in an attempt to recapture the league title.

The deadline day signings of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho filled the back pages of Europe’s newspapers whilst dividing journalists. Some praised the hierarchy at Milan for the spectacular double swoop, whilst others warned of the volatile nature of the two new superstars that the Rossoneri had just acquired.

The concerns of the doubters are legitimate. Both of the two new big names at the San Siro are well known troublemakers, who are known for their outspoken views and have been accused of disrupting dressing room harmony. Ibrahimovic who had just ended an expensive (£58.5 million) and largely unsuccessful one-season spell at Barcelona, blamed his poor form on Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola. Shortly before joining Milan, he revealed that he had not spoken to his coach for six months and he accused Guardiola of intentionally avoiding him. Similarly, after becoming the English record signing (£32 million) Robinho’s previous stint at Manchester City lasted only 6 months after he was shipped off to Santos in his native Brazil on a loan move. Shortly after joining Milan permanently, Robinho stated that Manchester was “an awful place to live” blaming his poor form on the cold weather and stating that he was happy to be move on.

Despite the potential dressing room imbalances, I believe that these two signings will help bring success to Milan. Ibrahimovic was never a perfect fit for Barcelona. Neither the famous 4-3-3 formation nor their pass and move style of play corresponded to Ibrahimovic’s abilities, and his powerful 6’5 frame seemed out of place amongst his shorter, quicker teammates. However at Milan he finds himself in familiar territory, having spent three years at local rivals Inter, scoring 57 goals. And he finds himself in a league that is more suited to his power, athleticism and unorthodox technical ability. Similarly, Robinho was also never a perfect fit for Manchester City. It’s no secret that his preferred destination was Chelsea, and his small, boyish frame made things difficult for him in the physical, fast-paced premier league. In addition he had a hard time settling in northern England. Yet at Milan he is surrounded by his compatriots Ronaldinho, Pato and Thiago Silva, and the Serie A is better suited to his awareness and technique-based style of play.

Meanwhile the fans are undoubtedly very excited by the combination of flair, creativity and pace that the Brazilians add to their team, while the addition of Ibrahimovic adds the dimensions of aerial ability and power to the attacking options. Manager Massimiliano Allegri now has the challenge of working the newcomers into the existing squad, in such a way that does not alienate the other players, especially the popular Pato, who is beginning to fulfill his potential and is developing into a world class striker.

So far this season this team has not really lived up to its billing. After six games they find themselves in joint 2nd place alongside Inter. Milan’s record stands at 3 wins, 2 draws and 1 loss, a 2-0 defeat at newly promoted Cesena on opening weekend. In Europe the signs look equally promising, especially the offensive display during the 2-0 home win against AJ Auxerre was a joy to behold. Ronaldinho looked like his old, brilliant self, playing with the ruthless unpredictability and vigor that earned him the title of world player of the year. Ibrahimovic terrorized the opposition defense with his sheer size, athleticism and finesse, getting on the score sheet twice. The other standout performer was Kevin-Prince Boateng. He assisted the opening goal by making a 40-yard run into the box where he cushioned Ronaldinho’s oncoming cross with the back of his head whilst facing away from the goal, with sublime awareness and accuracy, into the path of the oncoming Ibrahimovic, who ruthlessly thundered the ball into the back of the net. With the exception of one nervous moment in the first half the defense stayed tight and did not concede.

On that night the team fulfilled its promise. They ran at the Auxerre from all angles, floating in crosses, threading in through balls and showing plenty of flicks and other trickery to deceive the defense. In the end they simply outplayed and outclassed their opponents, the score could have easily been 4:0. And when one considers the depth of the squad, the mix of experience and youth and that this team is only beginning to gel together at this early stage of the season, then one must not only consider them favorites for the league title but also genuine contenders for the Champions League.

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