AC Milan Club Focus: The Rossoneri’s Season in Review
After AC Milan were cruelly stripped of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Antonio Cassano, Mark van Bommel, Alexandre Pato, Alessandro Nesta, Filippo Inzaghi, Gennaro Gattuso and Gianluca Zambrotta, many presumed this would be a season of difficulty for the Rossoneri. In hindsight, it would seem that difficulty was indeed a polite word to describe Milan’s journey.
An army of replacements arrived at the club. In isolation, these replacements were not a particularly bad bunch, but because they were settling into an environment vacated by titans, they appeared miniscule and underwhelming.
However, some of the top clubs in Serie A would be utterly delighted to have Nigel De Jong, Bojan, Kevin Constant, Cristian Zapata, M’Baye Niang, Giampaolo Pazzini and Riccardo Montolivo in their squad. Bakaye Traore, Francesco Acerbi and Cristian Zaccardo might struggle to tantalize the crowds of any football club, though
Milan consequentially started on the back-foot. After losing five of their first eight games, Milan found themselves flirting with relegation. Talks intensified in the media concerning Milan survival, but revival was just around the corner. Stephan El Shaarawy carried the team on his shoulders, scoring 14 goals in the first half of the season. That accounted for approximately 42% of Milan’s goals.
Following a stupendous performance against Chievo (5-1) in early November, Milan began their ascension up the league table. Massimiliano Allegri’s men were soundly beaten by Fiorentina and Roma during this period, but they picked up crucial points with narrow wins in their other games. Since the turn of the year, approximately 62% of their victories have been by a one-goal margin. These comprise 40% of the games Milan have played since January 1st, 2013.
Mario Balotelli’s arrival in January did lessen the burden on goal-scoring freak El Shaarawy, much to the point that it made him almost redundant. Balotelli ran the show from the front, being the heart of the attack whilst also tucking away penalties without flinching a muscle. He became a foul magnet resulting in Milan spending more time in the opposition half than in midfield.
The Champions League campaign was a disaster as always. After nearly failing to qualify from the group, Milan conceded defeat and glory by unceremoniously capitulating against Barcelona in the first knockout round. The team walked away unscathed, feeling proud of their achievement, which was, in all honesty, a bit bizarre.
Milan left it till the last week of Serie A to achieve Champions League qualification after the beat Siena away from home. Keeping in mind how the season started, achieving third can only be regarded as a success.
Player of the season
The former Fiorentina captain waltzed into the Milanello thinking he would be rubbing shoulders with legends, but had to lead a team of under-confident, overpaid, painfully average footballers.
He slotted seamlessly into the midfield trio and kept the ship afloat by connecting the defense with the midfield. He was an engine as well as the artist of many Milan attacks, converting a creaky tank into a fluid machine. He injected urgency and mobility into Milan’s play, which the numbers will not necessarily reflect.
After all, he scored four goals and created two assists. But when he was missing in action, Milan have appeared clueless with the ball at their feet. They have, in fact, won only three league games in which he has not played. These include the two league wins over Torino and the thrashing of Pescara. He is fundamentally fundamental to Milan’s play.
Goal of the season
For it’s sheer audacity and outrageous display of confidence, Phlippe Mexes’ goal against Anderlecht in the Champions League pips the rest. It might have prompted a lesser significance when compared to Stephan El Shaarawy’s screamer against Udinese and Kevin-Prince Boateng’s strike against Catania in the league, but since it was scored by an above-average defender with limited skill, it simply had to be special.
Best and worst signings
Surely, the best signing of the season is Riccardo Montolivo. He provided Milan with imagination, work-rate and fluency. The midfield went from being dogged and functional to mobile and conductive. His performances have earned him a likening with Andrea Pirlo, with some suggesting that Montolivo is possibly a better player. That judgement would not be entirely far fetched on the sheer merit of Montolivo’s influence. What makes this transfer even more delectable, is that Montolivo arrived at Milan on a Bosman.
Few signings can rival Bakaye Traore’s for it’s sheer inappropriateness and aimlessness. He was supposed to be Milan’s next Patrick Vieira. But, the Malian made just one start and was sporadically thrown on by Allegri in random games for no visible purpose whatsoever. Apart from being purely bewildering in the nature of the transfer (for a completely unknown bloke to pack his bags and arrive from Nancy), Allegri’s deployment of Traore became utterly comedic for club, player and coach.
The club is set to part ways with Massimiliano Allegri. The manager has achieved relative success during this period of transition. He has managed to drive a wedge between the fans with a significant proportion supporting his stay at the club with vehement voices of approval. The rest look upon his tactical gaffes and his sheer ridiculousness at times with player management and tactical indiscipline, wondering what could have been with a wiser manage.
Follow Rajath Kumar on twitter: @rajathkumar. You can read his work on his AC Milan blog titled Milan and Me; The Love Affair.