The Serie A title was not the priority for AC Milan before the 2020/21 season commenced but their latest defeat to Napoli has certainly crushed hopes of an unlikely Scudetto.
A Matteo Politano goal was enough to give the Partenopei victory on Sunday night, and it leaves the Rossoneri nine points behind Inter, who had won 2-1 against Torino earlier in the day.
Falling behind in the title race is one thing but it’s harder to take when it is your city rivals that are above you. This defeat to Napoli has not changed the momentum but it is another result in which further flaws in the AC Milan squad were exposed.
The Rossoneri had gone undefeated in the first 15 rounds of the 2020/21 Serie A season but they have lost five of their last 12 league matches. These defeats were against strong opposition such as the Partenopei, Juventus, Atalanta, and Inter, but they were also outplayed when they lost 2-0 to newcomers Spezia in Round 22.
AC Milan’s form in the calendar year of 2021 has not been anywhere as outstanding as their results in 2020 but their remarkable run was due to come to an end.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been remarkable since returning to the club but he has had to deal with his share of muscular injuries while his alternative up front Mario Mandzukic is also injured. Coach Stefano Pioli has used the likes of Rafael Leao and Ante Rebic as the lone striker at times but with little success.
Milan’s problems are not limited to the attack though. Attacking midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu’s contract expires at the end of June and he has not displayed the form that would justify a contract extension or an improved deal.
In defence, Pioli did not have his first-choice centre-backs available against Napoli. Youngsters Matteo Gabbia and Fikayo Tomori had to take the place of the experienced duo of Simon Kjaer and Alessio Romagnoli, and they left gaps in defence when the Neapolitans scored the only goal of the game.
Having some of their key personnel return from injury should allow AC Milan to maintain a Champions League spot. With the likes of Napoli and Roma six points behind them, those two still have a mathematical chance of grabbing any places for the taking.
The Rossoneri have suffered defeats against strong opposition but Pioli had to deal with some key absentees. Experienced players like Ibrahimovic and Kjaer give the youngsters confidence and provide leadership.
AC Milan should have enough quality to secure a Champions League spot for 2021/22, but their first scudetto since 2010/11 is becoming increasingly unlikely, especially while some of their best assets are not on the pitch.