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The story so far: AC Milan’s good start to the season

After a poor season and apprehension looking ahead to the new one, Milan fans now have a sense of optimism with the early signs shown this campaign. Dylan Wilbur writes of their story so far.

Milan has gotten off to a solid start this season; they have garnered all six points in their first two games against Lazio and Parma. There were plenty of questions prior to the season regarding attacking options, concerns over the mercato performance, defensive issues, and how this team would perform under new management.  Though it is still extremely early in the season, some of these questions may have already been answered.

Following the departure, late in the transfer window, of Mario Balotelli, there were many concerns regarding how upper management would solidify the extremely weakened offensive front-line. Balotelli netted 16 goals in all competitions for Milan last season; also recently departed Ricardo Kaka had the second most with 9 goals in all comps. These two departures accounted for 40% of Milan’s goals in Serie A and Champions League in the 2013/2014 season.  Clearly, a need was felt by the Rossoneri supporters to solidify and reinforce Milan’s attacking positions.  If we can judge based on the opening two matches, then the supporter section should be proud and excited about the potential for the remainder of the season.  Milan has scored 8 goals in their opening two matches, with goals from five different players.  This time last season, Milan had just 4 goals and three points after their opening two matches.

Menze De Jong

What we have seen is the performance all fans hoped for from the Japanese international, Keisuke Honda.  The ex-CSKA Moscow man has already doubled his goal total compared to last season when he had a rocky start to his Italian career; the fans could see his effort and desire for success, but it seemed disjointed and never developed.  His start to the year could be the change everyone has hoped for.  There is also the addition of Jeremy Menez from the Parisian giants, PSG.  Menez is the current leading goal scorer, with 3 in two games.  His first two goals came from the penalty spot, with his third being an early contender for goal of the year.  Menez has been a phenomenal surprise to Milanisti, coming from France on a free transfer.

Another unexpected addition has been the newly acquired skillful Italian, Giacomo Bonaventura; the man signed from Atalanta put the first tally on the board for Milan in his debut against Parma.  The winger, who reportedly wept with joy upon signing, has even more to be joyous about with his debut performance.  The remaining 2 goals came from Sulley Muntari in the first match, and from Nigel de Jong (more on this later) in the match against Parma.  There are still some questions surrounding Milan’s offensive front. Primarily the signing of Fernando Torres from Chelsea. The Spaniard who has had a recent lackluster stint with the Blues, is looking to rejuvenate his career.  The player and the Red & Black supporters are hoping for a resurgence that saw Torres at the top of his game during his spell with Liverpool.  Another option yet to be seen this season is the Italian veteran, Giampaolo Pazzini.  The striker faltered in the shadow of Super Mario last season; however the previous Serie A season (12/13) saw Pazzo net 15 goals and 1 assist in just 15 appearances.

The fan favorite Stephan El Sharaawy has returned after an injury plagued 2013/2014 season.  He had a solid performance in the season opener against Lazio, but missed the second match due to a minor training injury.  His reappearance this season has brought hope to all of the Rossoneri faithful.  Clearly, there are attacking options that Milan has at their disposal, and even more clear is that these options have the ability to put the ball in the back of the net.

There are, however, still many concerns for the Inzaghi’s men.  The main concern is one that has persisted in recent years and that is, a questionable back line. Milan has had a terrible habit of allowing balls in the air to wind up in their goal.  Parma – though their attacks were limited – when an offensive push did occur they easily slotted through balls in behind the Milan defense. The centre-backs remain a major concern; Milan was able to bring Adil Rami on permanently in the summer window, though he had not made an appearance until the dismissal of Daniele Bonera, and the injury to Alex against Parma.  Rami had consistent and solid performances after coming over on loan from Valencia last season, but has not been able to crack the starting lineup in the first two matches.  Conversely, Daniele Bonera has had questionable performances in the opening matches, and is arguably at direct fault for one (if not two) of the goals allowed by Milan.  Many fans have questioned the experienced central defenders’ starting role in the first two matches, and there seems to be some relief that the red card Bonera received against Parma will prevent him from making an appearance against Juventus this coming weekend.  If there is a bright, but ugly, side to the Milan defense, they have only allowed the opposition to score 3 goals.  The other two goals have been put past their own goalkeeper by Milan defenders-  Alex against Lazio, and Mattia De Sciglio against Parma.  The De Sciglio own goal was of particular concern, as he made a strong back-pass to (newly signed keeper) Diego Lopez, who subsequently pulled his hamstring attempting to receive (save) the errant back-pass.  Misplaced balls aside though, young De Sciglio has had an excellent start to the season and continue to be a positive component of Milan’s side.  His counterpart on the right side of the pitch, Ignacio Abate, has also seen a stellar start to the season having set-up Honda’s goal against Parma.

There is one more aspect to this Milan team (less tactical and more philosophical) that has been clearly absent over recent campaigns: heart.  This is when a team’s mentality, meets their effort and work-rate.  Nigel de Jong’s goal against Parma epitomized the new mentality we have seen at Milan this season under their new manager, Pippo Inzaghi.  De Jong put forth pure effort to intercept a ball at midfield, he continued with a full sprint the remainder of the pitch to slot the ball beyond Mirante and into the back of net.  That and Menez’ outrageous goal exemplify the effort we have seen from Milan this season.  The excellent attacking work rate has been almost unbelievable (considering what we saw in the previous campaign); and compared to the nonchalant attitude purveyed by Mario Balotelli, which epitomised the team in 2013/14 – there is a completely different feel surrounding the Milan giants. Clearly, there is a different attitude in the locker-room and this is being conveyed on the pitch.

For the Rossoneri supporters, this is the aspect of the game that gives the most hope for the rest of the season.  There is a visible change that has taken place under the tutelage of the former Milan striker, Inzaghi. What we are now seeing on the pitch is a team with a desire to win.  They are no longer taking the field and going through the motions; this squad is working effortlessly to win games.  There is no longer the mind-set of “let’s not lose,” this Milan squad has a burning passion for the game that we have not seen in years.

Hopefully this form can continue through their toughest challenge so far this season, last season’s Scudetto winner, Juventus.  They will face their former manager, Max Allegri and will be looking to continue their exemplary performance against their perennial rivals.  Whether or not the Red & Blacks are able to snatch 3 more points, one thing is certain – this is a rejuvenated team that has the drive, the desire, and the ability to achieve results; unlike anything we’ve come to see from the club.

Written by Dylan Wilbur

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