AC Milan’s poor start to the 2012/2013 Serie A season will have come as little surprise to anybody. After losing the vast majority of the squad’s experience in the summer, which included the departures of Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, Filippo Inzaghi and Clarence Seedorf the current squad found it difficult to get by without the same stalwart faces that had been around for the best part of a decade – some for even longer. On top of that they also lost the considerable talents of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to moneybags Paris Saint Germain. Their summer of outward transfers was complete when Antonio Cassano, due to the departure of the aforementioned players to PSG, handed in a transfer request and soon after completed a move to city rivals Inter Milan.
It was apparent from the first weekend of the season that the players AC Milan brought in to revamp the squad were not going to be good enough to wrestle the Scudetto back from Juventus. Their awful start saw them win just twice in their first eight league games, losing five of them, and also made manager Massimiliano Allegri odds on to be sacked before the Christmas break. He was undoubtedly helped by the fact that his side had already qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League with a game to spare, with pundits and journalists alike suggesting this was the sole reason he wasn’t relieved of his managerial post.
However, since then it’s all gone swimmingly. The draw against Malaga and the win over Anderlecht in the Champions League, which ultimately secured their qualification, coincided with their upturn in form in Serie A which has seen them shoot up the table into third place. Since the back-to-back defeats against Inter and Lazio, on the seventh and eighth weekend of the season respectively, they have lost just twice in 18 league matches – winning eleven. This form has seen them move into the play-off qualifying place for the Champions League for the first time this season, however they still remain six points behind second-placed Napoli who have a game in hand.
The arrival of Mario Balotelli from Manchester City for nearly £18,000,000 has done nothing but boost and further galvanise the in-form team. Since his arrival he has netted four goals in four games which included two goals in his first game versus Udinese, one of them a 94th minute winning penalty. As much as Roberto Mancini’s faith in Balotelli was made a big deal out of in England, having real faith in your players is starting them week in week out and that’s exactly what Allegri has done since Balotelli’s arrival.
AC Milan’s recent upturn in form culminated in their outstanding 2-0 home defeat of Champions League favourites Barcelona. The whole performance was perfect, both individually and collectively. Barcelona were allowed no time on the ball, the recently in-form Riccardo Montolivo, Sulley Muntari and Massimo Ambrosini never allowing Barca’s midfield trio of Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets and Xavi Hernandez to settle on the ball. Lionel Messi was starved of possession, often finding himself dropping deeper than his midfield compatriots in search of it and found himself suffocated by AC Milan’s midfield three.
Since then Messi himself along with Tweeters and journalists have said it was one of the worst performances of his career, which is credit to how fantastically Milan dictated the game and not down to Messi having a rare off day. Barcelona are far too predictable nowadays with no plan B. Any half-decent team that are disciplined, organised and focused for 90 minutes will find shutting them out more than doable. Massimiliano Allegri knew this and got his tactics spot on and his side have now got to be favourites to qualify for the next round.
If that victory wasn’t enough they topped off a fine week by earning a hard-fought one-all draw against bitter rivals Inter Milan, who were acting as the home team in the San Siro, which kept them a point and two places ahead of I Nerazzurri. It was the type of game that Milan would have lost earlier in the season but their new-found grittiness has gone hand-in-hand with their ascent into the Champions League places.
With the momentum they have, as well as in-form striker Mario Balotelli, it will take a monumental effort from the chasing teams to deny them third sport in Serie A.