Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

Gianluca Nesci On October - 15 - 2011

Team News: AC Milan Look to Turn Things Around

It was a great celebration that was long overdue for the red half of the San Siro.

With Kevin-Prince Boateng doing his best impression of the late Michael Jackson, Milanisti cheered wildly as their beloved team was presented with its 18th Scudetto, and first since 2003-2004.

Fast-forward only a month into the new campaign, and Milan find themselves in unfamiliar territory. The Rossoneri are struggling through their worst start to a Serie A season since 2001. Sitting a very modest 15th in the table, the reigning champions have taken only five points from their first five league matches.
With talk of discontent surrounding superstar forwards Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Antonio Cassano, along with a treatment room that has seen enough patients to field an entire lineup, memories of that historic Scudetto victory have all but drifted away.
“We haven’t collected many points in the opening five games. We expected a better start but the season is long and we have plenty of time to recover,” Allegri told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
An unfortunate string of injuries to key players has not helped the manager’s cause early in the year.

Alexandre Pato has once again been forced to the sidelines for a significant stretch of time. The Brazilian striker is currently recovering from a right thigh problem that he picked up in Milan’s 1-1 draw with Udinese. In addition, both Robinho and newly acquired Frenchman Philippe Mexes have yet to see action this season.

The pre-season injury to summer signing Taye Taiwo – the man who was supposed to solve a glaring need at left-back – has forced the likes of Luca Antonini and Gianluca Zambrotta to step into the starting eleven for much of the year. While players of that ilk would suffice for a mid-table team, they have no place in a Milan side with aspirations of both Serie A and Champions League glory.

But for all of the sub-standard performances from the Rossoneri so far, one has to think a full-strength squad would go a long way to overturning the poor start. With Robinho, Taiwo and Mexes all returning to full-fitness coming out of the international break, Allegri is slowly regaining some of his options.

And then there are poor performances, plain and simple.

Nowhere was this on display more so than the thrashing Milan received at the hands of a rejuvenated Juventus. While a quick glance at the scoreboard reveals two very late goals to be the difference, in truth, Milan were never in the contest.

A lack of possession, especially in attacking areas, meant that Juve goalkeeper Gigi Buffon’s only involvement was a brilliant fingertip save off the boot of Boateng.

This match also highlighted the real issue this season for the defending champions: a lack of combination between a largely immobile midfield and the strike-force. With Allegri often utilizing a three-man midfield consisting of Mark van Bommel, Antonio Nocerino and Clarence Seedorf playing behind a trequartista (generally Boateng when fit), the impetus has fallen upon the strikers to do much of the creative work.

Be it Ibrahimovic, Cassano or Pato, the men up front are asked to not only find the net, but to make opportunities for the rest of the team as well.

This issue was supposed to be solved with the well-publicized summer search for “Mister X”. That endeavor ultimately yielded Liverpool outcast Alberto Aquilani. While the midfielder proved his ability to be a driving force last season in over 30 appearances with Juventus, he has yet to look comfortable with a red and black shirt.

Aside from a superb diving header against Napoli, the Roma youth-product is not a constant part of Milan’s midfield. When he is at his best, Aquilani has the ability to become that dynamic link Allegri is desperately searching for.

On top of these creativity issues, Milan have also been unconvincing in defence to open the campaign. What was a great strength last season has not been nearly as solid so far. With Christian Abbiati providing stability between the sticks, Thiago Silva and co. gave up a league-best 24 goals last season. But after only a handful of Serie A matches this year, Milan have already been hit for eight tallies.

With free-scoring Palermo set to visit the San Siro on Saturday, the tests just keep on coming. The Rosanero have been a thorn in the side of the Milanese club in recent times, recording three wins in their past five meetings.

But the outlook is not all negative for the defending champions.

Fans of the Rossoneri can point towards an extremely difficult fixture list in the opening weeks as a point of optimism.

Massimiliano Allegri’s men have already met three of the peninsula’s top five sides from last season. By contrast, league leaders Juventus and Udinese have collected the majority of their 11 points against minnows such as Lecce and Siena.

In Napoli, Udinese and Lazio, Milan have already dealt with, albeit not well, some of the toughest match-ups on the schedule.

On the continent, things are infinitely more positive. Despite being drawn with defending European Champions Barcelona, the Rossoneri are well positioned to advance to the knockout stages.

After a 2-0 victory over Czech newcomers Viktoria Plzen – where Ibrahimovic once again put the team on his back - the Italians sit tied on points atop Group H with the Spanish giants, separated only by Barca’s superior goal differential.

With Belorussian champions BATE Borisov presenting the next challenge in Europe’s showpiece event this upcoming Wednesday, Milan will once again be expected to come away with all three points.

If the Rossoneri can collect six points in the next two matches, maybe our minds will return to the images of Boateng moonwalking down the red carpet. And maybe, just maybe, fans will realize that the situation at the San Siro isn’t nearly as critical as they once thought.

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