Each May, people already begin debating about who will be the next crop of serious contenders for the Scudetto come the following year. Not surprisingly, Juventus, who claimed the title for the second consecutive season was touted as a key contender to complete a three-peat. And, as the summer transfer market heated up, the likes of newly-refurbished Napoli, Fiorentina, Inter, and Roma were added to that list as the pack that would make the race to the 2013-2014 title a fascinating one that season.
Some put Milan in that group as well, but to be honest, anyone who does so is either really naïve, a hopeless optimist (which there is nothing wrong with that, one can suppose), or just simply lying to themselves. Although a Rossoneri fan myself, one really has to be realistic when looking at these things and be honest when assessing the current personnel available. For instance, Mario Balotelli, yes, is a top striker and rising star Stephan El Shaarawy has shown that he has the potential to also join the world’s elite sometime in the near future.
But that’s it. Aside from maybe Nigel De Jong and defenders like Mattia De Sciglio who has shown some promise despite his youth and Ignazio Abate, with midfielder Riccardo Montolivo having some good games here and there—but nothing spectacular—that’s it. They have failed to secure a top-class center-back for the second consecutive season after the sale of Thiago Silva and departure of Alessandro Nesta, and while former Roma man Philippe Mexes is a solid defender, he’s still prone to lapses on concentration and oftentimes letting his marker escape him to disastrous consequences.
The same can be said for Cristian Zapata, who at times looks quite unsure of himself and has been at fault already for creating gaps in what should be an air-tight Rossoneri back-line.
Kaka, sure, he’s back to where he wants to be—but as he’s out with an injury it’s really hard to tell where the Brazilian is going to be when he gets back. At least, though, mentally, he’s happy and we all know that a happy player is best for any team. Whether he regains that same blistering form that saw him win the Ballon d’Or and the CL in 2007 is really unlikely, as injuries have taken quite its toll on the 31-year-old star.
Yet, if he manages to stay fit, he’ll certainly be an improvement on what the Rossoneri currently boast on the creative front— as their midfield is clearly lacking that sort of verve that would help to spark attacks. And, this may not necessarily make them Scudetto (and by no means Champions League) contenders, at the very least, they could be a serious runner for a top-five finish this season, ensuring European (albeit not necessarily Champions League) for next season.
They might have quite a torrid time, though in Europe this season as they struggled horribly against Celtic and were fortunate to grab two goals—well, to be honest, they only actually scored one through Sulley Muntari as Emiliano Izaguirre gifted them the other with less than 10 minutes remaining. Certainly, the fact that they were missing nearly an entire team sans a goalkeeper certainly didn’t help their case, but this is something that any manager and executive staff should take note of when assembling a team, in particular one that will be competing on numerous fronts throughout the season.
Milan’s struggles against Celtic were oddly and disturbingly reminiscent of their clash with Torino last Sunday in which the Granata led for nearly the entire 90 minutes before Milan somehow came back through a fortuitous Sulley Muntari “bobble”—one couldn’t really call it a strike per se—and then a penalty that was promptly dispatched by Mario Balotelli.
“Against a better team, they would have been slaughtered”, said Rossoneri and Netherlands legend Ruud Guillt following their, to be honest, fortunate win against the Bhoys. As we all know, the Dutch maestro was part of that legendary Milan squad who won the Champions League in 1989 and 1990, who were the last team to successfully defend their title.
Back to the league: This weekend, they succumbed to their second loss so far this season, meaning that they’ve collected four points from four games so far and leaves them in the bottom half of the table in 11th place. Some hopefuls might say, “Oh, that’s better than last season”, and they’re right. This time last season, they’d won one out of four, and were uncomfortably resting in 15th place, mere points above the drop zone. So yes, one could say that four points are better than three…just as one could say after a day at the casino, “Well, losing $15,000 is better than $20K” if one’s into that sort of thing.
But seriously, bad is bad, no matter how you slice, dice, puree, mash, or crush it. Last season, they were at “Year Zero” after hitting rock bottom, and as they say in Fight Club, “It’s only after [you’ve] lost everything that [you’re] free to gain anything”. Well, they managed to fight back and claim third place at the expense of Fiorentina after a nightmare start to the season, so many gave them a free pass.
However, not this time around. It’s understandable that the Rossoneri are still in their rebuilding phase, but if last season was their rock bottom, then they really have nowhere else to go but up.
Hopefully, so that us realistic–or pessimistic, some may calls us–Rossoneri fans will be proven wrong come May.