Connect in the back of the net

“Segna per noi” shouted 2,000 AC Milan fans to Filippo Inzaghi as he was unveiled as the club’s new coach back in July. They were asking him to score a goal, a nostalgic request to the former striker who made a living off his predatory instinct. There would be no doubt that Inzaghi would have been tempted, but as a manager now rooted firmly in the dugout, he would no longer be scoring goals, though he did using a recent training session to show the deadly scoring touch has not yet left him.

Goals will now have to be delivered by others as Inzaghi embarks on his managerial adventure, coming from Milan’s under-19 side, with whom he spent two years, to the front-line of a Rossoneri that, under the controversial eye of Silvio Berlusconi, is desperate to enter modernism.

Inzaghi’s predecessor, former team-mate Clarence Seedorf, was dispensed with in the summer after just 5 months in charge with Berlusconi describing the Dutchman as part of the club’s “past”.

Ironically Inzaghi comes from the same Milan past as Seedorf, both members of the side that won two Serie A titles and two Champions League in the eleven years that “Pippo”, as Inzaghi is affectionately known, spent at the club.

The last Scudetto came as recently as 2011, though it seems like an age since that was delivered by Massimiliano Allegri. Since then a period of decline has set in, last season’s 8th place finish was their lowest for 15 years and it was unsurprising to see Allegri fall by the way-side half-way through the campaign.

So came a summer of sweeping change. Backroom staff and players disagreed with Seedorf’s methods so he was axed, while 11 players departed with 10 coming in. With Mario Balotelli sulking and Stephan El Shaarawy’s campaign blighted by injury, how those Milan fans congregated to welcome Inzaghi, scorer of 126 goals for the club, at Casa Milan in the summer wished they were witnessing his return as a player.

Not quite, but Inzaghi set about an attacking upheaval. Mario Balotelli was sold to Liverpool while Robinho and Kaka, with no room for sentiment in this new era, were both jettisoned to the other side of the Atlantic. In would come Giacomo Bonaventura, a left-winger signed for £6 million from Atalanta, Jeremy Menez on a free from PSG while a punt was taken in the form of a 2-year loan for the struggling Fernando Torres of Chelsea.

Inzaghi would also be encourage to focus on the attackers already at his disposal, the likes of the returning El Shaarawy and Keisuke Honda, the Japanese playmaker who disappointed in his first few months at Milan following his long-awaited move from CSKA Moscow in January. Honda himself slated his contribution after netting just once, saying “this is not me, I know that people expect a lot from me. I hope that Milan fans will wait for me next season”.

The wait has been worth it, Honda scored Milan’s first goal of the season in the 3-1 win over Lazio, while strikes against Parma, Empoli and Chievo followed. The 28 year old also assisted Bonaventura’s first goal for the club in the rollercoaster 4-5 win at Parma and has settled impressively into the right-wing slot of Inzaghi’s favoured 4-3-3 system, urged to cut inside onto his left-foot.

“Keisuke Honda arrives 2 hours before training and leaves 2 hours after. He has an incredible attitude and I am happy” said Inzaghi, reminiscent of the work-rate the Italian coach himself displayed during his playing career.

Menez has also been a resurgent success, the forgotten man in Paris as his disappointing 8 goals in 3 years saw him subjected to the periphery of a squad that contained the luxuries of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi; the 27 year old has already struck 3 times in 6 games under Inzaghi.

After a goal on his debut against Lazio, two followed in the win over Parma, including an outstanding back-heel finish. Misfortune has struck however, with the forward going into the international break facing tests on an abductor muscle that could see him ruled out of action for a significant period.

With Torres’s arrival giving Inzaghi enough tactical flexibility to switch between 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 which accommodates the Spaniard as the sole striker, Menez’s absence can be managed though undoubtedly greatly felt. Respite will come in the fact that Torres, so often fragile in terms of confidence, has already opened his Milan account while goals from Sulley Muntari are also in the offing, the Ghanaian having already managed 2.

It has all made for a modest start to the campaign for Milan, taking 11 points from 5 games in which they have lost just once, a narrow 0-1 reversal to league leaders Juventus. Dropped points away at Cesena and Empoli will make Inzaghi aware that there is a long journey ahead before they can genuinely rival the Old Lady at the top, but a return to the Champions League may not be beyond Milan’s reach.

With Menez and Honda both firing and Torres and El Shaarawy, plus Giampaolo Pazzini and M’Baye Niang, working under the striking wisdom of Inzaghi, then such a target is perfectly possible. If it is achieved and the European nights are restored to the San Siro, then Pippo may become idolised for something other than just scoring goals.

 

 

Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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