AC Milan: A Jekyll and Hyde campaign

It’s been a real Jekyll and Hyde season for AC Milan this year. Although Milan managed to narrowly clinch a Champions League qualifying berth, it was anything but straightforward.

The Rossoneri only registered three wins in their first 10 Serie A games of the season, including a derby loss to Internazionale to further add insult to injury. An equally poor Champions League run during the group stage exacerbated this; Milan only recorded two wins in edging qualification to the knockout phase of the competition.

The one saving grace Milan possessed during these tumultuous times was Stephan El Shaarawy. Before the start of the season, Milan had released many of their most experienced players like Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf and Filippo Inzaghi.

Moreover, Milan had sold Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to Paris Saint Germain. All these departures augured a difficult season, which came to pass. However, none would have expected the 20-year-old El Shaarawy take such an important role in keeping the team afloat.

In effect, El Shaarawy had a very impressive Serie A season, scoring 16 goals. Although most of those goals came in the first half of the season, they all proved crucial in allowing Milan to finish third at the end of the season.

Of course it wasn’t all down to El Shaarawy. When the goals dried up for the young Italian, Adriano Galliani brought in reinforcement in the shape of Mario Balotelli. The want-away striker arrived in the January transfer window from Manchester City for about €20 million. Balotelli made a blistering start to his Milan career, and topped it off with 12 goals in his 13 league appearances. Indeed Balotelli’s arrival proved to be that X-factor that allowed Milan to clinch third place ahead of Fiorentina in the last game of the season.

Because Balotelli had already featured in Europe for Manchester City, he was cup-tied for the Champions League. His offensive presence could have possibly made a difference for the Rossoneri in their knockout round clash against Barcelona. After an unexpected win at the San Siro and Mbaye Niang’s effort that came crashing against the upright, Milan saw their 2-0 first-leg lead undone as the Blaugrana routed the Italians 4-0.

Throughout this whole season of up’s and down’s, Massimiliano Allegri was the main target of much of the criticism directed at Milan too. Club owner, Silvio Berlusconi, was not shy about publically criticizing his coach, either. In short, the style of play was not to the taste of Berlusconi, who cringed at Allegri’s conservative and overly cautious tactics.

His supporters accepted the fact that Allegri was doing the best of very limited resources, whilst his detractors berated his provincial – referring to a small-club mentality – approach. In the end however, Allegri managed to seal the much-coveted Champions League qualifying spot.

It really has been a difficult season, for both Milan and their fans. Allegri managed to survive until the end of the season and indeed up until today despite the inconsistent results. El Shaarawy was key in the first half of the season in giving Milan a puncher’s chance to finish with a bang.

Balotelli’s arrival during the winter delivered that bang as Milan was, statistically, one of the best teams of the second half of the season in terms of points won. Overall, Milan was the fifth best Serie A offense (67 goals scored) and the third best defense (39 goals conceded).

It is difficult to consider Milan’s season a real success, or a complete failure either. They struggled mightily and in fact only managed one win – against Juventus – against the teams that finished in the top four and Internazionale throughout the season. There is definitely an argument to be made about the loss of Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva before the start of the season. But apart from Juventus and Roma, Milan’s squad should have been expected to compete with all other the teams over a 38-game season.

On the other hand, after a terrible start that had the Rossoneri anchored to the bottom half of the table, we must praise them for their impressive climb up the table. In the end, it is probably best that Milan consider this season a wash and suspend judgment until the season to come.

 

Written by Ogo Sylla

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