As the 2019-20 Serie A season heads into its final act, the fate of Italy’s top teams is already decided. Juventus will win their ninth consecutive championship, while the identity of the three other Champions League qualifiers was never in doubt after the lockdown. As we go into the final round, Inter, Atalanta and Lazio could all still take second place, as they are crammed within a point. Yet, the contrasting fortunes of Lazio and Milan in the last month only increase the regrets of a Rossoneri side that finished sixth.
This could have been a dream summer for Lazio. They came into the restart on the coat-tails of The Old Lady, fuelling dreams of a first Scudetto in 20 years. However, a lack of depth has cost them dearly. Inzaghi’s small squad has looked exhausted since the first match back against Atalanta and has not had time to recuperate due to the fixture pile-up.
Nevertheless, the reasons for the capital club’s demise are as much mental as they are physical. Lazio seemed bereft of confidence without the presence of star striker Ciro Immobile in their chastening 3-0 home defeat to Milan. They could not hold their concentration against Lecce and Sassuolo, losing both games after scoring first. Patric’s bizarre bite on Giulio Donati at the end of the meeting with the Salentini epitomized a team that had lost the plot.
Meanwhile, Milan are playing with a sense of conviction and belief rarely seen in the last decade. The roots of a promising midfield partnership between Ismael Bennacer and Franck Kessie have taken hold. Hakan Calhanoglu is playing his best football since arriving on Italian shores three years ago. Simon Kjaer’s calming presence has solidified the Rossoneri defence.
Stefano Pioli’s charges have looked more self-assured with each positive result of an 11-match undefeated streak that includes an eye-catching comeback win over the champions. The recently renewed Pioli deserves enormous credit, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the true catalyst for Milan’s transformation.
Ibra’s contribution to the Rossoneri goes far beyond the on-field performances that belie his 38 years of age. His sheer force of personality has awoken a sleeping giant. Instead of inspiring them to further triumphs, Milan’s illustrious history had become a weight around their necks. Within a few months, the giant Swede has imbued his teammates with a swagger befitting one of the world’s biggest clubs.
Unfortunately for Milan, their summer exploits will not be rewarded with a Champions League place next campaign. In fact, they’re going to have to start from the Europa League preliminary rounds on September 17, having failed to catch up to Roma in fifth place.
In contrast, Lazio can look forward to participation in Europe’s premier club competition. The economic boost from their top four finish could allow the Romans to re-establish themselves as a consistent contender for domestic honours.
Yet, the Rossoneri’s restored splendour could prove potentially even more valuable than Lazio’s Champions League windfall. There’s no guarantee Claudio Lotito will invest that money on the transfer market, as most of the links are with free agents or players on loan with option to buy. If the Aquile don’t make huge changes to their squad this summer, playing in the Champions League and Serie A could turn from dream to nightmare.
With the momentum gained from a red-hot run, Milan could again be an attractive proposition to elite players. Regardless of who they bring in this off-season, it seems that Milan have finally found the path back to greatness.