Sitting atop the Serie A table after seven rounds and projected to advance out of Group H in the UEFA Europa League, Stefano Pioli and his Milan have to feel good about the current state of aﬀairs at theclub.
However, recent performances for the Rossoneri suggest they will come back down to earth after a 24-match unbeaten run lasting 242 days was snapped and players appear not as sharp as they were to begin the campaign.
Zlatan Ibrahimović, whose penalty attempt went awry for the third time in as many tries, is beginning to look a bit worn out, though he would never publicly express it. Despite this, the Swede assumes the responsibility as the club’s talisman and guiding light, leading the league with 8 goals.
By virtue of being rather slim up top to relieve the former Barcelona star, it is of paramount importance that Pioli finds a way to recharge the batteries of his main man as we enter the international break.
Beyond the exploits of Ibrahimović though, fans are hopeful key defensive figures like Theo Hernandez, Simon Kjaer and Alessio Romagnoli will return to their peak.
For the most part, the Dane has been Milan’s staunchest central defender, releasing pivotal long balls and ensuring organization at the back. But despite this, Romagnoli’s recent return from injury has unveiled a lack of fitness physically, thus leaving him vulnerable to mistakes and the back line falling victim to additionalpressure.
A simple appraisal of Milan’s defense shows they are thin in this area, so it will be a challenge for Pioli to bring the duo back to the form we saw much of last season and ensure a strong defensive record the rest of the way.
In the middle of the park, the general vibe is a positive one shared amongst Milan supporters. There is depth, raised performance and newcomers showing improvement week toweek.
Franck Kessie’s diﬃcult outings against Lille and Verona may be best attributed to over-use,and that is a telling sign considering the fact the Ivorian has played virtually every minute of every match since arriving from Atalanta.
Kessie’s high-motor is vital for Ismaël Bennacer to express himself to the best of his ability, therefore Pioli must avoid running Kessie into the ground and rely on the depth at his disposal. That leads into Sandro Tonali.
The highly-touted Italian has improved marginally with every outing, but we definitely have not seen the best of what Tonali has to oﬀer. This comes down more to acclimating rather than a lack of fitness or general playing ability which we know the 20-year old possesses in droves.
Similarly to Bennacer who took time to asset himself at the club after arriving from Empoli, Tonali should, and must, deliver match-defining performance that leaves Pioli confident to run him out there more consistently, regardless of the midfield assignments.
The refreshing play of Brahim Díaz and Rafael Leäo has garnered plenty of applause, with the duo adding attacking elements far from what we have witnessed in recent years.
Hakan Calhanoglu has picked up right where he left oﬀ in the second half of 2019-20, Ante Rebic is now ready for duty and Alexis Saelemaekers is mightily growing into a quality starter and one who can deliver a shot in the arm with his work-rate and endless running.
Unlike in previous seasons, Milan seem built to last at the moment in the attacking department.
Tired legs and fatigue, while deemed valid excuses, are realities shared by many clubs this season due to the current crisis, so Milan must not look for sympathy nor should the supporters. Management, Pioli and the squad should feel proud for the way they have handled this season so far. The seasonal objectives of finishing top four and making a deep run in Europe feel attainable, but those who have followed this club’s tumultuous journey over the past decade know better than to assume the stars have alreadyaligned.
No doubt, early days show Milan trending in the right direction, but remaining humble in theirhustle is what is important at this time.