If it is not Theo’s lung-bursting runs and late goals, then it is Ismaël Bennacer and Franck Kessie’s unrelenting work in the midfield trenches.
Simon Kjaer’s confidence to lead by example and emerge a role model deserves its plaudits, as does Hakan Calhanoglu’s breakout and Gianluigi Donnarumma imposing himself even further in the conversation for the world’s best goalkeepers.
There are so many unsung heroes though that, at one point or another in an injury-packed and positive-test year, have lent a helping hand in Milan’s first half rise to the top of Italy.
Milan’s strength derives from its collective approach. Each and every individual seems willing to get their hands dirty. It could be said that what Milan lacks in quality to its adversaries, they make up in unity and a sacrificial attitude towards obtaining the desired result.
There is a next man up mentality about this side that cannot be taught, and one may argue it is the sole element that diﬀerentiates them from the rest competing for the title.
Milan is currently unbeaten in 26 league matches entering 2021, with the most notable victories this season including Inter, Napoli and Lazio; all impressive, yet neither more important than the other.
Every single point has significance in finishing top four and, if the stars align, finishing as champions of Italy.
When asked about the idea of winning the Scudetto and ending Juventus decade of dominance, Ibrahimović put it best: "We must be hungry. Every day. We must have the courage to dream."
The year came to an end, but, as we saw on Sunday, the diﬃculties and challenges ahead are plenty.
Milan’s first test of the year away to Pippo Inzaghi’s Benevento called into action their resolve when, clinging to a 1-0 lead, Sandro Tonali was sent oﬀ with a red card.
Milan faced a 25-shot barrage from the Witches, yet with Gianluigi Donnarumma’s five crucial saves and Rafael Leão’s wonderfully curled in eﬀort, that ability to dig deep within for one another prevailed in victory to remain top of the table.
Depleted of key resources, Stefano Pioli’s Milan also confronted last week’s match against Lazio with grit, energy and desire to win rather than rationalizing why anything but victory was acceptable.
After an early 2-0 advantage withered away, the Rossoneri’s resolve proved decisive yet again as Theo Hernandez’s last-gasp header snatched all three points from the visitors in a 3-2 finish befitting of all that has made them special in 2020.
As the world brings in the New Year, Milan sit atop the Serie A table ahead of rivals Inter to claim winter champion status. This feat, though lauded and celebrated, presents a moment to reflect on the year that was and understand how humble beginnings should serve as a firm reminder of all the work left to be done.
Prior to the stoppage of play in March due to COVID-19, Genoa dealt Milan a shock defeat inside an empty, grim-feeling San Siro. Rather than crumbling and writing the remainder of the campaign oﬀ completely, the restart became the opening chapter of an unforgettable year full of growth and optimism going forward.
Rewarding him with a new contract as oppose to hiring football revolutionist Ralf Rangnick, Milan’s decision to keep Pioli in the dugout, though bold, proved to be the correct one.
The former Lazio and Inter boss has not only provided stability at the post, but also forged a winning identity uncommon around the club this decade, creating an environment for one of Europe’s youngest sides to thrive and believe in achieving something great.
Pioli’s sheer guidance and tutelage is exactly what Milan have been missing, but on the pitch, it was Zlatan Ibrahimović who initially made the diﬀerence.
Bereft of oﬀensive production, leadership and a winner’s mentality in the squad, Ibrahimović’sceremoniously returned last January on a free transfer as the archetypal signing necessary to carry out the vision for the youth-driven project.
From the moment he came oﬀ the bench for his second debut, Ibrahimović’s mere presence was felt; in the changing room, on the training ground and during match days.
His aura and commitment to winning had brushed oﬀ on the rest of the roster, sparking an immediate burst in form from the 11th position that was held at the time of the Swede’s arrival to what we see today.
“I knew we needed his character, his strength and his charisma,” Pioli explained to Sky Sport.
“I first met Zlatan at Milanello, at that point I knew I was dealing with a champion in terms of mentality, professionalism and skill.”
Since returning, the 39-year-old has lived up to the billing, featuring 30 times and scoring 22 goals while providing a further seven assists to significantly contribute towards Milan’s Serie A-best 79 points in the calendar year.
The Swede, however, has been out of action since the end of November and Milan have managed to achieve great results also without their undisputed leader on the pitch with the Rossoneri who remain the only unbeaten team in Europe’s leading leagues.
Unity and gravitas will determine just how successful they will be in overcoming the many obstacles that lie in the wait, such as Juventus who will look to shrink the deficit Wednesday at San Siro.