Tuesday night’s performance by Milan against Atletico Madrid, coupled with the end result, provided brutal confirmation of what the Serie A table has been suggesting all season. The Rossoneri, despite their rich history and pedigree in Europe’s premier club competition, are simply not good enough to grace it at the moment.
Ricky Kaka’s equaliser on the night at the Vicente Calderon briefly put this Round of 16 tie back in the balance, but from the moment Arda Turan restored the home side’s lead five minutes before half-time there was only ever going to be one winner. Clarence Seedorf’s side went on to concede a further two goals late in the second half before referee Mark Clattenburg’s final whistle mercifully brought the contest, and Milan’s European campaign, to an end.
The Rossoneri will be and already have been heavily criticised for the manner of the defeat, which is their third in succession in all competitions. Seedorf himself was particularly scathing of his side’s performance, citing a lack of resilience as the main reason behind the capitulation.
“You could see after the second goal that the team struggled to react psychologically, as they often do,” the Dutchman told the media following the game. “The period of difficulty [earlier in the season] lasted so long that it affected the team. They can react once, but after a second blow they can’t get back on their feet. In the second half the whole team no longer produced the right level of grit and determination to keep fighting. We sat back too much and in general it was not positive.”
It is clear that Seedorf’s honeymoon period at San Siro is now well and truly over. Since succeeding the sacked Max Allegri in January he has overseen, on the whole, a marginal improvement in performances and results. It must also not be forgotten that the Rossoneri were unfortunate to lose the first-leg of the tie with Atleti, nor that they put up a good fight in defeat against runaway Serie A leaders Juventus a week-and-a-half ago.
Those two performances, along with a few others, provide some evidence that Seedorf is taking his side in the right direction in the early stages of his coaching career. However, defeat to Udinese on Saturday followed by last night’s showing have highlighted the magnitude of the task that the San Siro legend faces if he is to restore the club to the sort of heights the tifosi have become accustomed to down the years.
So what next for the Rossoneri? They now have 11 Serie A fixtures left to focus on but with the side barely in the top half of the table and nine points off a European place, they have surely left themselves far too much to do to mount a serious challenge for continental competition. Seedorf has said that the Rossoneri still have ‘some very specific objectives’ to achieve before the season’s end, and one very high on his own personal list must surely now be to conduct a thorough and honest assessment of the playing staff he currently has at his disposal.
Indeed, if the club’s decision makers are certain that they have got the right man for the job in the rookie Dutchman, they would be best served to now write off the season in terms of results and allow Seedorf the opportunity to do just that. Poor though the season has been, Milan will not be dragged into a relegation dogfight so the Coach should be given license to use the upcoming games as a chance to experiment with youngsters, run the rule over fringe players, decide which of the more experienced ones to retain and try out new formations and tactics.
He should be allowed to do all of this free of the expectation of delivering good results that is normally a given at San Siro, so long as it is evident that he is building for the future. After all, it would surely serve the Rossoneri far better in the long term if they were to finish this season in say, 13th place, but having had a look at some of the youth players who so impressively won the Viareggio tournament in first team action, than it would to stick with the same set of players who have shown over the course of the season that collectively they are not up to the required standard and finish seventh or eighth.
The nature of Milan’s turbulent season means that they face the unfamiliar scenario of having to play two months of virtual dead-rubbers before the season is out. If they are used properly however, the upcoming matches may prove to be a rare and much needed opportunity to really take stock of where the club is at. It is an opportunity that, as demonstrated by events last night, the Rossoneri should not and cannot pass up.