Sunday May 8 2011
The Complete Milan

The Old Guard and summer spending spree got Milan on top, but Susy Campanale argues it's the January strategy that kept them there

Few can dispute Milan's 18th Scudetto, as they have been on top of the table continuously since November 10 and beat both Inter and Napoli twice. There have been a few hiccups, as is inevitable in such a competitive League, but in terms of consistency they have been a step above. That is frankly unusual for the Rossoneri and can be put down to a very intelligent mid-season transfer strategy.

The San Siro giants had not worn the Serie A crown for seven years and right from the summer made it clear this would be their primary objective. Why else spend big for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the man who has now won his eighth consecutive League title between Holland, Italy and Spain? In the early months of the campaign they relied heavily on Ibra to hold up the ball and do what Milan traditionally struggled with: battering down the defences of fairly negative sides. Much like Inter a few years ago, the Swede tended to snatch victories even when the overall team performance had been wanting.

Ibrahimovic is their top scorer with 14 goals and 11 assists, but Massimiliano Allegri's men cannot be accused of being Zlatan-dependent. That is because the centre-forward was taken out of the picture for a number of reasons in the crucial part of the campaign. He played non-stop for months, so fatigue and his notoriously short fuse combined to see his influence vanish. On top of that, they were robbed of their midfield lynchpins Andrea Pirlo and Massimo Ambrosini for several months. In previous years, this would've led to a total collapse from the side amid tactical predictability, but Allegri had other aces up his sleeve.

First Alexandre Pato stepped in with a decisive brace in the 3-0 derby win over Inter that effectively paved the way for the Scudetto. The Duck's long-standing muscular problems struck again, so Robinho found his feet – if not always his scoring boots – in a more attacking role than he'd been allowed with Ibra around.

Clarence Seedorf was widely ignored for the first six months, then emerged as a match-winner in both trequartista and midfield positions. How many sides can boast the man who won the Champions League with three different clubs as a stop-gap solution?

Vice-President Adriano Galliani suggested a few weeks ago that “the team got to the top of the table, but the January signings kept us there.” This certainly seems to be the case, as Antonio Cassano filled the gaps when there were literally no other available strikers and scored essential goals against Bari and Inter. Mark Van Bommel was a revelation in the middle of the park. With Pirlo and Ambrosini absent, the former Bayern Munich man's experience was sorely-needed to keep the side afloat.

The importance of the mid-season additions can be seen in how much they were missed against Tottenham. Cassano, Van Bommel and Urby Emanuelson were all cup-tied, which goes a long way to explaining the problems Milan had in the Champions League knockouts. At that time options were so thin on the ground that Thiago Silva had to be pushed up into midfield.

It is that strength in depth that earned Milan the Serie A title this season. Few expected the likes of Mario Yepes, Massimo Oddo and Marek Jankulovski to play a pivotal role, but they got the job done when called upon in times of crisis. Pippo Inzaghi also made his mark before a double knee ligament injury ruled him out in November. Even Gennaro Gattuso got in on the act with a goal to defeat Juventus in Turin!

I must also single out a few figures for praise in this Scudetto campaign. Kevin-Prince Boateng was a masterstroke after his 2010 World Cup heroics with Ghana, although it remains bizarre that he had to be signed via Genoa. The former Portsmouth man represents a very different type of trequartista to the one Italian teams are accustomed to, as he both created and worked tirelessly to block opposition counter-attacks at source.

Thiago Silva was an absolute revelation and now surely among the top centre-backs in the world. He is still very young and will hopefully represent Milan's future for a long time to come. Ignazio Abate resolved the age-old full-back problem by changing from a winger to the defence with excellent results, while Christian Abbiati was always thoroughly reliable in goal and made some crucial saves in tricky situations.

Then again, singling out individuals misses the point of this Scudetto victory. Milan truly won as a unit, even one that changed mid-season, and Allegri ensured everyone gave their contribution.

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