[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter two disappointing seasons, AC Milan are clearly still struggling to find their true identity.
It’s really a trying time to be a Milan supporter these days. Just when Rossoneri fans have their hopes up, Milan brings them crashing back down to earth. After two seasons that saw them finish in eighth and tenth, the club’s hierarchy made no bones about the necessity for the 7-time Champions League winners to be back in Europe’s premier competition next term.
The notoriously stingy management opted to splash some cash in order to try to put those two awful campaigns firmly behind them and attempt to force their way back into contention for European football.
After a stop-start beginning to the 2015/2016 season, Siniša Mihajlović ‘s side appeared to have turned a corner. The error-prone Diego Lopez was replaced by 16-year-old prodigy Gianluigi Donnarumma whose excellent performances played a huge role in the team avoiding a loss starting from a 2-1 win versus Sassuolo on October 25th improving until being halted by a recently-resurgent Juventus side on November 21st.
Still, despite the defeat to the Bianconeri, the Diavolo appeared to shake it off by thrashing Sampdoria 4-1 at the San Siro. Was this the sign that things were on the up and up for Milan?
A quick glance at Milan’s fixture list leading to the Christmas break shows that the scheduling higher authorities must have been smiling down on the Rossoneri. Three league games, three matches against the bottom three sides in the league. No wonder, then, that some supporters figured they would have nine additional points in the bag and began envisioning the team finding themselves in a European football spot before the start of the new year.
However, the warning signs that this may be false hope were during their next match against Crotone. Although they eventually dispatched the lower tier side, 3-1, the score-line was insidiously deceptive as it took them till extra time to see off their determined opponents. Nonetheless if they were able to see off a fellow Serie A side – albeit a struggling one in Mihajlović’s former team Sampdoria – off so resoundingly, then Milan should have no problem dealing with Carpi, a team that were playing in the Lega Pro Prima Divisione as recently as the 2011/2012 campaign…right?
Somehow, despite spending big over the summer, Milan were unable to find a way past Carpi, a team whose entire budget does not even come close to matching the €30 million forked out on Colombian attacker Carlos Bacca. Whilst they were not on the losing end – with a dull, insipid 0-0 stalemate the final result after 93 painful minutes of action – the one point gained was more like two lost. Meanwhile, for the Biancorossi, a team fighting for survival, each draw can make the difference between salvation and relegation, so one can certainly bet that that one point won must have felt like three to the struggling new kids on the block.
Fans were shocked. Dismayed. Disgusted. Still, there was another chance coming up for redemption. Hellas Verona are still the only side yet to win a single game in the league this season. And if the Veronese outfit hope to survive the drop, their odds do not look good: first and only time (out of 11 past sides) to have failed to win their first 15 games and stay afloat was Varese during the 1970/1971 campaign.
So, facing the wrath of fans after the embarrassing performance against Carpi, coupled with welcoming a team totally devoid of confidence, it all appeared really simple for Milan: record a comfortable win and then turn their attention back to Coppa Italia duty before taking on another basement boy, Frosinone for their last game before the holiday break.
Unfortunately, when something appears too simple, sometimes people self-sabotage. For instance, let’s say one has a final exam at uni in a subject one has cruised through all season. All one has to do is show up on Friday morning, take it and relax for the rest of the weekend. However, this student decides because things appear so easy to head out for a spot of drinks with some friends, which quickly turns into one of those “if only I had stopped drinking when I could still walk” nights. Hungover the next morning, the student stumbles into the exam room and can barely stay awake to get through the exam, and whilst this proverbial student does not fail, they end up with a much lower result than had been expected.
This analogy – something that is probably familiar to most people who have graduated from uni – perfectly symbolizes Milan’s result against Hellas Verona. 1-0 up and just needing another goal to nullify an already deflated side, Nigel De Jong decided that, “Well, this seems easy enough, why don’t I mix things up and get myself sent off?” And despite the skills of youngster Donnarumma, we all know that penalties are a crap-shoot in which many more experienced keepers have been beaten time and time again.
Cool as a cucumber, Toni, who at 38 is 2.5 times older than Milan’s newest no. 1, did not miss and reduced to 10 men, Milan lacked the cutting edge to rally back against Hellas Verona who not surprisingly, fought tooth and nail to hang on for a point.
Should have, would have, could have were the usual mutterings post match. Still, at the end of the day, Milan only have themselves to blame and will need to regroup quickly: next up is Sampdoria, the very same team they humiliated last month as they resume Coppa Italia action. And you can bet your house on it that the Blucerchiati, who sit in a miserable 16th place at the time of this writing, would love nothing but to dump Milan out of the Coppa Italia, which, at this point in time appears to be the fallen giants’ only way back into European football for next season.
From struggling to having turned a corner to back to seemingly floundering. Will the real AC Milan please stand up?
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