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It’s been over a decade since AC Milan last won a league title. I Rossoneri last lifted the Serie A trophy in 2010/11, following a seven-year wait for success.
Back then, Massimiliano Allegri was the man in the dugout, with the double threat of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexandre Pato netting 14 goals each to bring home the title.
Since then, however, times have been tough. Milan have failed to break into the top four in recent times, finishing around the 5th, 6th, and 7th mark over the last few seasons.
That was until last season when the club improved drastically and secured second spot in the table. It was still a painful campaign, however, with fierce rivals Inter clinching top spot. The blue and black half of the city won the title by 12 points, but more painful was the fact that they overtook Milan for titles won.
The two clubs had been level on 18 titles for a decade, with neither able to pull away from the other thanks to the dominance of Juventus. But Inter finally achieved this last season, clinching their 19th title.
Now things in black and red are looking up, and it could be Milan’s turn to level the scores. They currently occupy top spot in Serie A, with just 10 matches remaining. They sit two points ahead of their San Siro cohabitants.
How have AC Milan come back from the dead?
It certainly hasn’t been a spectacular rise back to the top of Italian football for Milan. Even looking at this season alone, they haven’t scored the most goals by any means, and certainly don’t have the best defensive record going. Plenty of teams sit below and above them respectively in these tallies.
And even in Europe, while the club are glad to be back playing in the Champions League, it was far from a success. They crashed out of the group stages, finishing bottom of Group B behind Liverpool, Atletico Madrid, and Porto.
It was undoubtedly one of the most difficult groups to be placed in, but the Milan of old would have fancied their chances of progressing to the knockout stages. While the current side certainly isn’t the Milan of old, there are plenty of reasons to be positive.
And one major reason is manager Stefano Pioli. The boss has slowly but surely built his preferred squad, bringing in several key players since joining in October 2019.
He now has over 100 AC Milan matches in the bank, with his points per game ratio of 1.94 the best record he has in his managerial career so far. Pioli’s success in the dugout was rewarded in November 2021, with the manager extending his stay at the club until June 2023.
Key players shining for Pioli
As mentioned, many talented players have arrived in Milan in the last few years. It is by no means a star-studded lineup, but Pioli has his key men, with others playing a supporting role.
One key member of the starting XI, however, is goalkeeper Mike Maignan. The shot-stopper came through the youth system at PSG, but made his mark in French football at Lille, where he won the 2020/21 Ligue 1 title.
Europe’s leading teams were forced to stand up and take notice of the Frenchman, but it was Milan who won the race for his signature. He has been a crucial aspect of Pioli’s success and continues to pull off save after save in the most critical moments.
Only one player has played more minutes for Milan this season than the number one, and that is left-back Theo Hernandez. His bombing runs down the left flank have produced several goals, with the full-back given more freedom in the final third than Pioli’s right-backs.
The France international has four goals and nine assists in all competitions this season. At right-back, Alessandro Florenzi and Davide Calabria have been sharing the burden, while it is a similar situation at centre-back, albeit due to unfortunate injuries.
Captain Alessio Romagnoli has formed a solid partnership with former Chelsea defender Fikayo Tomori, with Simon Kjaer and youngster Pierre Kalulu providing further options if needed.
Tomori is, of course, one of two ex-Chelsea men shining at the San Siro. Striker Olivier Giroud, who struggled for game time in west London, has quickly found his feet at his new club. He has eight goals for the campaign, as does Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Rafael Leao. Leao perhaps deserves more credit, with all of his efforts coming from the left-wing.
On the right, Alexis Saelemaekers and Junior Messias have taken turns to try and impress. The same can be said for Brahim Diaz and Rade Krunic in attacking midfield. Ante Rebic is another option going forward, as is Daniel Maldini, the son of AC Milan legend Paolo.
AC Milan spoilt for choice in midfield
None of the attacking threats would be possible, however, without the club’s star men in midfield. Franck Kessie has been rock solid in a defensive role, serving as the anchor and providing a barrier for the back four.
The Ivory Coast international is, however, rapidly approaching the expiry of his contract. Barcelona are reportedly closing in on a deal to sign the 25-year-old this summer.
Milan needn’t worry, with Ismael Bennacer perhaps being trained to step into the position. On-loan Chelsea man Tiemoue Bakayoko is another that Pioli may try and get the best out of in that role.
But the prized asset is 21-year-old Sandro Tonali. Compared to Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard, Luka Modric and Gennaro Gattuso, the youngster has a huge career ahead of him. He’s been a regular in the heart of the midfield, impressing on the big stage since joining from Brescia in 2020.
Milan may have plenty of youngsters in the setup, but those youngsters have proven themselves against the biggest sides in Italian football.
One of the biggest and most important wins came against Napoli earlier this month, but the best undoubtedly took place at San Siro last month, with Giroud netting a late brace to secure a memorable 2-1 victory for the men in red and black.
The small matter of the Coppa Italia also remains up for grabs, with the two Milan clubs once again going head to head in the second leg of the semi-final, after a nervy 0-0 stalemate in the first meeting.