The AC Milan renaissance

By Online Editorial

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After a poor start, Leonardo’s men are now gaining momentum and could even be regarded as serious challengers to their neighbours’ Serie A dominance, writes Ben Lyttleton.

There is a new threat to Inter’s run of successive Scudetto titles and it’s coming from a surprising source; the same city, in fact.

AC Milan have emerged from a dark autumn with a confident coach, and a new system that seems to be working. Back in September, things looked bleak for coach Leonardo in his first season: the team were struggling in Serie A, winning one of six games through September, and they even lost a home Champions League tie to FC Zurich on matchday two.

They went into Saturday night’s game at home to Sampdoria on the back of four straight league wins, and that became five after first half goals from Marco Borriello, Clarence Seedorf and Alexandre Pato in a 3-0 win.

Suddenly the formation that Leonardo stumbled upon when his team turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win over Chievo in October looks dangerous: a 4-2-1-3 system that has Seedorf in the roving role behind a front three of Ronaldinho, Borriello and Pato. With Pippo Inzaghi and Klass-Jan Huntelaar both available too, goals are not a problem in this side (in fact, their last blank came in that match against Zurich).

And while it may be too early to judge Leonardo’s ability as coach, there are certain elements to this Milan side that were lacking last season: Andrea Pirlo, for example, has been rewarded for cutting back the intensity of his training sessions by playing his best football for two years while Ronaldinho, such a major disappointment last season, looks like he is enjoying his football again and is a threatening presence.

This is still a side in transition: you can see as much by the squad list which contains 12 players aged 32 or over, while only five players in the 23-28 age-bracket. This is why Milan¹s biggest weakness is a lack of pace: Seedorf and Ronaldinho have all the trickery in the world but the team is hugely reliant on Pato for pace.

The arrival of David Beckham, 34, in January is hardly going to improve the average-age or speed of the side.

Thiago Silva has looked an impressive acquisition at centre-back, but the team has been hit by the long-term injury of Oguchi Onyewu and still depend on Alessandro Nesta, another 33-year-old, to marshal the back-line. A fortnight ago he missed Milan’s home match with Cagliari, and the side conceded three goals (luckily they scored four): he was back against Catania and they kept a clean sheet.

And yet Leonardo has not won over everyone with his nice-guy methods: Gennaro Gattuso has reportedly threatened to leave if Leonardo continues to leave him out of the side to which president Adriano Galliani replied: “Why would you sit on the bench somewhere else?” ­Gaetano di Stefano of Gazzetta dello Sport wrote in his Catania match report: “Boredom was quite clearly the leitmotif of the game.”

It might not be so boring later this week: Milan welcome Zurich to the San Siro on Wednesday and could yet finish in any of the top three positions in Group C. If Real Madrid beat Marseille, a 2.28 price, then Milan are guaranteed second spot: but if Real lose, Milan will need to win to stay ahead of Marseille.

This Milan side is a different one to that which lost to Zurich in September; a better system and more confident players means they should have enough to win comfortably. The away win is 1.4 and a Correct Score of 0-2 7.6.

Inter, 1.28 for the Scudetto, should have enough to win a third straight title under Jose Mourinho but it now looks like Milan – in to 5.6 from 9.0 in recent days – and not Juventus, (5.7) (in from 10.0 before their win over Inter), who will be the ones hanging onto their coat-tails.

Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. © The Sporting Exchange Limited

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