Over the course of the week and leading up to the Derby D’Italia, Inter Worldwide will bring you a series of articles outlining our direct rivals for the final UEFA Champions League places. In this edition, Anthony looks to our cross city cousins, Milan.
“chi non salta rossonero è!”
We all know the chant, its meaning to the neroazzurri and the division that stands between us and the red & black half of the great city of Milano.
This season in particular finds Inter doing battle with their cross city rivals in a logistical sense for the first time in….well, since i can remember really. For the first time in what feels like an eternity, both sides in Milan occupy UEFA Champions League positions, and contrary to current form and mental stability, are in pole position to snake those spots from the rest of the league.
How did they get here?
AC Milan started their 2018/19 campaign with high expectations after a busy summer mercato saw them bring in a host of new names including Gonzalo Higuain and Tiemoue Bakayoko on loan from Juventus & Chelsea respectively, as well as a free transfer of Alen Halilovic from hamburg, Fabio Borini & Peppe Reina.
On top of these additions, the club proudly announced the full fee signings of Villarreal hot property Samu Castillejo for €25,000,000, Mattia Caldara of Juventus for €35,000,000 and Deigo Laxalt from Genoa (former Inter player) for €14,000,000.
On the flip side of the mercato, Milan saw a fair few players exit the locker room seeking challenges elsewhere. Most notably these included Leonardo Bonucci, the countries biggest traitor back to Juve for €35,000,000 whilst 30-year-old Kalinic packed his bags for Spain for his move to Atletico Madrid. Other notable departues included Gianluca Lapadula to Genoa for €11,000,000 & M’Baye Niang for €12,000,000 to Torino.
The pre season was kind to Gattuso & his men as they collected 3/3 easy victories against lower level opposition before taking part in the International Champions Cup tournament, mixing with the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United & Tottenham Hotspur.
The first competitive fixture for the rossoneri came with a 1-0 defeat in the Supercoppa Italiana against Juventus. Then it was time for the hard work to begin.
The first half of the Serie A campaign produced mixed results for Milan. Positive outcomes against Roma, Sassuolo & Sampdoria were overshadowed by a comprehensive defeat to Napoli, a last-minute derby defeat at the hands of Icardi & Inter, and home defeats to Juventus and Fiorentina, left Gattuso’s men sitting in 5th position with a little bit of work cut out for them in the second half of the season. At this point of the campaign, Milan looked to have developed at least some form of offensive identity, lacking that key intricate, creative outlet in midfield to connect the deep-lying play to the attack (a la Rafinha and his influence in the back half of 17/18 for Inter).
This creative outlet however, was only a small €35,000,000 fee away in the form of Brazilian sensation Lucas Paqueta, who’s move from Flamengo at the right part of the season, seemed to have turned the tides in Milan’s favour. Compile this with the €35,000,000 signing of Genoa hitman and (at the time) leading scorer in the league Krzysztof Piątek, and the results at the commencement of the second half of the domestic calendar, were a lot more in the ‘green’ so to speak.
Milan started the second half of this season with two straight wins againgst Genoa and SPAL before earning two respective draws to Napoli & Roma. Following this saw their most successful period of the season where they collected 5 straight victories against Cagliari, Atalanta, Empoli, Sassuolo and Chevo, scoring 12 goals and conceding only 2, with summer signings Paqueta & Piatek the stand out performers.
Things were looking great for Gattuso, and after briefly taking over rivals Inter and occupying the 3rd position, there was plenty of talk out of camp rossoneri that the ragazzi are more than equipped to tackle Napoli and challenge for that 2nd position. However, football took charge as per usual, and the rest of the season has led them, well….here.
Where are they now?
So here we are, match day 34, 5 opponents remaining with a clear vision for AC milan, seal that 4th spot and earn qualification to the UCL for the first time since 2013/14. With a tricky schedule ahead of them, and a COPPA ITALIA SEMI FINAL 2ND LEG against Lazio only 5 days away, the task of winning enough matches from now to the end of the season is a turbulent one for Gattuso & co.
With Higuain sent to Chelsea on loan in January, Piatek has the sole responsibility of making sure Milan get enough digits on the score sheet to reach their seasons goals. If Milan are unsuccessful in qualifying for the UCL, it could very well set the club back many years as they are currently in a stranglehold with UEFA over breeching FFP. To say that this club has more staking on qualifying for the UCL than the other’s mentioned, would be an understatement.
RECORD: W15, D11, L7
LEAGUE POSITION: 4th
DISTANCE BEHIND INTER: 5 points with Inter holding the tiebreaker after winning both legs.
REMAINING FIXTURES: Torino (A), Bologna (H), Fiorentina (A), Frosinone (H), SPAL (A)
PREDICTED POINTS AND LEAGUE STANDING: 11 points, finishing 4th, 5 points behind INTER.
Do you agree / disagree with the above prediction?
Let us know your thoughts below!
–Written by Anthony Privetera