Italian Serie A: 5 Players Who Are Integral to AC Milan's Success
Following the controversial draw with Juventus at the San Siro, Milan stands but a single point clear of the Turin side at the top of Serie A.
Unfortunately that narrow margin is only further reduced upon further inspection, as one would soon come to discover that the Rossoneri have completed one more fixture than their most threatening and nearest adversaries.
The persistence of injuries, moronic bans and the fading powers of the club’s senior members have proved to be reoccurring obstacles over the entirety of this campaign.
So the difference of securing domestic league honors and adding yet another victory-laden chapter to Milan’s already storied Champions League history rests more heavily upon the shoulders of a specific few than all the rest.
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In Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s first season with the Rossoneri, the level of his influence was debatable. After a roaring start and a barrage of goals to mark his return to the Italian fashion capital, the big Swede scored just once in the club’s final 16 matches. Further investigation showed that Milan actually scored with greater frequency when he was not playing.
Ibra has long been regarded as a big-game flop for his lack of considerable success during the most pivotal points of domestic league play and the Champions League, which has continued to evade him.
This campaign, Ibra has proved to be the single greatest catalyst of Milan’s success, having scored 15 goals and assisted four others—in just 19 Serie A appearances—of the club’s 49 total.
His impact in the Champions League has so far been undeniable as well. He has set up his teammates countless times with key passes and movement along the pitch that even his praise-worthy statistics—five goals and three assists in five matches—cannot begin to describe.
Unfortunately his temperament has cost Milan their greatest chance to truly leap Juventus in the Serie A table barring an unexpected loss to Chievo.
With Alexandre Pato constantly riding the fence between injury and poor-form, there is simply no player capable of picking up the slack in Ibra’s absence.
Milan are dependent on Zlatan Ibrahimovic to a glaring fault, but his (undeserved) ban will only prove an aberration in what will be his best season yet.
Expect greatness or utter failure.
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When the former Juventus youth was acquired for a modest €500,000 from Palermo on the last day of the summer window no one, or at least very, very few, thought much of Antonio Nocerino.
Amidst the disappointment of not landing “Mr. X,” who cared about yet another bargain bin buy to compliment the likes of Taye Taiwo and Philippe Mexes, who both arrived for free?
But the Italian has emerged as the single best acquisition of the offseason in terms of both value and performance. Taiwo has since been shipped off to the Queens Park Rangers. Mexes has missed enough matches with injury as it is but apparently did not think twice about throwing a cheeky jab at Juventus striker Mario Borriello, which will relegate him to the stands for three coming fixtures. Alberto Aquilani has actually looked impressive but has once again been sidelined by injury.
Nocerino, a true box-to-box midfielder, offers many of the same enforcer qualities that made Gennaro Gattuso a club legend but with an added bit of goal-scoring panache.
The reasons why Massimiliano Allegri initially felt a starting midfield of Massimo Ambrosini (34), Mark van Bommel (34) and “Slowdorf” (35) would suffice are beyond me. The group has looked dreadfully old and has only appeared to have gotten worse as the season has progressed apart from a very few flashes of class.
With Urby Emanuelson likely to be often asked to fill the trequartista role and Aquilani continuing to struggle with the constant niggling injuries that have hampered the vast majority of his promising career, Nocerino will need to run about the pitch with the crazed look of a rabid dog and vitality of a hyper-active fat kid at a candy store.
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The Dutch strikes a mysterious figure at the San Siro. At least initially, he was brought in from Ajax under the belief that he could develop into a dynamic force down the left-flank—a utility player that may finally offer some solace in relief of the immortal and seemingly invincible Luca Antonini. But alas, that was never to be.
Due to the recurrent injuries of Kevin-Prince Boateng and continued absence of Antonio Cassano, who has since returned to training following heart surgery, Emanuelson has recently been deployed as the trequartista.
When on the pitch, Boateng presents an almost unmatched combination of physicality, tenacity and explosion, but those times are too far and few between. The former Ghana international simply cannot be trusted to stay on the pitch consistently, so his “class” is rather unimportant.
Emanuelson has begun to make strides as a Milan player; in fact many rightfully credited his replacement of the injured Clarence Seedorf as the real turning point of the Champions League fixture.
In all honesty, I do believe there are better options to play the trequartista role in relief of the oft-injured Boateng, but the more natural option, Cassano, is yet to reach fitness and Robinho cannot be moved due to a lack of striking options.
The continued development of Emanuelson as a central player when called upon and his contributions as a peripheral midfielder will play a vital role in achieving glory.
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In his prime, Alessandro Nesta was recognized as one of the most dominant center backs to ever grace the pitch, and despite numerous injuries over the years, he remains one of the best at his position even at 35-years-old.
But at this moment in time he has been surpassed by the more youthful Thiago Silva, who now enters the prime of his own career at 27 years old and will be expected to lead the defense and continue the legacy of the great defenders before him—Nesta included.
However achieving those aspirations will be impossible without the assistance of the incredibly savvy and tactically astute Nesta to complement the Brazilian at the center of defense.
What happens next year is a complete mystery, but at the present, Milan will certainly have no possibility of achieving Serie A and Champions League glory without the complete benefit of the world-class tandem.
Without Silva our hopes of success would be equally shot, but there is a greater expectation that he will remain healthy throughout than his more experienced counterpart, which is why the club’s success so greatly hinges on the availability and performance of the veteran.
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Under ideal circumstances, Alexandre Pato would rightfully be of mention but I fear his career to be in jeopardy, or at least this current campaign to be lost for the Brazilian. There is a growing fear that Pato may (as ridiculous as this may sound) be too explosive. So explosive in fact that his incredible burst may lead to continuous problems going forward.
This is something the player will likely be wary of for the entirety of the season. Thinking that you may yet again suffer another muscular ailment with any quick movement paired with a single goal to your name in 11 league appearances is enough to shake any good striker’s confidence.
With that explained, it would be wise to look in another direction for this year at the very least.
Looking back to Stephan El-Shaarawy’s Padova highlight reel from just last year, his game was plain to see. A combination of speed, great vision, finishing touch, and some serious dribbling flair that most probably spends more money on hair gel than food.
But setting Serie B alight does not exactly guarantee anything on the next level even at 19, and so far it has not even earned him much time on the pitch.
What started as a few late cameo appearances has turned into necessity to start the young player, but Massimiliano Allegri’s reluctance has looked more like stupidity.
Robinho has all the dribbling talent in the world, but he has not shown the ability or the knack to consistently create over the years. At times the Brazilian looks absolutely brilliant, at others incredibly wasteful. For whatever reason, he is lacking a consistent level of confidence in his abilities.
Without the explosion of Alexandre Pato or the invariably missed ability to create of Antonio Cassano, another player with the ability to facilitate play outside of Zlatan Ibrahimovic is duly required.
In times where players capable of manufacturing their own opportunities are unavailable, a playmaker such as El-Shaarawy becomes all the more important.
Do I believe he is ready to maintain a starting role? No, but I do believe he should be recognized and used as a valuable catalyst to turn the tide when the situation begs for a bit of added ingenuity.
In any other situation, I would prefer him to develop on loan rather than thrust him into the starting lineup, but injuries and the wear of the season have called for a larger role.