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Table Position: 4
Big Matches: 6
Milan's horrific start to the season saw them drop to as far as 15th eight games into the season, but eventually the rossoneri roared back and are now in the thick of things for a return to the Champions League.
The inverse of Inter, the wintertime has brought a huge boost to them in terms of goal-scoring with the arrival of the mercurial Mario Balotelli, who scored four goals in his first three games with the club, and has formed what could be a truly frightening strike force alongside fellow young international Stephan El Shaarawy.
That said, there are some significant holes in this side. Their defense, so weakened by the summertime departure of Thiago Silva, is still a work in progress. They're solid on the right side with Ignazio Abate and 20-year-old phenom Mattia De Sciglio, but they're trying to convert Kevin Constant into a left-back, and the various combination of center-backs they've tried—most centered around Philippe Mexes—have not inspired the confidence that last year's pairing of Silva and Alessandro Nesta.
Goalkeeping can be a concern as well—Christian Abbiati is getting older and Marco Amelia isn't a long-term No. 1 for a team of Milan's level.
Their road to the Champions League will be difficult, as half of the team's 12 games fall under our criteria of "big matches." Chief amongst them is a brutal three-week stretch in which the Milan giants will face Fiorentina (on the road), Napoli (at home) and Juventus (away). The rossoneri were 1-1-1 in the corresponding fixtures this season with a loss to Fiorentina, a 2-2 draw against Napoli and a controversial 1-0 victory against Juve. They also fell to the bianconeri 2-1 in extra time in the Coppa Italia quarterfinal.
Things don't get much easier for them, either, as the week after going to Turin they welcome Catania to the San Siro—a critical game in terms of keeping gli elefanti off their backs going forward. They also face a potentially tough matchup against a Roma team that dismantled them right before the winter break in a 4-2 game that wasn't that close.
Opportunity does knock, however. The first of the team's six big matches comes against Lazio, the team directly above them. Trailing the capitol club by only two points, Milan will vault themselves back into Champions League qualification territory if they can pull out a victory.
Final Verdict: A good bet to complete their incredible comeback. Napoli, as we'll discuss shortly, is showing some alarming signs that they may repeat their late collapse of last season, which could leave one of the Champions League spots wide open.
Ironically, their continued presence in the Champions League this season could hamper this. They're not a particularly deep team, especially on defense, so if they hang on to their well-earned lead against Barcelona and continue to expend energy in Europe, it could leave them susceptible to a lean performance domestically.