The narrative has been common in recent years for AC Milan. They play admirably against the absolute toughest of competition in the form of Barcelona and Juventus, but they then play down to the level of bottom-feeders like Sassuolo.
Sunday's match against Juventus offered yet another example of this conundrum for Milan.
However, this match seemed to signal a breakthrough of sorts for Clarence Seedorf's side. After a similarly enthralling performance against Atletico Madrid, Milan took the game to Juventus from start to finish.
Unfortunately, they have no points to show for their efforts. But the blueprint has been laid and progress has been shown in relatively rapid fashion following former manager Massimiliano Allegri's dismissal in January.
Allegri's Milan, so long characterized by their tepid and ponderous approach to games, have made way for Seedorf's attacking, energetic outfit that has caused major problems for a couple of the best sides in the world on current form.
Worryingly, Milan has lost both the matches to Juventus and Atletico in Milan, as well as another tough matchup with Napoli under Seedorf. Three defeats against elite competition highlights that Milan still have a ways to go to reach that killer instinct that is typical of the best sides in the world.
In this sense, Milan can look to Juventus as inspiration for the type of team they would like to become. Juve played far from their best football all match long, yet they returned home to Turin with all three points secured.
It is a trademark of truly elite teams—the ability to grind out results when things are not going as planned. Milan are still not there, and the match with Juventus highlighted a few reasons why.
Primarily, Milan have a worrisome tendency to not put away chances that they have been creating with increasing frequency. Andrea Poli and Kaka were guilty of several missed chances each against Juve.
Of course, having Mario Balotelli healthy may have changed this, yet it is risky to assume Balotelli's presence alone would have turned this match.
Had Balotelli played, he likely would have displaced Giampaolo Pazzini, whose clever movement off the ball arguably set up some of Milan's best chances.
Again, this is an incomplete Milan side Seedorf has been tasked with reviving. Stephan El Shaarawy and Balotelli are considered vital cogs, yet neither was in the starting XI Sunday night—nor was Keisuke Honda.
As such, it would be foolish to pass judgment on Milan so far under Seedorf. All that can reasonably be said is that legitimate progress is being made.
This season has turned into a trial of sorts for next season, where Seedorf can jettison the players he deems surplus to requirements and bring in those who fit his vision.
It is assumed that Milan will do everything possible to keep Adil Rami, their best defender since his move from Valencia. It will also be interesting to track the progress made by Adel Taarabt through May. He has started brightly, but his career has been plagued by inconsistency, so the jury remains out on him.
In the meantime, the next two months will serve as the continuation of the orientation to Seedorf's tactics by this Milan side.
In many ways, Seedorf can look to his counterparts Antonio Conte and Diego Simeone for inspiration. Both Juventus and Atletico Madrid play in the personality of their coach: ferociously intense and clinical.
Seedorf's Milan is beginning to show signs that they will develop into an elegant, flowing attacking outfit in the mold of the Milan Seedorf played for not so long ago.
At this stage, the signs are pointing in the right direction, and the only way to move forward from here is up.