Four consecutive Serie A wins have restored a sense of optimism and belief at AC Milan, where a once seemingly dying goal of reaching European competition has been resurrected.
Recent performances exhibit a unified squad responding to manager Clarence Seedorf's tactics. Milan have conceded only once over the course of their winning streak, while they have scored eight.
While it may not seem like much, victories over teams like Catania, Genoa and Chievo Verona are just as important as victories over the top sides—three points are three points. Milan have displayed a troubling tendency to drop points against lesser sides than themselves this year, and as such, it can not be taken for granted that Milan are starting to pick up victories in games that they are expected to win handily.
Seedorf has tinkered with his line-up throughout his tenure as manager, and certain trends are starting to emerge. One particularly noteworthy absence during Milan's recent run of success has been that of right-back Ignazio Abate.
Abate had his first minutes since mid-March against Parma after he came on as a substitute in the 73rd minute of the victory over Catania on Sunday.
Once considered a surefire starter under former manager Max Allegri, he has started only five of 14 Serie A matches under Seedorf, frequently being benched in favor of Mattia De Sciglio or Daniele Bonera at right-back.
While the 21-year-old De Sciglio is considered the future at right-back for Milan, it is interesting to note Abate's fall from prominence. While he has been struck by injury at various points of the season, the question is whether or not Abate still has the same value he once had to the Rossoneri.
According to transfermarkt.com, his market value has dropped from €14 million to €11 million over the past year-and-a-half, and as one of Milan's few assets valued that highly, it may be prudent for Milan to cash in this summer as they look to strengthen other areas of the squad.
At 27 years of age, Abate is unlikely to develop much further, and Milan have a ready-made replacement in De Sciglio at right-back. Given that his contract expires in the summer of 2015, I believe that Seedorf has already made up his mind about Abate.
Milan have won only four of Abate's 16 starts this year in Serie A. While it would be foolish to blame him for their troubles this season, it may be telling that they have won four straight without him in the line-up. At the very least, it establishes that the club can certainly get by without him.
On the whole, Seedorf's new vision is beginning to pay dividends for Milan. Players like Adel Taarabt and Adil Rami have excelled under his system, while the team is finally starting to get the results they need to play in Europe next year. Unfortunately for Abate, his opportunities have dried up and it may signal the beginning of the end of his Milan career.