The pre-season American tour of AC Milan has gone anything but according to plan. And three defeats in three matches in the World Football Challenge has dealt a severe blow to any optimism about a good season ahead.
Following the much hyped departure of Kaka and Carlo Ancelotti, some optimism had sprouted after the signing of defender Oguchi Onyewu, the declaration of Adriano Galliani that Pato and Pirlo won't be leaving the club, and the general positive outlook of Leonardo.
And that optimism was displayed in the first match on the American tour, against Los Angeles Galaxy. Even though the game was over-shadowed by David Beckham's friendly reunion with his Milan teammates, Milan played well. The game ended in a 2-2 draw.
Just when one thought that things were getting better, Mexican club "Club America" gave the first taste of defeat to Leonardo, defeating Milan 2-1, much to the distress of the Rossoneri.
Things would only get worse for the Italian giants, as Chelsea—under Carletto Ancelotti—would beat AC Milan 2-1 in an entertaining but disappointing game for Milan. And the final nail in the coffin would be the defeat to bitter city rivals Inter Milan on Sunday, a game which finished 2-0.
In the first match of the competition, the Mexicans fully exploited the Milan defense in the first few minutes. In the last match against Inter, Milan looked tired and boring. On the whole tour, they lacked creativity in the midfield, were bereft of sharpness up-front, and looked anything but assured at the back.
Once again, on the aggressive front, Milan had to depend on veteran Inzaghi for goals. He has already scored four goals in the friendlies so far.
But Inzaghi aside, goals were hard to come by for Milan. Ronaldinho did hit the woodwork a couple of times, and Seedorf played well, but they are shadows of the amazing players they once were revered as.
Problems are plenty at Milan. They, as usual, have too many players on the wrong side of 30; haven't exploited the transfer market successfully; and definitely are in need of a good striker up front.
Leonardo remains positive, as he should, citing Milan's spirited performance against Chelsea, and though not thrilled, is satisfied with the performance.
Even though some football pundits have already started predicting a horrendous future for the club, it's rather hasty to do so.
No one can deny, Milan will need time to rebuild their squad.
The departure of the inspirational and irreplaceable Paolo Maldini, the superstar Kaka, and the experienced Ancelotti, meant that Milan were left without their spirited captain, their brilliant forward and their tactical genius. The alleged financial problems haven't helped them either.
Arguments about whether Leonardo was the right man for the job have also gathered more attention now after such a start.
Leonardo's work is cut out for him. He has always emphasized on playing good, positive, entertaining style of football, but only has a squad of past superstars and inexperienced young talent to work with.
But still, his calm presence and positive outlook can help Milan build a good team. Especially if Milan do succeed in getting hold of a quality striker before the season begins, Leonardo can passionately put his aggressive football tactics to practice.
Milan should hold onto their prized Brazilian asset, Pato. If Pato gets back in form, and Ronaldinho keeps climbing back to his best, offensively, Milan will be strong.
The defense does need some sorting out. Keeping Nesta injury-free will be a challenge, Onyewu was a good signing but will need time to settle. It was thought that Dida will be replaced in goal, but Storari and Kalac haven't exactly dazzled with their performances.
It's not the first time AC Milan will have to rebuild. Many times they have been written off, but have only come back stronger and better. Sure enough, the Rossoneri faithful will hope for nothing else this time as well.
The American tour can be looked at as a good reality-check, a tough test for Milan. There were many lessons to be learnt.
But will things really get better for AC Milan?
Or is this a sign of things to come?
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