Serie A's form team are in a great position to make the most of a laboured run from the group of sides that once looked set to fight it out for the Champions League play-off spot
By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
If ever you needed proof that AC Milan are on the up, the very generous award of an injury-time penalty against Udinese provided exactly that. The old football adage says that any side struggling to put a run of results together can’t buy a win, while if you’re having a good time of it, things seem to fall in your favour.
Never was that more clear than on Sunday, when the Mario Balotelli bandwagon rolled into town, mesmerised Milanisti for a large part of the game, and then sealed a win which takes the Rossoneri into fourth place with a spot-kick that never should have been.
However, the positivity in Milan’s play was a delight at times, and they probably should have put Udinese out of sight long before Giampiero Pinzi netted an equaliser with the Friulani’s only shot on target. And while much of that dominance was energised by the debutant in the No.45 shirt, the recent upturn in form also clearly played a part.
Before mid-November there had been barely a single performance to shout about all season barring the continued quality displays from Stephan El Shaarawy, as Massimiliano Allegri chopped and changed, and found no kind of answer to the riddle that was Milan’s abysmal form. With 15 points from 13 matches, the Diavolo sat in 12th place, staring down the barrel of a campaign to rival some of the more depressing in the club’s long history.
Yet since beating Juventus with the help of another fortuitous penalty call, the Curva Sud have had so much more to shout about. Not only has their side’s form taken a huge upward curve, with 25 points picked up from a possible 30, but those clubs which seemed destined to fight it out for the Champions League spots have almost all fallen apart.
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Only Napoli and Lazio can come close to boasting Milan’s record over the past 10 rounds, and as a result remain ahead of the Rossoneri in the Serie A standings, but – Juventus aside – they are the only ones, thanks to a phenomenal turn of fortunes in the Via Turati club’s favour. If there has been one disappointing aspect about the current campaign in Italy, it has been the inconsistency of some of the country’s most storied clubs.
Roma have picked up just 14 points over the same 10-week period, while Fiorentina and Inter have collected only 12 apiece. Even Lazio are now experiencing some troubles, as if to prove that everything is going for Milan right now. It is true that they remain three points behind the Biancocelesti, but make no mistake about it: Milan are the team to chase in the clamour for the podium.
In a modern world where third is seemingly the new first, Allegri has fallen upon a forward line which every other club in Serie A would love to have, and has also seen things tighten up somewhat at the back. They still have their failings, as Kevin Constant’s disappearing act for Pinzi’s goal proved, but they have now got enough in them to ensure that they can better cover such inadequacies.
Suddenly, from a blowout of a season, Milan’s is one which should see them make it into the Champions League once more next term. The pressure on Allegri to turn around the team’s luck has transformed into a pressure to sustain their improvement. Given their position now, it would be a failure if they didn't finish in the top three.
Yes, there are 15 rounds in which things could yet go wrong. Yes, Inter, Fiorentina et al. have proven that a temporary blip could well happen to any team. But, given the momentum behind Milan, the addition of Balotelli, and the sudden rush of the feelgood factor around Milanello, the club is only going in one direction as things stand.
It’s now up to the rest of the league to raise their game to Milan’s level.ELSEWHERE...
- Roma unsurprisingly brought an early end to Zdenek Zeman's latest spell at the club after Friday's disastrous 4-2 home defeat left them a long way off the pace in the race for the Champions League positions. After last season's turbulent spell under Luis Enrique, the Giallorossi were expected to kick on once more this time around. Yet the Czech has found it almost impossible to tighten up at the back, with only Pescara - whom he led to promotion last summer - having a worse defensive record in Serie A. He may serve up some magnificent football for the neutral eye, but one gets the feeling now that his final chance to lead a team at the top of the game has been extinguished thanks to his failure at Trigoria.
- Inter's latest defeat - a 3-1 reverse at bottom club Siena - has underlined just how much work Andrea Stramaccioni has to do to turn around the club's form. The Nerazzurri have now won just once in seven matches - that against relegation-threatened Pescara - and have recorded only three victories in 11 games since the 3-1 win at Juventus which put a stop to the champions' 49-match unbeaten run and had many expecting Inter to run the Bianconeri close in the title race. Instead, that was simply the peak from which they have fallen, and their issues clearly remain as deep as they were when Stramaccioni replaced Claudio Ranieri last March. Some small steps have been taken in the right direction, such as the signing of Mateo Kovacic, but there are still a million giant leaps to take for the Beneamata to return as true title hopefuls in the seasons to come.