Milan are 20 games unbeaten in all competitions and top the nascent Serie A table: are they back? Can they win the title?
It feels like a long time ago that Milan were on the verge of sacking manager Stefano Pioli in favour of Ralf Rangnick.
But their form in the second half of last season couldn’t be ignored, so Pioli was retained and that great form has spilled over into this season.
So the big question, that was asked to James Horncastle on this week’s European edition of The Totally Football Show: are Milan back?
“20 games unbeaten in all competitions, through to the Europa League group stage: I think it’s indicative of a club that’s got its act together, is well run in terms of the processes they have for recruitment.
“Yes, they’ve got Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Simon Kjaer at either end of the pitch, but otherwise it’s a very young team. Stefano Pioli, in very simple terms, plays players in their best positions and has got the best out of them.
“One of the real surprises since lockdown has been Hakan Calhanoglu, who has been extraordinary for them – 17 goals and assists in 12 games, scores from outside the area, has been I would say the key to the team as much as Zlatan has. They’ve won games Zlatan: they’re undefeated without him in the team.
“What’s encouraging about them is they look like a well put together team that can defend, that can attack: they’ve got players with up side: they’ve got young players who have started to really kick on and fulfil their potential. The likes of Ismael Bennacer, Theo Hernandez, and then the guys they’ve recently signed: Alexis Saelemaekers is doing a really good job for them on the right, Rafael Leao is starting to come good.
“Can they win the title? I think they’re still outsiders: they haven’t been in the Champions League since 2014, which has really hurt them, so their objective is to get back into the top four first.
“But I think what stands in their favour is they have the same manager as last season, they’re building on the momentum that they ended last season with, and they’ve got a good squad with some really good additions too. It’s looking good for them.”
Plenty of their recovery has been inspired by Ibrahimovic, but how long can the 39-year-old go on for?
“He’s got Mino Raiola in his ear, and I think he’s really good for Zlatan because he plays on his ego. He’s saying “a player like you can’t finish your career in the states, you’re better than that, you can still cut it at the highest level.”
“And he believes it. He was talking up them winning the title, I think he’s still got a couple of years, although it will depend on injuries. It’s remarkable he came back from that knee injury he suffered at Manchester United.
“He has players around him that allow Zlatan to be the best Zlatan: he’s got young, fresh players who are able to do a lot of running and pressing which he can’t, to allow him to go about dominating centre-backs and scoring goals.
“He’s still got a couple of years: that’s indicative of that generation of players who have a higher standard of professionalism than the generation before – better nutrition, better conditioning. Cristiano Ronaldo is probably going to play until he’s 45: this is the new normal.”
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