When Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored goal number 23 for the season last Saturday, it appeared to be business as usual for Milan against Fiorentina. Facing a side with just one away win all season it looked as if their Champions League disappointment would be alleviated by three vitals points in their quest to win back-to-back Scudetti. Yet somebody forgot to tell Fiorentina. Stevan Jovetic and then incredibly Amauri – on loan from Juventus – stunned the Rossoneri to ensure a 2-1 defeat which, coupled with Juve’s win in Palermo, means Milan have dropped to second position.
Having seen a four point gap evaporate Milan are no longer in control of their destiny and fans will be hoping Massimiliano Allegri can turn around their fortunes. The ex-Cagliari tactician has – quite rightly – not thrown in the towel with six matches remaining, saying in the build-up to the Chievo match:
“I would have preferred to stay out in first place rather than have to chase, but it doesn’t mean that the Scudetto race is over. The championship was long for Juventus when they were behind us and we were in front. It’s still long now…Nothing has been compromised.”
As Milan deals with elimination from Europe in addition to falling behind Juve, whispers of the sack have emerged (“I absolutely don’t feel that my job is at risk” said Allegri post-Fiorentina). For a Coach aiming at his second straight championship it seems crazy to comprehend. Yet perhaps even Allegri is aware of what could emerge in the upcoming weeks. He had relatively little to worry about last season as Milan claimed Scudetto glory but during a closely-fought, year-long battle with Juventus, his demeanour changed. Constant referee chatter has dominated headlines and interviews in the past few months to suggest Allegri may be feeling the strain, he was fully focused on the task at hand in Verona.
Attempting to manage a huge injury list – last week La Gazzetta dello Sport published the amount of games missed by players due to injury and Milan lead the way by some distance – Allegri has had to deal with 218 cases compared to Lazio’s 181, a league average of 98 and Juventus’ 40.
Twelve players missed the trip and that meant 19-year-old Matteo De Sciglio was given his debut, highlighting their plight. Credit is due Milan for making it so far in three competitions considering the amount of injuries incurred, resulting in minimal opportunity for those who have continually featured to rest. Meanwhile, possibly the biggest cheer last Saturday was reserved for the returning Antonio Cassano, who hopes to make an impact as the Scudetto race reaches its climax.
The lack of depth means Allegri is sticking to what he knows tactically. His 4-3-1-2 system incorporating hard-running midfielders and focal point in attack of Ibrahimovic has been the backbone of his time in charge and in the hour of need this is unlikely to change. Allegri possibly showed naiveté in throwing on four strikers at the death versus Fiorentina, encouraging La Viola to attack the additional space created and will stick to what he knows.
Nothing has been decided yet and despite going two matches without a win, Milan are right in the midst of a fascinating title race. With a wealth of experience and past League championship winners in the playing squad, now it is time to see what the man on the bench is capable of producing in his biggest test yet.