Milan showcased the quality of the reserves, or rather the lack of, as Coach Leonardo started with nine bench players along with Gianluca Zambrotta and Gennaro Gattuso. Zambrotta made his first appearance after returning from injury while Gattuso has been featuring regularly for Leonardo since signing his contract extension and approaching full fitness.
The apparent lack of talent amongst the reserves and the thin nature of the squad were obvious as Milan crashed from the quarter-final of the Italian Cup against visitors Udinese. Leonardo started eight players who have defensive tendencies by nature while leaving veteran Filippo Inzaghi and flop Klaas-Jan Huntelaar up-front with Davide Di Gennaro in support. Regardless of the result, the strikers did not impress with Huntelaar being subbed in a further indication of Coach Leonardo’s lack of trust in his abilities. The Dutch striker was Milan’s marquee signing for this season and he has failed to live up to expectations.
Following the defeat in the Milan derby the absence of young striker Alexandre Pato might have been a viable excuse to explain the lack of the killer punch and efficiency in attack as the Rossoneri failed to get the ball past Júlio César. The management ought to use this season as a lesson to build for the future, starting with this summer as the squad is in desperate need of fresh faces and young players. In Ronaldinho, Pato, Andrea Pirlo, Thiago Silva and Alessandro Nesta, Leonardo has a solid core to work with but these same players need to be surrounded with a better supporting cast.
Gattuso, Zambrotta, Massimo Ambrosini, Giuseppe Favalli, Dida and Inzaghi are all over the age of 30 while Huntelaar has failed to shine, David Beckham is on loan and nearing retirement, and Mathieu Flamini has not exactly starred since his move to San Siro. Despite all these deficiencies which were properly exploited by a ruthless and efficient Inter, Leo refused to give up and went about working to bring the best out of the players at his disposal. Ronaldinho and Nesta are not Milan’s biggest achievers of the season as Leonardo deserves the honour of being Milan’s most productive member.
The Brazilian did not surrender after a dismal start to the campaign and if the season were to end today then he would have done better than the experienced Carlo Ancelotti, given he has the club in second place. The focus ought to be on pushing Inter till the end, despite the title being almost guaranteed to the Nerazzurri due to the gap in points. Finishing second will give the squad a longer summer rest and will save the club from having to go through the qualification phase of the Champions League. More importantly, this will guarantee Milan a bigger revenue as the lucrative group stage of the Champions League serves as a cash cow. Finally, the club will get the opportunity to lure better players as European football is quite the incentive for established and emerging stars.
The next three games will actually offer the Rossoneri a great opportunity to strengthen their hold on second place and perhaps await a sudden collapse from city rivals Inter to remain within close proximity of the league leaders. The three encounters against Livorno, Bologna and Udinese will offer plenty of opportunities for Leonardo to select his best line-up to face Manchester United in the Champions League in mid-February. Indeed, winning those three matches in Serie A can serve as the perfect tonic ahead of the clash with the Red Devils. Speaking of the Round of 16 in Europe, striker Pato has declared he is likely to return for the first-leg clash at the San Siro. The news will be a welcome relief given the struggles of Huntelaar and Inzaghi’s limited playing time as of late.
The summer will be a turning point for the club and could see Milan return as a force to be reckoned with in Italy and Europe if the proper players are brought in. This season’s Milan is relatively unchanged from the last one in terms of quality as Brazilian Kaká moved to Real Madrid and the legendary Paolo Maldini retired. The departure of those two irreplaceable players has been somewhat compensated by Nesta’s return to form following a career threatening injury which limited him to 13 minutes last season and Ronaldinho’s mini-resurgence.
Milan Club Focus 2009/10
Pre-season expectation – August 18, 2009
Leonardo breathes as Brazilians relieve pressure – August 25, 2009
Kaka returns to the San Siro – August 27, 2009
How to play 4-3-1-2, a lesson from their rivals – September 1, 2009
Reshuffle the current squad, regain the winning mentality – September 4, 2009
International week (Georgia-Italy, Italy-Bulgaria)
Leonardo’s time to react – September 7, 2009
Livorno springs opportunity to end crisis – September 11, 2009
Serie A slides down priority list – September 15, 2009
Leonardo lurches into decision-making territory – September 18, 2009
Off the pitch rumours continue to swirl – September 22, 2009
Old legs cannot win forever, will Berlusconi follow in Della Valle’s footsteps? – September 25, 2009
A powerhouse that no longer strikes fear – September 29, 2009
Time is running out to save il Diavolo’s season – October 2, 2009
A draw as bitter as a defeat – October 6, 2009
The club is not for sale – October 9, 2009
International week (Republic of Ireland-Italy, Italy-Cyprus)
In search of strikers and defenders – October 13, 2009
Berlusconi reiterates he will not sell as the Rossoneri prepare for Roma – October 16, 2009
Brazilian duo see off Roma – October 20, 2009
Rossoneri record famous win in Madrid – October 23, 2009
Leonardo stumbles upon the 4-2-3-1 – October 27, 2009
Two precious points dropped – October 30, 2009
Borriello strikes twice as Milan continue climbing the table – November 3, 2009
A bitter draw after Pato’s disallowed ‘goal’ as Huntelaar emerges unscathed – November 6, 2009
The Rossoneri challenging Juventus for second place – November 10, 2009
International week (Italy-Holland, Italy-Sweden)
Crucial stretch begins as Dzeko linked again – November 20, 2009
Rossoneri continue impressive run – November 24, 2009
Missed opportunity to qualify – November 27, 2009
Huntelaar breaks his duck with a late double to lift Mila to second – December 1, 2009
Season-defining week looms ahead – December 4, 2009
Sunshine glimmers from the San Siro, but those clouds won’t leave – December 8, 2009
Qualification secured after a scare – December 11, 2009
Gattuso to help the aged a little longer – December 14, 2009
Staying away from the market – December 18, 2009
Winter break starts early – December 22, 2009
Beckham lands in town – December 29, 2009
Giants on the transfer horizon – January 5, 2010
Beckham makes second Milan debut – January 8, 2010
Ronnie puts the breaks on in Turin – January 12, 2010
Weakened Rossoneri scrape by Novara – January 15, 2010
Ronaldinho is enjoying playing again and soaking in the love – January 19, 2010
Milan derby looms large – January 22, 2010
Inefficient Rossoneri surrender to Inter’s title assault – January 26, 2010
Coppa Italia defeat reveals once again the lack of depth – January 29, 2010