New signings Zlatan Ibrahimović and Robinho propelled Milan to the top in the opinion of many pundits, yet what appeared to be a fearsome team on paper turned out to be toothless on the field against Cesena. The debut of the two big signings was ruined by the Serie A newcomers who scored twice while the Rossoneri failed to find the back of the net.
Ibrahimović, on as a starter, missed a late penalty-kick while Robinho came off the bench but failed to shine. The two additions need time to gel with their new teammates and to get familiar with the system used by Coach Massimiliano Allegri. Prior to the kick-off the main concern was how the new players will blend in with the rest of the squad and whether Robinho and Ibrahimović will track back and in some cases help with defensive duties. To Allegri’s disappointment, the whole team showed little in terms of the work ethic needed to defeat a hard working club such as Cesena and to eventually become a challenger for the Serie A title.
It is unfair to pass judgment on the Rossoneri considering the late addition of high profile players but also the fact the season has just begun. There were important starters missing from the weekend’s line-up in the shape of veterans Alessandro Nesta and Clarence Seedorf. The absence of Nesta left the Rossoneri’s defensive line exposed while showing how Thiago Silva sorely missed his more experienced partner, who is capable of lifting the level of the other defenders with his reassuring presence and resolute approach. Sokratis Papastathopoulos was unimpressive in defence and raised concerns about how the back line will cope whenever a starter is missing, in particular Nesta who has been injury prone in the last few years. In midfield, Gennaro Gattuso has lost much of his physical presence and pace, turning him into a mere pedestrian against younger opponents and when teams are exploiting spaces left by players who were in advanced positions.
The Rossoneri are a work in progress but the addition of both Ibrahimović and Robinho should pay dividends in the long run if the Coach is able to use their talents to the benefit of the team and not its detriment. Allegri cannot start Ronaldinho, Alexandre Pato, Ibrahimović and Robinho at the same time but leaving one of them on the bench could create a hostile environment and perhaps tension amongst certain players. Milan might have to sacrifice one of them during the January transfer window and bring in a solid defender or maybe another midfielder. Ronaldinho has been linked again with leaving the club after the big signings before the closure of the transfer deadline. In all likelihood, Ronaldinho will probably be kept until the end of the season while the Coach will attempt to address certain concerns such as maintaining a balanced squad.
Allegri has already highlighted the need for a stronger commitment by the squad through a greater work ethic. The Coach realises he might not get more than this season to prove he can turn the star studded attacking line-up into championship material as the Rossoneri are desperate to displace city rivals Inter from the summit of Serie A. Allegri will have to quickly integrate summer signing Kevin-Prince Boateng in midfield while gradually phasing out some of the veterans. The defeat to Cesena was a blow as Milan would have liked to set the pace early in order to pile the pressure on the Nerazzurri, who are beginning to witness cracks and weaknesses in their squad following a couple of unconvincing displays.
The beginning of the group stage in the Champions League and the busy schedule between European and domestic competitions should give the Coach and the tifosi ample opportunities to judge the potential of the squad. Allegri, the Rossoneri management and supporters as well as pundits and even opponents are all curious to see whether the latest experiment in Milanello will succeed. To some, the current situation in Milan is somewhat reminiscent of the initial Los Galácticos era when the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo as well as others were brought to Real Madrid only to deliver so little in terms of silverware. The tifosi will question whether their club will follow the Real example or if the Coach can create a balanced team capable of challenging for honours in this and the following seasons. Look for some of the veterans to help with the integration of the new stars and with boosting the morale of the squad following the disappointing defeat.