Milan were once again indebted to star striker Zlatan Ibrahimović for defeating visitors Fiorentina and earning another precious win towards the ultimate objective of wrestling away the Scudetto from city rivals Inter. Ibrahimović has put his supreme set of skills to the benefit of the club by expertly controlling and then volleying a fantastic finish beyond the reach of Fiorentina’s Artur Boruc. Coach Massimiliano Allegri will be praying his fiery striker remains injury free and fit enough to play until the winter break because he has lost Filippo Inzaghi for an extended period estimated to cover the duration of the season while young Seleção star Alexandre Pato is not expected back before early 2011. Allegri’s main concern will be fatigue, which might catch up with Ibrahimović who publicly admitted he is exhausted after not getting any rest in recent weeks.
The Coach cannot afford to leave Ibra on the bench, in particular with the Rossoneri on top of the standings three points above Lazio and with Napoli, Juventus, Roma and Inter still within touching distance this early in the current campaign. Allegri is well aware he cannot rest the Swedish attacker because summer signing Robinho has only managed two goals in six Serie A matches and scored none in two European ties, while former Barcelona star Ronaldinho continues to play his way out of the starting line-up with his poor performances. To make matters worse, Ronaldinho has been seen partying late and there is no doubt the former World Cup winner has fallen back into his old bad habits which could seal his fate with the club. Milan cannot afford at this time to let him go in January with Robinho’s form a concern and with injuries to the two other attackers mentioned above. Allegri made it clear that only through hard work and dedication to the Rossoneri will the Brazilian maestro gain back his spot in the starting line-up. While Ronaldinho continues to struggle, Zlatan has managed an impressive seven goals in 12 matches and has found the back of the net three times in just four Champions League games. In total, Ibra has scored 10 goals in 16 matches for Milan while assisting on another five goals.
From a tactical standpoint, Allegri now seems set to play just two forwards along with four midfielders in a 4-3-1-2 formation. While this system realistically offers more cover for the defensive line, it limits the creativity on the team to Ibrahimović, Robinho and Clarence Seedorf, with most of the scoring chances coming via the big Swede. The defensive line will continue to be anchored by Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva while the full-back positions remain a concern as Gianluca Zambrotta’s decline with age coupled with the inconsistency of Daniele Bonera, Ignazio Abate and Luca Antonini have left the club exposed at the back. Allegri’s change to the system is perhaps his first distinct attempt at stamping his authority since he took over in the summer after Leonardo’s short tenure. One thing in common between Allegri and his predecessor is the fact both started off slow before they succeeded in guiding the Rossoneri to competing for the top spot, with Allegri able to see Milan in first which is something Leonardo failed to do as Inter were dominant last season. The Rossoneri’s supporters will hope last season’s free fall in the latter stages does not repeat but the Coach must be aware that a tired Ibrahimović could be a reason enough for Milan to lose some of their composure as fixtures continue to pile up.
Milan’s remaining fixtures in 2010 are winnable on paper, albeit tricky with two must-win games against Auxerre and Ajax in Europe as well as a Serie A clash against Roma, but the Coach and players must be careful not to overlook the weaker opponents such as Brescia and Bologna. Il Diavolo cannot afford to drop any points between now and the winter break because some teams, including the struggling Nerazzurri, could easily cut the deficit or overtake Milan if they stutter. The Coach’s job will be to ensure the Rossoneri do not let up in the next few weeks while safe guarding Ibra’s physical well-being in order to remain fresh when the season edges closer towards the closing rounds.