The defeat to city rivals Inter cannot be used to take away the credit Coach Leonardo deserves for having faith in certain players and helping resurrect their careers. The inexperienced Coach gave injury-prone Marco Borriello the opportunity to cement his place in the starting line-up and the Italian did not disappoint. Borriello was culpable for missing a couple of chances against the Nerazzurri but his performances this season have signaled his return to the football scene.
More importantly, Leonardo did not pressure the club’s stars – Brazilian Ronaldinho and Alessandro Nesta. He gave them ample time to rediscover their form and gradually Nesta has emerged as one of the season’s best defenders forming an impenetrable wall alongside partner Thiago Silva. Ronaldinho has begun to show flashes of brilliance on a more regular basis and his magnificent strike against Siena speaks volumes about his growth in confidence and the immaculate touch he possesses. Despite goalkeeper Dida’s awkward positioning for Goran Pandev’s free-kick which sealed Milan’s fate (he was too far to the right by normal standards), the Brazilian has had a relatively consistent campaign with very few exceptions. Midfielder Andrea Pirlo is beginning to rediscover his touch while club captain Massimo Ambrosini has been an influential figure in the past few weeks.
Leonardo must be praised for his man management as he has succeeded in dealing with the many egos while keeping players who have rarely featured, such as Filippo Inzaghi and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, relatively calm despite their apparent dissatisfaction at the lacking of playing time. Even the complex case of Gennaro Gattuso was not allowed to grow beyond the gossip pages in the Press. The Dutch striker Huntelaar continues to be linked with a move away from Milanello with Everton, Arsenal or Tottenham as potential destinations. The next few days will be decisive in determining whether the Dutchman will be packing his bags or staying in Milan. As for Inzaghi he apparently ruled out extending his contract turning this into his last season with the Rossoneri.
Without discussing in detail the intricacies of the derby, the weaknesses within the Rossoneri squad were too apparent for the naked eye. The absence of the injured Nesta once again confirmed two clear shortcomings- the club has no replacement for the impeccable centre-back and the squad is quite short on talent. The sidelined Alexandre Pato and Nesta were sorely missed with the Rossoneri appearing susceptible at the back and ineffective up-front. A club of Milan’s stature cannot have a 38-year-old as an understudy for Nesta with Giuseppe Favalli playing as a centre-back against Inter. Pato’s absence meant Inzaghi and Huntelaar were the available replacements yet both have not really impressed during the season with Inzaghi nearing retirement age and the latter being one of the season’s less impressive signings.
Milan were missing some key players but so were the Nerazzurri, with Samuel Eto’o representing Cameroon during the loss to Egypt in the African Cup of Nations and Romanian Cristian Chivu sidelined by injury. The difference was the Nerazzurri’s ability to use the depth in the squad to create an advantage over Milan despite playing for a long stretch with 10 players before Brazilian Lúcio was sent-off late on to reduce Inter to nine men. The numerical disadvantage did little to hinder Inter and actually exposed Milan’s inefficiency in front of goal and the team’s shaky defensive line.
In a number of previous editions of Milan Club Focus the emphasis was on cautioning against over confidence or the belief in the club’s ability to wrestle away the Serie A crown from rivals Inter while praising Leonardo’s productive work. The same weaknesses discussed a couple of months ago have resurfaced, not because Milan lost but due to the fact the Rossoneri were up against a quality side. No disrespect to Genoa, Sampdoria and Siena but Inter is on a completely different level with the quality and depth in the squad. Even the victory in Turin against Juventus came at a time when most Serie A clubs have been itching to face the Bianconeri before they emerge out of their crisis.
Credit goes to Milan for maintaining a challenge to Inter despite the lack of resources and players. This defeat does not imply Leonardo’s work has gone to waste because the Rossoneri can still make a push in Europe if they properly negate Manchester United’s main threat (Wayne Rooney). In the meantime, how long will it take before the Rossoneri management acknowledges the dire need for two solid full-backs, a prolific striker, a capable goalkeeper and a young centre-back of quality?
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