For a meaningless match, with il Diavolo guaranteed second place in their group, the Milan versus Ajax encounter turned into a disaster on more than one front. Besides the 0-2 defeat which highlighted the Rossoneri’s weaknesses, Milan were dealt a massive blow with the injuries to both Mathieu Flamini and Thiago Silva.
The Frenchman Flamini is expected to be out for up to four weeks, effectively ruling him out until 2011. While Flamini’s injury could be properly dealt with if the other midfielders remain injury-free, it is the injury to Brazilian centre-back Thiago Silva which is more troublesome. His absence will leave veteran Alessandro Nesta with more work to do as the likely substitutes will be chosen from a pool of unconvincing defenders. None of Daniele Bonera, Sokratis Papastathopoulos or Mario Yepes have the qualities possessed by the Brazilian and this could be even more worrisome if his injury extends for more than a month as there is fear he could be sidelined for a lengthy period. He will head to Brazil for further tests under the watchful eyes of the Seleção doctors. Milan cannot afford to lose the defender for an extended period of time, particularly with the club fighting on several fronts. Vice-President Adriano Galliani admitted the Rossoneri will be seeking a striker during the January transfer window but if Thiago Silva is sidelined for more than a month, then Milan will be forced to consider signing another centre-back.
As if the scoreline and the injuries alone were not enough, the listless and pedestrian performances by the players selected for the starting XI against Ajax forced Coach Massimiliano Allegri to blast his team for the perceived lack of motivation and professionalism. Ronaldinho was particularly guilty of a weak performance which could be considered as the most disappointing since he has been left on the bench in recent weeks and had a point to prove. Ronaldinho is visibly lacking in terms of physical conditioning and motivation. The former World Cup winner’s days at Milanello appear to be numbered if the club can sign an attacker in January. The best player was substitute goalkeeper Marco Amelia, starting instead of Christian Abbiati. Amelia’s display provided the perfect example as to how a bench player should perform in order to fight for a starting role, namely playing with focus and hunger. Amelia saved the Rossoneri’s blushes as the score could have easily been worse had it not been for some of his quality saves.
The lessons learned from the Champions League loss will be the most valuable for the Coach as hopefully Allegri understood it would be difficult for il Diavolo to win games when veteran Dutchman Clarence Seedorf starts along with Azzurri midfielder Andrea Pirlo. The presence of both in the starting line-up takes away from the team’s compactness and bite while exposing the Rossoneri’s lack of pace and grit in midfield even further. Allegri will likely avoid starting the duo unless there is an injury crisis or if he is left with no other option.
Another observation is how the defensive line looked in shambles with Nesta not on the pitch. Whenever one of Nesta or Thiago Silva is missing, Milan’s starting back four have looked short of inspiration and susceptible against opponents. Bonera proved yet again he is best suited for a cameo role while Luca Antonini’s alarming dip in form was evident yet again. However, Allegri’s biggest concern will be how the Rossoneri looked uninspired and toothless going forward without the presence of Ibrahimović. The talented Swede played less than half an hour yet in that period of time he created more opportunities than the rest of the squad did prior to his introduction. Perhaps his audacious overhead kick, which was not far from ending in the back of the net, best represents what Ibrahimović provides the Rossoneri with – boundless creativity and a knack for the spectacular goals. This match should have answered a number of Allegri’s doubts, if he had any, with the tifosi hoping the Coach will make use of the lessons learned following a disappointing night in every aspect.
The defeat to Ajax in itself does not signal a tragedy as the Rossoneri’s fate was decided the moment Real Madrid earned a late equaliser at San Siro. Milan will now have to await the draw for the Round of 16 with the hope of avoiding the likes of Barcelona in the knockout stage. In the meantime, Allegri has little time to ponder the changes he must make ahead of the league clash against Bologna.