Milan have reached the summit of Italian football, but the question remains whether they can maintain their position on top with the first test coming this weekend against city rivals and Scudetto winners Inter. The Rossoneri reached first place by defeating Palermo in a tricky encounter which highlighted once again the importance of Zlatan Ibrahimović, who converted a penalty and created the last goal for Robinho. The Brazilian player had the simple task of finding the back of the net after the Swedish star’s hard work yet he almost wasted the opportunity as he hit it where Palermo goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu was diving, but the momentum of the shot made it difficult to save. Robinho would go on to waste another chance to outline his inefficiency and it must be said his goal does not hide the fact he has so far failed to meet expectations.
Another Brazilian might soon become a source of concern as Ronaldinho was once again not selected as a starter and did not feature in the match at all. There is a growing belief he might be leaving during the January transfer window and with Coach Massimiliano Allegri beginning to rely on two of his attacking stars – Ibrahimović is a certain starter and Alexandre Pato seems to be his likely partner – there will be no room for Ronaldinho, Robinho or Filippo Inzaghi in the starting line-up. Inzaghi has been unhappy about his lack of playing time while Ronaldinho remains silent but it is only a matter of time before he begins to voice his displeasure at being left on the bench. However, with Inzaghi now expected to be sidelined for around six months, the Rossoneri will be desperate to hold on to Ronaldinho as they will have few options on the bench during a demanding season which includes fighting on both the domestic and European fronts.
Going back to the match, the Rossoneri had to overcome a difficult and tricky opponent who could have easily snatched a point as the two sides had penalty shouts which were ignored by the referee, before he awarded the Rossoneri a spot-kick for Sirigu’s contact on skipper Massimo Ambrosini. Ibrahimović duly converted the penalty, showing composure and continuing his fine form since joining from Barcelona during the summer. During the weekend, Ibra did not score but was influential in creating scoring opportunities and providing his teammates with ample space to move and attack. The critics who earlier in the campaign claimed Milan are becoming like the Inter of a couple of years ago in terms of their reliance on Ibrahimović for goals have yet to be silenced and the recent performances by the Swedish star will further fuel such debates.
Allegri has some defensive concerns ahead of the Inter clash as Daniele Bonera, Gianluca Zambrotta and Massimo Oddo were all missing due to injury against Palermo. However, the positive news was the return of Thiago Silva, who started and gave veteran Alessandro Nesta a much needed rest ahead of the match against the Nerazzurri. The Coach is certain to start with Zlatan and will hope Pato is fit after his injury scare against the Sicilians forced him to ask to be replaced by Filippo Inzaghi. If Pato does not recover, as is looking likely, or is deemed unfit then Robinho or Ronaldinho could start but Allegri will be hoping to see the No.7 fit to start.
In midfield, captain Massimo Ambrosini has been in decent form since his return from injury yet the concern is whether Andrea Pirlo will be fit after pulling out prior to the Palermo clash with a thigh problem. Kevin-Prince Boateng has yet to play at a high level on a consistent basis while Clarence Seedorf is still influential but is slowing down with age. Frenchman Mathieu Flamini is seeing playing time as of late but it remains to be seen whether Allegri will stick to him or select someone else in midfield. The interesting change made by Allegri extends beyond a mere adjustment to the formation because not only are the Rossoneri playing a 4-3-1-2 now but they are using a midfielder, such as Seedorf, instead of a forward like Robinho, behind the strikers. This shows Allegri is aware of Milan’s deficiencies when it comes to tracking back and is perhaps determined to rely on a more solid line-up as opposed to flair and fantasy football.
Defeating Inter will serve more than one purpose, including putting a dent into the Nerazzurri’s hopes of repeating the season as champions, but more importantly this will provide the Rossoneri with the belief and necessary boost to wrestle away the Scudetto from their city rivals after years of looking up the table to see them on top of the standings.