Even the most optimistic fans would have found it hard to believe at the start of the season, but Milan are Italy’s most improved team.
Still in with a shout of the title until the end of March, the Rossoneri continued their good form this season, showing themselves to be a strong team spurred on by Stefano Pioli’s ideas and the magnificent form of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
As technical director Paolo Maldini said recently, the squad is good enough to win its first Scudetto since 2011 next time around, despite their recent drop in form. Here’s why 2021/22 could be Milan’s year.
Winter champions 2020
They won’t receive a trophy for it, but Milan finishing 2020 at the top of the Serie A table was a strong statement of intent.
Their unbeaten run up until the end of January this year, including a fine set of results from last season, totalled a remarkable 27 games – over 70% of a full season. Add into the mix a busy Europa League schedule, and a mounting injury list as a result, and this achievement becomes even more impressive.
Milan’s ability to string together a prolonged series of results like this shows quality and resilience. They have an eye for goal throughout the team, demonstrated by their 15 different goalscorers this campaign, and their assured defensive displays before Christmas stand them in good stead.
Come next season, Milan’s squad will be used to dealing with the demands of a European fixture schedule, although likely in the Champion’s League this time round. They’ll be hoping for a lighter injury list, while maintaining the fighting spirit that catapulted them to the summit. If they do that, then anything is possible.
Members of the 100 points club
To take the above point further, Milan’s form since the start of 2020 has been so good that they were of only four teams in the top five European leagues to chalk up 100 points over the following year or so.
Champions League favourites Manchester City and Bayern Munich are two, as well as the famous Real Madrid, and Milan deserve their place in this illustrious list with consistent quality displays.
Their form may have been patchy in 2021, but they’ve still ground out some great results, including a fantastic 2-1 win at Roma – the team with the second-best home record in Serie A. This suggests that form is temporary and class is permanent in Milan’s case.
If they were to repeat the form of the 38 games between June 2020 and March 2021 (86 points) over next season’s 38 games, then they’ll have three more than Juventus’s title-winning amount in 2020. While that was a relatively low total, a few positive tweaks in this Milan side could see the 100-point club members become Serie A champions.
The return of the fans
Football has suffered from the absence of fans. Stadiums are soulless expanses of seats and games are played to the sound of player shouts – without the roar of a passionate support that adds spice to the sport.
Fans have also missed the matchday experience immensely. Just like playing internet blackjack isn’t the same as playing in front of a croupier in a real-life casino, watching a football game on TV lacks that buzz of interaction that you get in a stadium.
Every club will be boosted by the return of its support, of course, but none more so than Milan. Their red and black army is one of the most passionate in Europe and gives the team that extra boost during a game, performing as that clichéd ‘twelfth man’.
The energy levels of this young team are set to go through the roof once the San Siro starts to echo to the sounds of ‘Forza Milan’ again.
The perfect mix of youth and experience
One man has dominated the headlines in Serie A this season — well, apart from Cristiano Ronaldo, of course.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic continues to defy science by churning out quality performances and banging in goals just a few months before his 40th birthday. His non-penalty goals per game ratio is among the very best in Europe, but this isn’t the only thing he brings to the Milan team.
His two decades of top-level experience is invaluable to Serie A’s youngest team, especially forward Rafael Leão who wasn’t even born when Zlatan made his debut — the youngster described playing with the legend as ‘a dream’ in a recent interview.
The spine of the Milan team is crucial towards the development of its youngsters. As well as Zlatan, they have 31-year-old Simon Kjaer in defence and Hakan Calhanoglu pulling the strings in midfield with over 50 caps for Turkey.
Having such know-how will help the likes of Daniel Maldini (son of Paolo), Jens Petter Hauge and Leão push on next season and make Milan an even more powerful force.
So, will Milan do it? The answer is far from certain but if Stefano Pioli can continue his superb work and maintain the Rossoneri’s rate of improvement, then the sky’s the limit for them next season.