It’s a good time to be an AC Milan fan. After seven games, the side is riding high at the top of Serie A, four points ahead of leading title contenders Juventus, and yet to be beaten.
The promising start to the season has renewed talk that Milan could be the side to finally dethrone Juventus, who have grabbed the title in far too many of the previous seasons.
Indeed, part of the belief comes from the problems that Juventus seem to be facing; they are not the force they were a couple of years ago, and for the first time in a while, it feels like there’s a real chance that they can be beaten.
But let’s not get carried away. There’s still a long way to go until the champions are declared. Normally when a side is at the top of the league, international breaks are unwelcome. This, however, is not the case with Milan – quite the opposite.
They’ll be happy to have a bit of a break, especially considering the performance against Hellas Verona, which was laboured and could have ended up in defeat.
A rest for Zlatan
Much has been said about Zlatan’s age-defying footballing heroics. Indeed, is there any other 39-year-old who has such an influence on weekly football predictions than the Swede? Not now, not ever.
Ibrahimović has been in great goalscoring form this campaign, with nine goals in nine appearances. But of course, even the greats need to take a break from time to time. While Zlatan did bag a point-winning goal at the weekend against Hellas Verona, he was slightly below his best.
Fortunately for Milan, he’s retired from the national team, which means he’ll have the whole of the international break to do nothing but rest, and ready himself for the games against Napoli.
A tough fixture list
Milan have been performing well, but you can argue that the results have been somewhat fortunate. Some matches could have ended in a draw, or even defeat, but the side dug deep. It was endurance and tenacity and belief that got the result, rather than quality.
That’s not true for all the games, of course, but some of them. In the last couple of games, Pioli’s team have looked a little more tired. Now, that’s no great concern, since it’s impossible to play at a high-level all of the time, but it’ll be enough of a concern to welcome the international break.
It’s always a good idea to take a bit of a breather when things are beginning to slip slightly, and that’s just what the break has allowed.
You would imagine that, if Milan were to play their next few games immediately, they would be in trouble. In the weeks following the break, the side will play Napoli and Fiorentina in the league, and Lille and Celtic in the Europa League.
With some of the key players getting a rest during the break, and others shaking up their routine slightly, you imagine that they’ll be in better shape to win these matches if they were playing this weekend.
Manager Stefano Pioli has also welcomed the international break. He cites the brutal schedule for the team’s dip in form, and it’s not hard to see his point. Milan have been playing every few days, one game in Serie A, one game in Europe.
There’s no avoiding the fact that it’ll take its toll after a while. They’ve been under a more intense schedule than other sides for a while, too, since they had to start their European campaign in the qualifying rounds way back in September.
These are small problems if you’re ready to settle for a mid-table finish, but having made a promising start to the season, Milan will have grander ambitions. They’ll believe that they can win the Scudetto and go far in the Europa League – providing their legs can hold out.