Whenever AC Milan play these days, fans of the erstwhile era can’t help but hark back to the times when AC Milan were the European powerhouses of the world. It brings back memories of a time when very few teams could match the might of the Rossoneri, who had managed to capture of the imagination of the world under Carlo Ancelotti. Nostalgia comes streaming into your mind, at the very thought of how the good times at San Siro had left everyone amused. Things might have undergone a stark change since then, but the club is seemingly getting back to a time when the good old days could be just around the corner again.
With former Fiorentina boss Vincenzo Montella now in charge at the club, Milan have achieved a certain amount of stability and certainty. And it’s just one of those things that has overshadowed the lingering nostalgia at the club, giving people a lot to look forward to rather than simply harking back upon disappointing performances.
Not a number game
Milan may currently be seventh in the league, but if you happen to have followed how their season has panned out so far, it hasn’t been too bad. The Rossoneri are just four points adrift of Lazio, who currently occupy the last Champions League spot and are playing football that is considerably better than how it was during the period of instability from 2012 to last season. After having made an impressive start to the campaign, Milan may have failed to capitalize, but their recovery has been rather commendable. It has given them hope of gaining a spot in the European competition after some years of struggle.
And Montella is the one to be credited for the optimistic changes that have come about at the club. These changes haven’t just come about at the club, but also in terms of how Vincenzo Montella views the game and his approach to it. It’d have been a rarity to see Montella’s Fiorentina adhere to the same playing style as his current Milan side. The approach to the game has become more pragmatic, direct and less-possession oriented than ever before.
Vincenzo Montella and changing the dynamics
You won’t watch Milan hold onto the ball, dominate possession and try to stifle the opposition with it. There’s been a radical change in that approach and the emphasis on defense has increased considerably, with the side sitting deep in a lot of games to play on the break. And this counter-attacking approach has made the Milan way look more attractive than it did over the past four or five seasons. There’s certainty attached to the way they play, with the duo of Giacomo Bonaventura and Suso providing pacy, direct outlets from wide areas and marauding midfielders in Juraj Kucka and Mario Pasalic adding vigor from central areas.
During his last two seasons at La Viola, Montella’s side had an average possession of around 55 percent, but focus on the more pragmatic style has brought that down to 51 percent this campaign. And despite that, Milan have played football that has been pleasing to the eye quite a few times. They may not be the most fearsome attacking unit in the league, but certainly can cause a lot of damage when they get going. Having the sixth best defensive record just proves how good they have been defensively, unlike some of the previous seasons.
Apart from that, Vincenzo Montella has succeeded in mustering and inculcating a lot of hunger into this side, which was never expected to do as well as it has. You won’t see the shoulders drop after conceding once or even twice. They keep on going the same way as they started, always trying to create openings and score. It’s been a rather regular occurrence to see the rossoneri score after having conceded first in the game, or score first when the opposition hasn’t scored at all. They haven’t let in more than three goals in a game more than thrice this season, with the 4-3 win over Sassuolo suggestive of the hunger and desire that this team has. Apart from that win over Eusebio di Francesco’s men, the 1-0 win over Bologna in February also goes to prove how tough a side to beat Milan are. Despite going down to nine men with Gabi Paletta and Juraj Kucka sent off, Montella’s side kept fighting to win the game late through Mario Pasalic’s strike.
Backing the youth
And the involvement of youth is a prime reason for as to why this desire to win has been infused into this side. Milan have the fielded a side with the youngest average age this season- 24 and have earned this knack for fielding a side with a similar average age. And the performance clearly prove that the presence of youngsters on the pitch isn’t for the mere sake of it. They have impressed to a large extent, earning a place in Montella’s side. Suso’s revival has seen the former Liverpool man score six times and rack up seven assists. Mattia de Sciglio has come close to fulfilling his potential, becoming a regular at full back. 18-year-old Manuel Locatelli, who got the all-important winner when Juventus had visited San Siro early on this season, has also been an influential part of the side in the defensive midfield area. And the description of young players won’t be complete without Gianluigi Donnarumma, whose impressive showings between the sticks at 18 have attracted interest from a lot of big clubs already.
It may not exactly be reminiscent of the good old times, but the team has shown more hunger and urgency to win games than it has over the past four or five seasons. There’s hardly any element of drabness in the way they play and even if this team loses, it goes down fighting. And it is something that has raised eyebrows, apart from hopes of going back to the top again. Losing against the smaller sides in the division isn’t a sight anymore and all the games that Milan lose are against the bigger sides.
One is likely to see Vincenzo Montella put up a brave face, irrespective of the result and appreciate his players after every game. He never fails to heap praise on a player for performing well, be it Gianluca Lapadula early in the season or Mati Fernandez a week ago. At the same time, Montella always seems to clarify to everyone that there’s room for improvement for the side, no matter how well they end up playing in a game. And this has made sure that there’s no amount of complacency in the side, whenever they take the field. Or perhaps, it’s a way of keeping players on their toes.
It’s the first time in years that this amount of stability is lingering around this club. And it is certainly very refreshing to see them achieve that without spending too much, with the Chinese takeover on the verge of a collapse. You can look around at all the aspects, they will point to why Vincenzo Montella is the man to take the club forward, after laying down the foundation.