By Joe Fischetti.
Since the signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic on January 2nd, AC Milan have risen to 6th place in the Serie A table with 32 points.
The Rossoneri have gone undefeated during this period, amassing three wins and two draws in the league, and adding two wins in the Coppa Italia.
However, Milan’s victories have predominantly come against bottom-half opponents. In order of schedule, Milan’s nine wins have come against Brescia, Hellas Verona, Genoa, SPAL, Parma, Bologna, Cagliari, SPAL (again), Udinese, Brescia (again) and Torino. These opponents have a combined record of 67 wins, 50 draws, and 124 losses.
Granted, all of these losses came prior to what most would consider a very successful January transfer window. Milan directors Paolo Maldini and Zvonomir Boban trimmed the roster to improve the club’s financial position and thereby avoid non-compliance with financial fair play regulations.
The most notable departures were the sale of striker Krzystof Piatek to German club Hertha Berlin and the loan of midfielder Suso to Spanish club Sevilla. Both failed to live up to the expectations they established in previous seasons. Milan also loaned out Pepe Reina, Mattia Caldara and Ricardo Rodriguez, and reached a mutual agreement with Fabio Borini to terminate his contract.
On the inbound, Milan made one of the first big splashes of the transfer window, signing Ibrahimovic on a free transfer from LA Galaxy. They replaced Caldara with Simon Kjaer from Sevilla and Reina with Asmir Begovic from Bournemouth.
Finally, the Rossoneri recalled left-back Diego Laxalt from Torino and signed young midfielder Alexis Saelemaekers on loan from Belgian club Anderlecht.
Maldini and Boban kept their options open for the summer by bringing most of these players in on short-term loans. With these changes, can Milan hang on to 6th place in the table?
Of the six European qualification positions, three will be occupied by Juventus, Inter and Lazio, in no particular order.
Atalanta and Roma are presently vying for the fourth and final Champions League position, but the clubs appear to be heading in opposite directions. Josip Ilicic continues his run of form, scoring nine goals in his last six appearances. The return of Duvan Zapata bolsters what is already a high-powered attack, alongside playmaker Alejandro Gomez and lethal striker, Luis Muriel, who has returned to his role on the bench.
Meanwhile, Roma has performed remarkably well despite losing many key players to injury, including standout midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo who is out for the season with a ruptured ACL.
Edin Dzeko scored his 100th goal for the club on the weekend and summer transfer Chris Smalling remains in the running for defender of the year. However, the club is beginning to feel the effects of a depleted roster, conceding three points this past weekend to 13th-ranked Sassuolo.
In addition to Roma, Milan are competing with the Cagliari, Parma, Bologna, Napoli, and Verona, all of whom are within two points of the Diavolo.
After a strong start to the season, Cagliari has gone winless in their last 8 Serie A matches, including four draws and four losses. Expect their decline to continue.
Meanwhile, Gennaro Gattuso seems to have turned the tide at Napoli, winning consecutive league matches against Juventus and Sampdoria, after the club won only once in their previous 12 Serie A fixtures. Recent success has restored the confidence of Napoli’s players who remain amongst the most talented in the league.
Gervinho’s future at Parma is uncertain after the player missed multiple training sessions while the club attempted a transfer to Qatar club Al-Saad, which transfer ultimately failed.
The additions of Jasmin Kurtic and Gianluca Caprari will fill the void left behind by Gervinho, while Ionut Radu will bolster the defense. Though Bologna improved with the signing of Musa Barrow, the Rossoblu will ultimately finish outside of the top 10.
Serie A Top 10: