No chance of the Champions League: Mediocre Milan incapable of another great escape

The Rossoneri recovered from a dreadful start to their 2012-13 campaign to snatch a Champions League place on the final day – but there will be no resurgence this term

By Mark Doyle

In the immediate aftermath of AC Milan’s 3-2 defeat to Juventus on Sunday night, Massimiliano Allegri was once again asked about his club’s decision to allow Andrea Pirlo to move to Turin on a free transfer two years ago.

The Rossoneri boss rolled his eyes and said: “It gets boring saying the same things over and over again.”

And yet when it comes to assessing Milan’s hopes of finishing in the top three this season, Allegri just cannot help but repeat himself. “The season is long,” he says. “We were further behind last season,” he says. “There is time to recover,” he says. “Let’s see what position we’re in at Christmas,” he says.

The 46-year-old coach’s continued optimism is both admirable and understandable. And he is right that Milan were, in a way, in a worse position than this at this point last year. After seven rounds of the 2012-13 Serie A season, the Rossoneri had just seven points; this time around, they have eight.

However, there is one crucial difference. This time 12 months ago, Milan were eight points adrift of the Champions League places; now they lie 11 points in arrears of third place, which merely underlines the jump in quality so many of Serie A’s top sides have made over the past year.

Roma have enjoyed their best ever start to a league campaign, winning their first seven games under new coach Rudi Garcia, while Napoli have dropped just two points thus far.

Much was made of the fact that Juventus had been given a tricky start to the season and yet the two-time defending champions are also undefeated, having won six of their games and drawn the other.

A reinvigorated Inter only lost their unbeaten record on Saturday night, to Roma, while Fiorentina look a force to be reckoned with, even if competing on two fronts already seems to be taking its toll on Vincenzo Montella’s ridiculously talented squad.

With Lazio now showing signs of having rediscovered the hunger of last season, it is clear that this promises to be the most fiercely contested Serie A campaign for many years, which is not good news for Milan.

The Rossoneri are competitive, but only in the sense that they do not lack heart. They proved that once again in Turin, where they could have snatched what would have been the unlikeliest of draws, with Sulley Muntari’s second goal of the evening having given Juventus a serious case of the jitters.

It would not have been the first time this season that Milan had salvaged points with late rallies either, with Allegri’s men having come from two goals down to snatch draws at both Torino and Bologna. However, for all their commendable resilience, there is a sick desperation about the Rossoneri at the moment, not to mention mounting frustration.

It was evident again on Sunday night. Philippe Mexes saw red for dissent not long after fortuitously avoiding a dismissal for an alleged swipe at Giorgio Chiellini that is likely to result in retrospective action that could sideline the Frenchman for some time. That could place further strain on a defence that has shipped a disturbing 13 goals in seven games (only the bottom two, Bologna and Sassuolo, have conceded more).

And, of course, it is worth noting that Milan had been forced to travel to Turin without their principal/only attacking threat, Mario Balotelli, as he was serving the final game of a three-match ban for verbally abusing match officials after last month’s defeat at home to Napoli.

The enigmatic forward has always played on the edge, but Milan had better hope that his latest indiscretion was not borne of a more deep-rooted frustration with the obvious lack of quality around him. The Rossoneri simply cannot afford to lose the Italy attacker. As Bojan Krkic intimated recently, Milan’s attack is 80 per cent Balotelli – which is arguably overselling the importance of Alessandro Matri and Robinho.

Allegri said after the Juve defeat: “You don’t have to be a scientist to see Milan aren’t doing well.” But you also don’t need to be clairvoyant to see that this season is unlikely to end well for everyone concerned.

The Rossoneri coach believes that “it is too early to stop dreaming” but the reality is that there will be no repeat of last year’s remarkable recovery – no matter how many times Allegri says it.

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