Predicting the finishing placement of teams for the season is something very common in football. What is contentious, though, is going against the supposed logic of the majority of fans and pundits alike. Prior to the start of the season, almost everyone and their mama had Inter placed above AC Milan in their Serie A predictions. In fact, some went so far as to consider the Nerazzurri as legitimate title challengers to the mighty Juventus.
On the surface it made sense; Inter Milan had the best, most balanced mercato having signed players such as Radja Nainggolan, Keita Balde, Stefan de Vrij and Kwadwo Asamoah, they boasted one of the deadliest strikers in Icardi and head coach Spalletti was given second bite at the cherry to fashion a side in his making.
Fast forward two weeks into the season and let me unequivocally say that Inter were over-hyped. One loss and a draw for Inter and I’m already confident that we will finish higher in the table than them.
Why make such a bold claim this early you ask?
Well folks, strap in because this will be one of “those” articles. The kind that will either vindicate my controversial opinions or one that will make me look like Gary Lineker the time he crapped himself in the middle of a match.
Let me put to you four reasons AC Milan will finish above their city rivals after all 38 Serie A matches are played:
1. Inter are this season’s Milan
Let’s go back in time about a year ago, to the summer of 2017: Montenegro became the 29th member of NATO, Roger Federer beacame the first man to win Wimbledon 8 times, Chinese scientists sucessfully teleported a photon from Earth to a satellite in space and Despacito remained firmly on the top of the Billboard Hot 100.
It was also the summer where the (then) new owner of AC Milan, Li Yonghong went on a transfer shopping spree the likes of which had never been witnessed before in Milan. In total, AC Milan bought 10 new players at the cost of €215.3 million. The plan was to do a complete overhaul to the team, making them immediate title challengers with the guarantee of a Champions League spot.
Well. We all know how that turned out...
As was previously stated, Inter have done shrewd business this summer. On paper, their squad is filled with talented players in every position. However, if one is to look at what happened to AC Milan after their influx of new signings last season, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to consider that Inter’s new signings will take some time to gel. Remember, this isn’t a game of FIFA where you just slot the best players in a squad and get results. Chemistry takes time to build.
It took the Rossoneri about half a season and a new coach for the players to truly understand each other on the pitch. I expect Inter to fare a similar fate. Their opening defeat to Sassuolo and their implosion against Torino is the first of many “shocks” to come. Despite the fact that Milan did blow a 2-0 lead over Napoli, the Rossoneri did show moments where they held their own against one of Italy’s regular top three teams. So far, Inter’s players have not looked like a united group.
Additionally, unlike Inter, AC Milan are a year older with a team that seems a bit more self assured and one that is led by none other than General Gattuso himself.
Which brings us to...
2. Gattuso vs. Spalletti: Advantage Rino
About midway into the 2017/18 season Milan were in yet another crisis. We were playing some rudderless football under Montella and something had to be done. Enter Gattuso, the mad Italian. He was plucked from the Primavera squad and given the reigns to a team that lacked an identity. Everyone thought the worst; under Gattuso Milan would self destruct. How very, very wrong we all were.
After a somewhat shaky start, Gattuso moulded Milan into something resembling the ex-player himself – a passionate, compact, gritty bunch. Gattuso reignited the spark of the talented Calhanoglu. Romagnoli looked like Nesta reborn. We even went on a 13 game unbeaten run.
Now I’m not saying Gattuso is a better coach than Spalletti. Not right now at least. Napoli’s 3-2 come from behind victory over us shows that Gattuso still has to do a lot more in terms of tactical flexibility and keeping his players switched on for a full 90 mins.
However, I have no doubt though that in time “Rino” will prove himself as a manager who can hold his own. In certain aspects of the coaching side of things I do think that Gattuso does indeed have the edge on Spalletti. One could even make the argument that Spalletti is not as good a man manager as Gattuso.
Following the loss to Napoli Gattuso “took full responsibility” and was not afraid to speak openly on both the individual and collective flaws of his side. Although the Napoli loss does hurt, one can easily see the Rossoneri bouncing back. After all, they were leading Napoli 2-0 at the Sao Paolo. All Milan needs to do is tighten up and as Gattuso said, keep the lights switched on.
Unlike his counterpart, Spalletti is under even more pressure to perform as he has the “bigger name” as a coach, he has had more time in Inter’s dugout, his squad looks stronger on paper and he already has a terrible start to the season. When speaking about Inter’s opening loss to Sassuolo in an interview with Sky Sports Italia, Spalletti conceded that “the defects from last season reappeared...” Spalletti further went on to say that the collapse Inter Milan suffered at the hands of Torino was “not easy to explain.”
If Inter were to go on a run where they begin to drop points the way they did last season, expect players to revolt and Spalletti to lose the dressing room. The spectre of an unemployed Antonio Conte does indeed loom over the heads of both coaches but it is Spalletti who should be the more worried of the two mangers.
With a coach like Gattuso, even if Milan have a few bad games here and there, I cannot see any of the players turning against him. Besides it being downright suicidal to oppose a man like Gattuso, players seem to genuinely want to give their all for him. Tell me, can you say the same for Inter’s players and Spalletti? Can you really see guys like Nainggolan and Icardi being patient with Spalletti if Inter continues to drop points?
Added to all this, Gattuso now has the team he wants. Remember he inherited players like Lord Kalinic from Montella. Now Gattuso finally has that striker all of Milan was craving so badly.
I don’t know how Leonardo managed to convince both Juventus and Higuain so easily but bless him for giving us one of the deadliest strikers in Serie A.
AC Milan lacked a proper striker last season, relying on the then teenager, Patrick Cutrone, to be our main source of income in the goals department. Granted, Cutrone has done well and will no doubt become a great striker in the near future, displaying similar qualities to club legend Pippo Inzaghi. But Cutrone is not the finished product yet and we needed a proper striker. Higuain is that guy.
The Argentine is a veteran of Serie A having spent a total of 5 seasons in Italy, finding the net over 100 times. Sure, he failed to score against his former club in his opening match for Milan, but Higuain was a handful to deal with on Saturday. With better service from Calhanoglu (who didn’t play against Napoli) and Suso (who had an average game), the goals will surely come for the star striker.
There is no doubt in my mind that Higuain will be a main contender for the Capocannoniere. And with Ronaldo needing some time to adjust to the league, Gonzalo is surely a favorite. With an assassin in front of goal for us, Milan will definitely be a much stronger side.
4. Inter have the burden of the Champions League - Milan don’t
Okay. Technically Milan are competing in Europe but I doubt anyone is taking the Europa League that seriously. At worst, I would say we are all hoping for an improved run in the competition to perhaps the quarter finals. The focus for Milan will no doubt be securing a Champions League spot. As Gattuso himself said in a press conference prior to the Napoli fixture, “Our goal is to improve the standings of last season and work hard to reach the fourth place.”
Inter, on the other hand, will definitely not want to embarrass themselves in the Champions League. It will be the first time since the 2011/12 season the Nerazzuri would feature in the competition. As such, competing for European glory would be a bit of a distraction for the boys in black and blue. If they are not careful, Inter can find themselves having to juggle too much fixtures and end up dropping both points in the league and positive results in Europe.
Remember, Inter barely managed to scrape into the last Champions League qualifying spot with a dramatic victory over the unfortunate Lazio. And going by their games thus far, this Inter team looks as if they’ve brought with them the same inconsistency from the previous season. If you throw the rigors of Champions League action into this already disjointed Inter side, you can see how hard it will be for them to manage all their matches.
If AC Milan’s focus is almost entirely on the Serie A they will have a definite advantage. The goal is much simpler for us - (a) qualify for the Champions League, (b) do good in Europe and (c) qualify for the Champions League.
Football is a game such that anything is possible. Given the above points, a strong argument can be made for Milan to pull off a shock over their arch nemesis and place above them at the end of the season. Milan may not be the team we want it to be just yet, but with some good football, a bit of luck and an Inter implosion maybe, just maybe my article will age the way Pirlo’s career did.
If all goes well, Milan will have a squad with better chemistry, a strong coach who unites the dressing room, a proper striker and a sharp focus on securing fourth spot.
What do the Nerazzuri have? A team that still has to learn to play well together, a coach who seems to lose his players in key moments and a huge distraction in the Champions League.
Sure, we may have dropped points by blowing a 2-0 lead but at least we did so to an Ancelotti coached Napoli, not Mazzzarri’s Torino.
I say this one’s a no brainer. We’re going to finish above the Nerazzuri!
Come at me Inter fans.