It was only eight months ago since AC Milan were crowned Champions of Italy for the first time in 11 years after beating bitter cross-city rivals, Inter Milan, to the Scudetto on the final day of the season.
Indeed, Stefano Pioli had successfully masterminded the resurgence of one of the biggest clubs in Italian football, but ahead of the showpiece occasion of the season, the defending champions are desperate to show their mettle once again.
The Rossoneri have had a dismal run this year since losing a 2-0 lead in the dying moments to draw 2-2 with Roma on January 8, they have crashed out of the Coppa Italia to 10-man Torino, lost the Supercoppa 3-0 to Inter, then lost the last two Serie A games 4-0 to Lazio and 5-2 to Sassuolo.
This uncharacteristic bad defensive record has seen Milan concede 18 goals in seven games in 2023 and they face a rematch with Inter just a couple of weeks after the humiliating 3-0 Supercoppa defeat in Riyadh.
So what is the cause of Milan’s drop in form?
The importance of senior players like Zlatan Ibrahimović and Olivier Giroud to the title-winning side cannot be over-emphasized as they brought a winning mentality to a young and hungry but talented side.
In 2023, both Giroud and Divock Origi have scored twice between them since the turn of the year and Rafael Leâo’s stellar presence as their leading goalscorer and creator is not enough given the poor form of the rest of his teammates.
Elsewhere, the influential Ibrahimović has also been unavailable since the end of last season as his on-pitch leadership would have helped to galvanise the squad in times of crisis.
AC Milan have been conceding goals at an alarming rate in 2023 as the centre-back pairing of Fikayo Tomori and Pierre Kalulu, which was instrumental to the title win last season, has lost some of its solidity. Pertinently, the loss of the best goalkeeper in the league last season has also been devastating.
Most of Milan’s defensive woes are a result of injuries which have plagued the squad, with first-choice ‘keeper Mike Maignan being out for four months with a calf problem after playing a major role in their title triumph while club captain Davide Calabria and fellow defender Simon Kjaer have both had lengthy spells on the sidelines.
Tomori also pulled up injured in the first half against Lazio to increase their woes at the back.
Poor summer Recruits
Time should be advocated for new recruits to settle into their new surroundings, especially those coming from different countries and leagues. That said, it is fair to say Milan’s summer additions have been poor as their key summer signings have paid back very little in way of the investments made on them.
Origi’s consolation strike against Sassuolo was just his second goal in 18 appearances for the club and the fact he is an injury-prone player makes a mockery of his recruitment. Meanwhile, Charles De Ketelaere has also been very poor as a move to one of the top five European leagues seems to have taken some wind off his sail, AC Milan will need him to come good if they are to turn their fortunes around.
Derby Day Blues
Sunday against their hated rivals would be the perfect way to kickstart that turnaround and according to Sky Italia, the Rossoneri have been training for this game in a 3-4-3 formation and even spending extra minutes to perfect their system.
Pioli also tested a 4-3-3 approach in a bid to halt their alarming slump and change seems to be the only way out given the list of big absences and shortcomings this season.
Sitting a whopping 12 points behind leaders Napoli and only two behind Inter, a massive win on Sunday evening would take them above their hated neighbours and keep them firmly in the top-four race.
Indeed, the season is just at its mid-way point so there is still a lot of football to be played to arrest the free fall they are currently on, but dropping any further points will throw Pioli’s side – and season – into full-on turmoil.