Has Stefano Piolo Finally Woke the Sleeping Giant?

The Rise of a Sleeping Giant

When you think of AC Milan, some of the greatest names in football come to mind. For years though, the Italian giants have looked a shadow of the club that once dominated European football with star-studded lineups featuring Dida, Nesta, Pirlo, Kaka and Shevchenko, but falling way off the top throughout the past decade

Since taking over in 2019, Stefano Piolo has improved Milan massively and has orchestrated their emergence of a title contender in Serie A as well as seeing them back in the Champions League after a seven-year hiatus.

The Rossoneri are currently second in Italy’s top division, level on points with league-leaders Napoli, after a terrific start to the season in which they are still unbeaten in the league – winning ten of their 12 games so far. Milan are also seven points clear of their city rivals, third-placed Inter.

Serie A Odds

skybet betting tip

AC MILAN TO WIN SERIE A ODDS @ 5/2

A solid structure where everyone joins in

Piolo has set up Milan to be a well-organised, structured unit this season which has been key to their success. The veteran manager has had spells at the likes of Sampdoria, Lazio, Inter and Fiorentina, but it’s starting to click with the Rossoneri.

His 4-2-3-1 system is working wonders, causing problems for opposition – shown by only Inter scoring more goals in Serie A so far. As well as their organisation and pressing, a big factor of their attacking prowess comes from the wing-play, overloading the flanks to be able to get crosses or cutbacks into the box.

That’s shown with Milan boasting the greatest number of successful crosses into the box in Italy’s top tier this season. Davide Calabria is the usual starter at right-back, with the 24-year-old becoming a regular in the side under Piolo and becoming influential going forward. The Milan youth graduate often provides overlaps or underlaps for the attacking wingers, with one of the defensive midfielders filling in and covering to protect the backline in defensive phases.

That’s also the case with the left side, with either former Real Madrid left-back Theo Hernandez or new signing from Monaco, Fode Ballo-Toure, often getting forward down the left side, allowing the left-winger to cut inside and terrorise defences. Calabria and Hernandez have been directly involved (either a goal or assist) in a combined six goals in Milan’s 12 Serie A games this season.

They aren’t just a threat on the flanks either, with their central midfielders having the passing abilities to play balls through the centre that cut through defensive lines. Piolo also likes to switch it up and go with a more direct approach, with the defence going long and bypassing the midfield to find a target man up front, either Olivier Giroud or a certain Swedish legend, that can hold the ball up for the speedy attackers around him to play off.

Serie A Odds

skybet betting tip

AC MILAN AND OVER 3.5 GOALS IN MATCH @ 5/1

A squad you didn't know was so talented

Across the board, Milan have some of the hottest talents around at their disposal, after acquiring many of the lesser-known names with high potential. Even after their captain and arguably one of the best goalkeepers in the world, Gianluigi Donnarumma, left on a free to PSG in the summer, the Italian outfit have replaced him with another tremendous shot-stopper in Mike Maignan from Lille, keeping Milan in safe hands.

He’s currently out injured but Ciprian Tatarusanu has impressed since stepping in so far, even saving a penalty against Inter in the derby last time out. Along with their great selection of fullbacks, Milan also boast some fantastic central defenders. Simon Kjaer demonstrated his abilities for Denmark in the Euros and is often partnered by Fikayo Tomori, who is enjoying a terrific season in Italy following his move from Chelsea in July. Sandro Tonali has had a brilliant breakthrough season for Milan this season. The 21-year-old looked like a shrewd signing last year from Brescia but failed to make an impact last campaign.

This season though, the man many have described as the new Andrea Pirlo, has been in great form and has been a big influence in the middle of the park. Not only has he got the defensive capabilities to intercept, break up play and shield the backline, but also to get forward and use his technical ability to contribute in attack. Tonali has two assists and two goals – one being a superb freekick against Cagliari – this season, despite playing in a deep midfield role. There’s plenty of options for Piolo in attack as well, with some great young talents that can play on the wings. Rafael Leao was initially bought as a striker, but his lighting pace and dribbling have seen him become a big threat on the left flank, cutting in before getting shots away.

There’s also options on the right-wing with 22-year-old Alexis Saelemaekers often alternating with Samu Castellejo on the right side. It shows the strength in depth for Milan, with a number of talented players able to come in to the starting XI when needed. Piolo has more-or-less got two or more great players in every position, which will be key to his side’s success, switching players around with form and specific qualities in mind.

the Zlatan affect

Despite being the ripe old age of 40, Zlatan Ibrahimovic continues to dominate and propel Milan forward. Regardless of the tactical approach, the 6ft 5 icon is still at the very top of his game and with impeccable touch and control of the ball as well as his eye for the goal and superiority in the air, he’s still highly influential in Italy’s topflight.

Ibrahimovic’s age means that he is picking up more and more injury problems, such has been the case so far this season, but he has still managed to make an impact. In his six Serie A appearances, he’s scored three and assisted twice. The veteran’s wealth of experience will also massively benefit Milan’s young side, with the likes of Leao, Saelemaekers and Brahim Diaz all linking up with the four-time Scudetto winner and learning from his wisdom on and off the pitch. Zlatan was part of the Milan side that won the club’s last Serie A title back in the 2010-11 campaign.

He’s now a key player integrated in the young and gifted squad that Piolo has built. Especially with the turbulent seasons for some of the other possible contenders, such as Juventus, Piolo and Milan could go all the way and clinch the Scudetto this season.

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