It’s official – Milan are (finally) winter champions!
I Rossoneri have reached the halfway point in the season, and with 19 games played, Stefano Pioli’s men sit pride of place at the top of the Serie A table, having collected 43 points – losing only twice.
It’s a significant achievement for this crop of young players, and one which statistically favours them in their quest to wear the Italian crown at the end of the season – after all, the winter champions have gone on to win the scudetto 19 times out of the last 26 seasons.
So why aren’t they celebrating on Saturday night?
Well, it may have something to do with the fact that Milan were battered 3-0 at home by Atalanta, delivering their worst performance of the campaign by an absolute country mile. I Rossoneri were out-performed in every aspect by La Dea, who matched their hosts man for man, won every individual battle across the pitch and did not relent until the final whistle blew.
The visitors started on the front foot, got their goal and then waited for their moment to pounce, picking off their naive opponents time and time again. For the hosts, it was not necessarily a reality check as such, but a sign of the size of the mountain they must be prepared to climb if they want to end their title drought.
As much as it was a tired and below-par display from Milan, it was mainly a stunning team performance by Atalanta. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men are capable of producing a 90 minutes as unforgiving as that pretty regularly, and although they’ve struggled to find their groove this year, they slipped seamlessly through the gears at San Siro.
Currently sitting fourth in the table and seven points behind the front runners, can we really rule out Atalanta from this epic title race? Not yet.
What will certainly have added to Milan’s tensions was the fact that rivals and nearest title challengers Inter were battling it out in Udine at the same time. Victory for I Nerazzurri would have put them level on points with the pace setters, and facing an Udinese side that has won only four times this season is as good an opportunity as any.
Fortunately for Pioli and co, their rivals allowed this golden ticket to slip through their fingers. Inter created little in the way of meaningful shots at the Udinese goal on Saturday, recording only four efforts on target in a frustrating display.
The swagger and fluidity from their recent victory over Juventus had vanished, and those classic insecurities began seeping back into their play. It was a disjointed team performance, based more on hope that a colleague would produce a moment of magic, rather than relying on their trusty system to see them over the line.
And as if to embody his side’s struggles, Antonio Conte was rewarded a red card on the touchline, bubbling over and exploding at the officials. Move along people, nothing to see here.
In the end, a point was not a terrible result for Conte and his men, but it was a huge opportunity missed in their race to close the gap on Milan and topple Juve from their perch. As it happens, the two Milanese clubs have handed I Bianconeri a lifeline, who’ll move to within seven points of the leaders with victory over Bologna on Sunday, while still holding a further game in hand.
That’s not to mention AS Roma lying in third position, SSC Napoli loitering in fifth with two games in hand, and a SS Lazio side starting to hit their own stride. This title could really fall to anyone this season.
For Milan and Inter, however, Saturday evening was a psychological battle – and they both lost. The duo must pick themselves up and go again in midweek, when they go head to head in the Coppa Italia quarter-finals.
Another piece of silverware up for grabs? Absolutely. But that’s not the main prize on offer. The possibility of getting one over your bitter rivals and crushing their spirits at the same time? That’s the real trophy.
No time for feeling sorry for yourselves, lads. Onwards and upwards – to Tuesday.