Just a couple of months ago AC Milan were at the top of Serie A, holding the first place spot for 17 weeks. They were demolishing teams with ease and constantly showed up versus their title rivals. Injuries in early 2021 to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ismael Bennacer severely affected the Rossoneri‘s form, however, allowing Inter Milan to take the top spot. Despite that, Milan were still in the thick of things for Champions League qualification, sitting in second place up until this last matchday. Now, however, they have fallen to fifth. With five matches left, AC Milan Champions League hopes may be drifting away.
AC Milan Champions League Hopes are Drifting Away
Milan’s last two matches were horrendous, to say the least. On Monday, they fell to a 3-0 defeat against Lazio. It was a massive game for Champions League qualification, and the Rossoneri failed to show up. They showed life at the end of the first half after being 1-0 down but failed to capitalise on a couple of great scoring chances. They did not take that energy boost into the second half, however, as they allowed another two goals. The players knew how important the match was, and didn’t act like it, which does not bode well for future games.
The week before that, Milan lost 2-1 to Sassuolo. The Rossoneri scored the first goal, a beautiful curling effort by Hakan Calhanoglu, and dominated much of the match. But, they completely fell asleep in the last 20 minutes, allowing Sassuolo to walk away with three points. It was another disappointing and quite frankly embarrassing display.
Before the last two matches, Milan had victories over Genoa and Parma by a combined score of 5-2. Simply put, they did not play up to their competition the last two matchdays.
Serie A’s Other Competitors
The Scudetto is essentially locked up for Inter. They’re holding an 11 point advantage over second place.
Milan’s competitors for the last three Champions League spots are Atalanta, Napoli, and Juventus. Those are the three main teams, but Lazio are just five points behind with a match in hand.
Atalanta has the best attack in Italy, and won’t be stopped. All of Atalanta’s last five matches are very winnable, with Sassuolo and Milan difficult fixtures.
Napoli are climbing up the table quickly, mostly due to their attack as well. They have the easiest remaining schedule, and Milan’s most realistic goal is that Napoli has a slip-up against Fiorentina.
Juventus’ road is tough. They’ll have to play Milan, Sassuolo, and Inter in three of their last five matches, and have the Coppa Italia final against Atalanta to think about.
Remaining Schedule for AC Milan
Milan have a very winnable game this weekend versus Benevento. Ibrahimovic has also returned to training, which will be pivotal for this upcoming stretch. The Rossoneri must come out guns blazing to secure a big morale-boosting victory.
After that, however, they’ll play Juventus. This match, of course, is unpredictable. Milan must prioritise fitness, as they’ll need their full line-up available.
After Juventus, Milan face Torino and Cagliari. Now, these two matches should both be victories as the two squads are struggling, but they have enough quality for a surprise draw. Milan cannot play down to their competition here and need full focus.
The last match of the season is versus second-place Atalanta. It’s most likely that some kind of result will be needed to secure the Champions League here, but this will be a very tough match. Milan’s end to the season is not easy, but they cannot afford to miss out on European glory once again.
The Importance of Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Ibrahimovic’s fitness and status will make or break Milan’s season. Simply put, they struggle to score without him.
Rafael Leão is not a true number nine, and the Mario Mandzukic acquisition has failed. This leaves Ante Rebic as Milan’s top threat with Ibrahimovic off the pitch, but Rebic’s performances improve tenfold alongside the Swede.
Ibrahimovic has the second-best goals per 90-minute ratio in the league behind Atalanta’s Luis Muriel. To date, he has 15 goals in 17 league matches. It’s easy to see where Milan’s season has fallen apart, as the Swede has only played roughly half of all Serie A matches. He scores every 89 minutes on the pitch, and from 27 per cent of his shots.
He’s Milan’s x-factor right now, and they need a strong finish by him to make the top four.