After capturing a first Serie A title in more than a decade last term, AC Milan will have been looking to solidify their position as the leading club in Italy during the start of the 2022/23 campaign. Unfortunately for them, an injury-hit start to the season has left the Rossoneri eight points behind leaders Napoli.
In addition to the long-term absences of goalkeeper Mike Maignan, captain Davide Calabria and the influential Zlatan Ibrahimovic, several new arrivals, such as €32m attacker Charles De Ketelaere, have only shown glimpses of their talent at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, so the longer World Cup enforced break could be crucial.
Player of the Season So Far
While talisman Rafael Leao continues to shine at San Siro, they will expect more from the Portuguese as Milan try to wrestle top spot back from the Partenopei when Serie A resumes. Therefore, given the defensive difficulties, the performances of full-back Theo Hernandez have stood out ahead of his teammates.
The 25-year-old Frenchman has acted as something of an elder statesman amid a youthful back-line and still driven the team forward from the flank in his usual bullish way, providing multiple assists and weighing in with two goals himself. The Milanisti will watch on in fear of injury any time Hernandez sets foot on the pitch for his national side in Qatar.
What Has Gone Well
Although the Rossoneri may have struggled a little domestically, coach Stefano Pioli will take great pride in navigating his side from a testing Champions League group into the knockout stages, even if the challenge of facing Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur in the Round of 16 could impact their Scudetto challenge.
The 57-year-old managed the Group E schedule near perfectly, despite drawing their opening fixture with Red Bull Salzburg and back-to-back defeats to Chelsea, but will be confident when he takes his team back to the English capital in March 2023.
Cause for concern
Defensive solidity played a huge role in the Milan title win and remains a strong point of the team – conceding less than a goal a game on average – but the reigning champions have struggled to turn their general dominance into goals at the other end of the pitch.
The Rossoneri have only won by more than a single goal six times this season and, more worryingly, became dependent on last-gasp winners as the season paused for winter, as they dropped five points in four games. Unless Napoli’s form takes a significant dip, the Diavola will need to secure as many as possible when they return to retain the title.
If the Partenopei do not falter and Juventus continue their recent resurgence under Massimiliano Allegri, the champions could fall as low as third, but will have enough to ensure Champions League football next term.