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Milan’s 2020: From Hell to Heaven

 

Milan lead the Serie A table by a single point over city rivals Internazionale after 14 games, as they look for their first Scudetto in 10 years. We look at how they have transformed their results under manager Stefano Pioli and why they are now a team to fear in the Italian top-flight.

By: Fabio Luna

It has been quite a year for Milan. Like the Phoenix, the Rossoneri came back to life by regenerating from their own ashes and raising back from what had been a very disappointing 2019; which ended with a 5-0 defeat away to Atalanta – their worst league defeat in over a decade.

The Rossoneri’s resurrection started early in the year with a five-game unbeaten streak after the Christmas break (W3 D2), but it was only after the league resumed in the summer that Stefano Pioli’s side began their unexpected record-breaking run. They are currently unbeaten in 26 consecutive league games since June (W19 D7), which is their longest run in Serie A since 1993 and currently a record within the top five European leagues.

 

 

Milan’s league form in 2020 has been exceptional, with the highest points tally, the most wins, the fewest defeats, the fewest goals conceded and the joint-second most goals scored of all ever-present Serie A sides in the year.

 

 

Looking at 2020-21 alone, Milan are top of the Serie A table with 34 points – four more than they had in their last winning campaign in 2010-11 after the same number of games. With 10 wins and four draws, this is their best start after 14 matchdays since the 1964-65 campaign.

Their transition into title challengers from fallen giants over the space of two years, is shown by the fact that their 34-point total in 2020-21 is exactly double that of their tally in last season at the same stage (17 from 14 games).

Their metamorphosis is best emphasised when comparing their 26 Serie A matches between the start of 2019-20 to the enforced Covid-19 break and the 26 league games since the resumption of the competition in June.

 

 

Milan have massively improved in all attacking metrics, with over twice as many goals scored and more than double the shot conversion ratio despite attempting near enough the same tally of shots at goals.

Milan’s clinical touch is shown in the fact that they have scored in their last 34 Serie A games, which broke the club’s previous record of 29 games in a row from back December 1973.

The Rossoneri are also currently on a run of scoring at least twice in 16 successive league matches. They overtook Torino’s historic record of netting two or more goals in 13 successive matches back in 1948.

 

 

The signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in December 2019 certainly played a pivotal role in dramatically changing the Rossoneri’s destiny.

The return of the Swede – who was instrumental in their last league title back in 2011 – not only gave the side an experienced head in a predominantly young squad, but his impact on the pitch has been a major reason for their revival as title challengers.

Ibrahimovic has scored 29 goals in all competitions since returning to Milan 12 months ago, and with 10 Serie A goals already in 2020-21, he has reached double figures in every league season since 2006-07. He’s currently on a run of scoring in eight successive Serie A appearances in which he’s netted 13 goals in total – this is the first time that he’s achieved this within the top five European leagues in his career.

His brace against Napoli on November 22nd saw him become the oldest player ever to score 10+ goals in the opening eight matchdays of a Serie A season, at 39. This record broke the previous record held by Silvio Piola in 1942-43, who was 10 years younger at 29.

The experienced striker has scored eight of his 10 Serie A goals this season from non-penalty shots, despite having open play shots having an xG total of 4.9. This over-performance of 3.1 is only bettered by Ciro Immobile (3.3) in Serie A this season from non-penalty shots.

 

 

With 26 Serie A goal involvements overall in 2020, only Ciro Immobile and Cristiano Ronaldo have had a better output that he has this year. He’s averaged a goal involvement every 73 minutes for Milan, which is more impressive than Immobile (83 mins) but under that of the legendary Portuguese (66 mins).

 

 

Many have considered Milan too reliant on their veteran striker this season, but with 13 different goalscorers in 2020-21 no side have seen their goals spread out between players more than the Rossoneri (level with Atalanta).

When Ibrahimovic spent time injured at the end of 2020, many of Milan’s rivals were expecting their bubble to burst. However, in the six games since his injury, the Rossoneri picked up 14 points from 18 available and held on to top spot at Christmas.

Despite Ibrahimovic’s obvious importance to Milan, they have proved in 2020 that they can handle the impact of their star striker missing games. In 11 matches without the Swede, they have remained unbeaten and averaged the same number of goals per game.

 

 

Another key-factor to Milan’s renaissance has been Gigio Donnarumma’s return to his best level. Across 2020, the only goalkeeper to keep more clean sheets in Serie A was Udinese’s Juan Musso (12), while the only player to save more penalties across the top five European leagues in the calendar year than the Italian (3) was Predrag Rajkovic of Ligue 1 side Reims (4).

 

 

AC Milan’s performance in 2020 is even more impressive if we consider that the Rossoneri have one of the youngest squads in the competition. So far in 2020-21 Stefano Pioli has already selected the two youngest starting XIs since Opta have collected this data from the 2004-05 season. Their side against Spezia in October had an average age of just 22 years and 287 days old, while December’s meeting with Sassuolo saw their starting XI aged just 22 years and 313 days on average.

 

 

With just under two thirds of the Serie A season remaining, there is still a long way to go until we’ll know if Milan can seal their 19th Scudetto and they do hold just a one-point advantage over rivals Internazionale. However, the signs are very promising, and this young Milan side are one for the other 19 teams in the competition to fear.

 


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