For years the Sport Science department of Milan has been credited with extending the career expectancy of their players. We have become use to looking at the birth dates, then looking at the performances and coming to the conclusion that the pieces just did not mesh.
“Time for Milan to retool” would be the cry and every season the sport science staff managed to wring more out of the older players than any reasonable person had a right to expect.
That is until this season. At the moment Milan’s famous and highly treasured Sport Science department must be looking more like a MASH unit as the injuries pile up at the San Siro.
And as it stands, it looks as if Milan’s chase for a first Serie A title since 2004, a run at the Champions League and an interest in the Coppa Italia will very much depend on how quickly the players can be patched up and returned to action.
What once looked like it might turn into a saunter to the scudetto is now turning out to be something that will have to be earned the hard way.
Although the challenges from Lazio and Juventus have faded over the few rounds of play Napoli have maintained the gap on leaders Milan at three points and show no signs of flagging.
But it is Inter who must be causing the heart palpitations. A difference of 13 points albeit with two more games played by Milan has been whittled down to 5 points and a game in hand over the last seven rounds of play.
And it is not as if Milan are losing matches – they are unbeaten since their return from the break – it is more of a case of stumbling to draws. Three wins and four draws to Udinese, Lecce, Lazio and Genoa have allowed a rampant Inter side to make up ground.
The match against Genoa on Sunday pretty much summed up Milan’s problems. The injury list ran to Kevin-Prince Boateng, Andrea Pirlo, Gianluca Zambrotta, Alessandro Nesta, Luca Antonini, Marco Amelia, Massimo Ambrosini, Ignazio Abate, Nicola Legrottaglie and Pippo Inzaghi. In addition Clarence Seedorf was on the bench just having returned from an absence.
Reinforcements were brought in during the transfer window in the form of Antonio Cassano (not fully match fit), Mark van Bommel (stop gap), Urby Samuelson (questionable defensive qualities) and Didac Vila (unused so far) but the injury list is overwhelming.
Milan needs some of the injured players back and quickly – particularly players of the midfield variety. Milan fielded a midfield threesome of Gattuso, Van Bommel and Flamini against Genoa.
No one can question the hearts of the trio but when the TV commentator on Sunday’s match stated that Gattuso was being asked to take on the playmaker role it showed that Milan were down to their bare essentials.
The midfield was functional at best and simply looked to get the ball forward to Ibrahimovic, Pato and Robinho and hope some magic would transpire. It seemed to work fine until Genoa started to build some confidence and realized that the Milan side was beatable. As it was the game finished 1-1 but Genoa finished the stronger.
Milan are closing in on a crucial part of their schedule over the next seven weeks.
A home game this Saturday against Parma is one of the easier fixtures for Milan.
On Tuesday they host Spurs in the Champions league round of 16. Just under two weeks later Napoli comes to the San Siro on Serie A business and then Milan goes to Turin to play Juventus.
Three days later it will be the return leg of the Champions League in London. On March 20th Milan are in Palermo and two weeks later there is the Serie A game against Inter.
If Milan qualifies for the Champions league quarter finals then the games come right after the Milan derby.
To successfully negotiate a schedule like that Milan need their full squad back and healthy.
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