Led by Ibra, Milan's latest Serie A revival may be the real deal 🇮🇹

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Padraig Whelan

Article image: Led by Ibra, Milan's latest Serie A revival may be the real deal 🇮🇹

Last Saturday, Milan won a Serie A derby against rivals Inter for the first time since January 2016.

Spearheading the victory was the ageless Zlatan Ibrahimović, who scored twice to continue his side’s perfect start to the season.

“If I had been here since the beginning, we would have won the league,” he proclaimed brashly (unlike him, we know) after hitting a purple patch during the summer following his return.

People laughed then. Typical Zlatan bravado it seemed. But the big Swede may actually have had a point.

As a result of their victory in the Derby della Madonnina and Atalanta’s shock loss at Napoli, no team has picked up more points than Milan in 2020. The consistency is now there.

It is the first time since 1995/96 under Fabio Capello they have won all four games to start a season. On that occasion, they went on to lift the Scudetto.

While it remains early days, this was nonetheless as big a test as they will receive and it was passed relatively comfortably.

Antonio Conte’s side look uncharacteristically out of sorts defensively, Juventus are stuttering under Andrea Pirlo and Atalanta’s unpredictability is one of the things that makes them so special.

But Milan, so far at least, look solid and reliable under Stefano Pioli, all of the senseless spending and lack of direction under previous regimes now looking like a thing of the past.

Two years ago, Milan had the second-highest wage bill in the league and still slumped to a sixth place finish.

Our strategy now is firstly based on progressive football. It has to be a modern approach which isn’t reactive when identifying new players. We must be proactive.

Ivan Gazidis to The Athletic

Things have changed since the new chief executive arrived in town off the back of the Elliott group assuming control of the club.

They showed both smart management and a refreshing willingness to admit they were wrong when they shelved plans to bring in Ralf Rangnick at the last minute in order to keep Stefano Pioli in charge.

That decision has now paid dividends and the Diavolo look like a side who have completely bought in to what both club and coach want from them.

For the first time since 1973, they have found the net in 24 successive Serie A games, with Pioli’s pragmatism of his Inter or Lazio days giving way to a style that is easy on the eye with this Milan outfit, who can be lethal at times with their swift counterattacking.

The Italian tactician has even managed to get a tune out of Hakan Calhanoglu! That was a task that seemed impossible for anyone else during his time in Italy.

Not everything is suddenly rosy in the garden at San Siro though and their worries of three or four years ago aren’t completely forgotten.

While their starting line-up is formidable, there are still some big concerns about the strength of their squad outside of that, particularly when it comes to options in the final third.

That could prove to be the Rossoneri’s undoing in the long run this season, particularly as they once more try to balance domestic and European commitments.

This journey may not end with the title this season but there’s enough evidence of it now to show that one of football’s greatest names is back.