Almost three months after winning their first Scudetto in eleven years, AC Milan begins in its San Siro, this Saturday against Udinese, an exercise in the shoes of a favorite for the title. With a double objective in mind: to affix its national supremacy and to return definitively to the big leagues at European level.
More than 60,000 people had decided to give themselves a little summer gift in Marseille on July 31, under a suffocating Sunday sun. The big return to the Vélodrome for a gala match between OM and AC Milan, just crowned with their nineteenth Italian championship title under the nose and beard of Inter, impossible to miss. But after a big thirty minutes of play, the aficionados the OM quickly understood that they did not finally subscribe to a pleasure party, as long as Stefano Pioli’s men quickly set the record straight on the meadow. Two goals arrived quickly and skilfully trained by collective action went perfectly, as we saw dozens of them during the previous exercise and came to remind us of one thing: this Milan is already ready to grab everything on its passage.
CDK, to pass the course
In fact, almost nothing has changed in three months. The main elements of the title remained and even Zlatan Ibrahimović decided to flex his muscles for another season. Only Alessio Romagnoli and Franck Kessié spun and a few small curiosities came to titillate the summer rossonéro : the first are Yacine Adli and Divock Origi, the major is called Charles de Ketelaere. A 21-year-old prospect, straight from Bruges, for a check for 36 million euros, which so far constitutes the only slight excess of the Milanese in a transfer window far from being gargantuan. Author of fourteen goals and seven assists in the Belgian championship last season, the slender offensive player (1.92m) had the luxury this week of being praised by his coach, Roberto Martinez, in the columns of The Gazzetta Dello Sport : “De Ketelaere leaves you speechless with his technical ease and his elegance. He has this quality of coordination, especially in the last pass and in the shot on goal, that few players have at his age in Europe. He has the intelligence to adapt to all offensive zones. He knows how to do it thanks to his technique above the lot. »
A reinforcement carefully chosen by the Paolo Maldini-Frederic Massara pair, still at the helm of the sports management, who must deal with a checkbook carefully released by Elliott Management, the American investment fund at the helm of the club, before these will only be taken over in September by RedBird Capital Partners. A change in the upper echelons which should tip the Lombards into a dimension that they have encountered many times in their history: that of the greatest in Europe.
To become again this great Milan respected by all, the Red and Black must now set the bar very high at all levels. First on the national scene, where any other place than the first at the end of the season will be considered a disappointment. At a time when Juve opens a new chapter in its history, when Inter have repatriated Romelu Lukaku (again) and when Roma have managed to attract Paulo Dybala in their nets, the challenge promises to be daunting. But even more at continental level, where the Champions League must represent a more important objective in the Milanese microcosm than in the recent past. Last season, the band in Pioli had finished the good last of their group, with four small points, delivered Liverpool and Atlético to go to the round of 16 and Porto to taste the C3. This year, AC Milan will appear in hat 1 of the draw and will thus have to assume the status of favorite of their group. In other words: everything that is not a qualification for the rest of the competition appears as formally prohibited on the logbook. Pending the start of European hostilities in early September, the Lombards have a relatively full-bodied program of five games ahead of them, including two trips to Atalanta and Sassuolo, before receiving Inter at home. After that, we should already know more about what this team really has in the bag. Because OM in a friendly at the end of July is good, but two consecutive Scudetti for the first time since 1993-1994 is better.
By Alexandre Lejeune