AC Milan ends incredible Internazionale run

Posted on: June 22, 2011

AC Milan returned to the top of the table this year under new coach Massimiliano Allegri after a determined off-season rebuild that saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic return to Serie A in the red and black kits of the "diavoli rossi". Along with Brazil’s Robinho and Ghana’s Prince Boateng, the new acquisitions were heavily relied upon - especially after an injury to their ethereal playmaker Andrea Pirlo which saw him sidelined for a large portion of the season. A combination of sterling efforts by established stars like Alessandro Nesta and Clarence Seedorf together with inspired performances by younger rising stars such as Pato and Ignazio Abate contributed to their newly found winning form. Ill-timed foul temperament, together with a scoring slump, led to an earlier than expected exit in the Champions League, though. But upon seeing a surging Inter and upstart Napoli hot on their heels with nary a handful of matches left in the season, the squad dug deep to win a key match against Inter in the "derby della madonnina" which in turn sealed the scudetto for AC Milan.

But Internazionale fans need not cry too long. Loaded with a boatload of international and Italian stars Inter will remain a force to reckon with. 2010 was an incredible year for them which saw the nerazzurri win an Italian first ever treble - their 5th straight scudetto, the Champions League title, and the Coppa Italia - under coach Jose Mourinho. And lets not forget the FIFA Club World Cup under Mourinho’s replacement Rafa Benitez (and, for the record, Inter’s Wesley Sneijder also came within a hair of winning the World Cup with Holland – FIFA, what were you thinking when naming your Player of the Year for 2010??). But Jose’s shoes proved too large to fill for Benitez and despite the FIFA silverware, they found themselves in 7th place just before the Christmas break. So owner Moratti brought in former Milanista Leonardo to lead the squad and they responded by surging 5 places in the standings. Alas, Inter would have to settle for the Coppa Italia, second place in Serie A and a spot in the 2011-2012 Champions League group stage. 

For Napoli, there is a new sheriff in town and his name is Edinson Cavani. A former Palermo striker, the prolific Uruguayan brought his talents to the ‘San Paolo’ after a very impressive World Cup campaign in which he helped Uruguay reach the semi-finals. The "partenopei", under coach Walter Mazzari, showcased an attacking side headed by Cavani alongside the mercurial argentine Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik and captained by Paolo Cannavaro - brother of Azzurri hero Fabio. Mazzari’s 3-4-3 formation showered Napoli fans with amazing second half comebacks and incredible injury time goals. Indeed, the atmosphere at the San Paolo this year was constantly lathered into a frenzy not seen since the days when Maradona, Careca and Carnevale spun their magic! After a very respectable run in the Europa League, a 3rd place finish in Serie A leading to a Champions League berth will only whet the appetite of the ‘partenopei’ and leave them hungry for more. 

After a dismal start in Serie A last year, Udinese regrouped and made a spectacular turnaround to finish fourth and earned a spot in the Champions League playoff round. Always dangerous Toto DiNatale, top scorer in Serie A this year, anchored an attack alongside Chilean Alexis Sanchez who truly hit his stride this year and became the goal scorer he was expected to be. The club’s efforts to keep him at Udinese Calcio will be tested as the offers from the ‘big money’ clubs will surely be forthcoming for this rising star. But the team must improve on the defensive side as their proclivity to score goals was only matched in turn by their tendency to give up the same. 

As for the two clubs who call Rome’s Stadio Olimpico home, SS Lazio and AS Roma, they finished 5th and 6th respectively in Serie A this year. Awaiting them are qualifying matches in Europa League this fall. After a fine start and a steady campaign, Lazio saw a spot in Champions League evaporate after a stumble late in the season. Biancocelesti fans hope the team will look to strengthen a solid group of players in the offseason while being diligent in not letting some of its younger stars sign with other clubs. Roma, however, kept pace after news that a new owner had finally arrived to give the club the direction that was desperately needed at the executive level this year after Rosella Sensi and family sold their majority stake to a bank. ‘La Lupa’ may indeed have found new life in American owner Thomas DiBenedetto. 

"JUVE, JUVE, where art thou, JUVE?" No, not the words of Juliet but rather cries from the bianconeri fans as they ask themselves why the fates will not relent in delving out such cruel fortune. Nagging injuries aside, bianconeri fans were further tormented as they watched out-on-loan Juve players such as Sebastien Giovinco score game-winning goals FOR Parma AGAINST Juventus! The team did find the resolve, though, to finish in 7th place which meant qualifying for the Europa League - only to the see the spot go to Palermo as the Coppa Italia representative in Europe. ‘La vecchia signora’ must regain its identity if they wish to re-take their rightful place among Europe’s elite. The parts are there, but who will take the initiative?

At season’s end Bari, Brescia and Sampdoria found themselves at the bottom of the table and relegated to Serie B for the 2011-12 season.

Tony Colalillo