Milan resume Serie A mastery
The Scudetto may be staying at the San Siro for the seventh year running, but crucially it will be changing teams. After five years of uninterrupted dominance by Inter Milan, city neighbours AC Milan rose to the top to collect their 18th Serie A crown and their first since 2004.
For Massimiliano Allegri, that success meant he became the fifth Milan coach to win the league during his first season in charge. It took him just 11 games to steer I Rossoneri to the head of the class, and his charges would not be dislodged from the summit for the rest of the campaign. Inter gave chase as best they could but struggled to make up for their slow start to the season, which nonetheless yielded them the FIFA Club World Cup. I Nerazzurri finally came into their own after the arrival of Leonardo as coach in December, before falling away again in the final sprint to the finish. Napoli challenged for top spot too at various points during the season and their spectacular, attacking football ultimately earned them a place in the UEFA Champions League.
FIFA.com reflects on a year in which Milan returned to the apex of the Italian game by going back to basics, relying on a solid defence and rapid attacks to topple their great rivals.
Practically an unknown quantity last summer, Massimiliano Allegri has already carved out a place for himself in Rossoneri history, having matched Nereo Rocco, Arrigo Sacchi, Fabio Capello and Alberto Zaccheroni by winning the title in his debut season. The 43-year-old arrived with no particular reputation for entertaining football but had to juggle four outstanding forwards in Ronaldinho, Robinho, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexandre Pato. Instead of giving in to calls for an explosive 4-3-3 formation, he operated a more cautious 4-3-1-2, fielding Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf and Kevin-Prince Boateng as a rigorous midfield trio, while relegating Andrea Pirlo to the bench.
During the early transitional phase, it was Ibrahimovic who made the difference more often than not, the Swedish striker enjoying an automatic starting place. Little by little, Allegri’s methods began to take hold and his side settled into an impressive rhythm, with Ibrahimovic, Pato and Robinho all finishing on 14 goals and no fewer than 32 players enjoying time on the pitch. Above all, the champions prevailed in the games that mattered most, beating Inter 1-0 and 3-0 and downing Napoli 2-1 and 3-0. Allegri rejected “all the advice” he received from club president Silvio Berlusconi, except the request that he visit a barber, but the Italian Primer Minister can now pride himself on having overseen 55 per cent of the club’s 49 major trophy wins during his 26 years at the helm.
Inter’s title defence took time to get going after coach Jose Mourinho left for Real Madrid in the summer, and the side struggled to gel under his replacement Rafael Benitez. Their former consistency only returned after Leonardo took the reins in December, but by then it was too late to close the gap. Instead, they must content themselves with the Champions League berth that their spring surge undoubtedly merited.
For Napoli, the likes of Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik proved an inspiration throughout the season, with Diego Maradona’s old side only falling short in their various high-stakes encounters with the teams at the top. I Partenopei can nonetheless look forward to tackling the Champions League next term, an adventure their passionate supporters cannot wait to embark on.
Udinese will be hoping to join them at Europe’s top table after they finished a surprising fourth, the club now facing the prospect of a play-off to book a place in the competition they last graced in 2005/06. The Stadio Friuli outfit ended the season ahead of Lazio on goal difference, despite the capital club having enjoyed a place in the top three for much of the campaign. Short of their best, Roma will also be in Europe next term, as will Coppa Italia finalists Palermo, their opponents Inter having already locked down a Champions League spot.
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Discounting their two seasons in Serie B in 2006 and 2007, Juventus failed to clinch a European place for the first time since 1991. Changes are already afoot in Turin after La Vecchia Signora came in as low as seventh, last summer’s overhaul having clearly not produced the required effect.
Stars of the show
Still going strong at 33, Antonio di Natale can pride himself on becoming the first player to top the scoring charts for two consecutive campaigns since Giuseppe Signori in 1993. The symmetry with last season does not end there either, with no fewer than five of the seven most prolific marksmen hailing from Italy yet again (Di Natale, Alessandro Matri, Marco di Vaio, Giampaolo Pazzini and Francesco Totti).
Ups and downs
Serie B beckons for Sampdoria after they could finish no higher than 18th, the club hit by the departure of unpredictable forward Antonio Cassano following a disagreement and the winter transfer of talented striker Giampaolo Pazzini to Inter. Brescia and Bari will also be contesting second-tier football after the summer, while Atalanta and Siena will reclaim their places in the elite following a year away. The third promoted team will emerge from a play-off series featuring a quartet of hopefuls.
2.50 – The average number of goals per game in a championship often derided as overly defensive. The season was similarly marked by one quadruple, 11 hat-tricks and 74 doubles, while the two leading scorers Antonio di Natale and Edinson Cavani plundered three trebles and four doubles apiece.