Posted by: mdegeorge | November 11, 2010

Milan cement Scudetto credentials ahead of derby

It may be hyperbole to state that AC Milan has definitively made it over the hump in their quest for the Scudetto. They’ve waited a while to summit the standings, missing out on chances each of the last two seasons in head-to-head meeting with Inter where it was sent tumbling and permanently out of the title picture.

Now, on the eve of the Milan derby, i Rossoneri are in good form and have that coveted top spot to themselves after an impressive display against Palermo.

AC Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates after scoring against Genoa during their Serie A soccer match at San Siro stadium in Milan September 25, 2010.  REUTERS/Imagesport              ( ITALY - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

The cracks have been evident for years in the Milan camp. But this year’s team has a different atmosphere to it. For the first time since Andriy Shevchenko departed for Chelsea and oblivion, they have a superstar in Zlatan Ibrahimovic to complement and nurture a budding all-world player in Alexandre Pato.

They also have surprising depth, especially in the midfield. They proved that against Palermo, with a lineup of no less than five players (Massimo Ambrosini, Mathieu Flamini, Mario Yepes, Kevin-Prince Boateng, and Ignazio Abate) who aren’t normally first-choice in the lineup. They dominated large stretches of the match without Robinho, Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo, or Alessandro Nesta in the starting lineup and richly deserved the victory.

They now sit alone atop Serie A, one point clear of suddenly faltering Lazio, two clear of Napoli, who Milan beat on the road less than a month ago, and three clear of i Neriblu.

To date, Milan is the only team to have shown its potential championship mettle.

Their cross-town rivals have stumbled and fumbled their way to fourth in the table with a paltry 13 goals in 11 matches. They’ve suffered a slew of injuries, including midfield fulcrum Esteban Cambiasso, the anemia of Wesley Sneijder (off the field and in the goal-scoring department), first-choice goalkeeper Julio Cesar, and defensive mainstay Walter Samuel, who’s out for the season.

We’re it not for Samuel Eto’o and his 15 goals in all competitions—15 of the team’s 24 total—they would be mired in the bottom half of the table. Diego Milito has been in a funk through numerous falling outs with manager Rafael Benitez, though he did score in the draw with Lecce today. Beyond those two, the goal scoring options are few and far between, especially with the departure of Mario Balotelli without a true replacement.

Juventus struggled mightily out of the gates and has only now gotten back on track with the rediscovery that Alessandro Del Piero should be on the field (who knew?!?!) to sit fifth, four points adrift. I Bianconeri have had no problems scoring with 22 goals from 11 matches, tops in the league. But Marco Storari proved with Milan that he isn’t a title-winning keeper, and until they tighten up the defense and have stalwart Gianluigi Buffon back between the posts, Juve will be fast tracked to the also-ran department.

Roma has quietly but consistently stabilized their annual horrific start that nearly sent Claudio Ranieri the way of Luciano Spalletti a year prior. I Giallorossi have only mustered 14 goals from 11 matches, stingy production even by Italian standards. They’ve gotten a combined 0 goals from Adriano, Francesco Totti, Ronaldo’s soon-to-be buffet mate Julio Baptista, and the failed experiment that has become Jeremy Menez. Scoring from Marco Borriello and Mirko Vucinic does not a champion make. It also remains to be seen if Julio Sergio is up to the task in goal for the out-of-favor Doni.

The race in Italy hasn’t moved toward resolution by any stretch of the imagination. While Milan is the first to register its case for the title, the others can take heart in knowing they’re still well within striking distance despite dismal starts to the season.

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