Last night’s heavy 3-0 loss away to Genoa may have delivered a large dose of reality to Milan fans, but even so Vincenzo Montella, may have his work cut out dampening expectations, even if his appraisal of his side’s chances was a realistic one.
Last week, Montella was at pains to dismiss talk of his AC Milan side challenging for the Scudetto this term after their hard-earned win at Chievo moved them level on points with second-placed Roma.
But Saturday night’s deserved victory over an out of sorts Juventus set more tongues wagging, as the Rossoneri enjoyed their best start to a season since they last won the title in 2011.
Such is the desire in Italy to see Juve dethroned or at least properly challenged, that any side that puts in a run of form, especially a great club like Milan, is immediately promoted to the role of challenger.
The former Fiorentina manager, who took over at the San Siro last June, would prefer his side to walk before they run, however.
Doubtless he’d also like the media and the Milan fans to take a breath and look on things with a colder eye.
On that basis, qualifying for the Europa League remains his stated goal for the season. Milan have missed out on European football for three seasons in a row now, a first for the club.
To achieve that objective, they will need to finish at least sixth in Serie A come May.
Given they have finished a distant eighth, tenth and seventh, respectively, in those three years, its reasonable for Montella to want everyone, especially his players, to keep their feet firmly on the ground about their prospects.
That said, there is cause for hope. Montella has talked recently about the need to rebuild Milan patiently and with a focus on youth.
The club had made great virtue of age and experience through the Noughties, but eventually seemed to become hostage to them.
The former Italy striker’s current crop has a refreshing look about it – a 17 year old goalkeeper in Gianluigi Donnarumma, a 21 year old centre half in Alessio Romagnoli and an 18 year old playmaker in Manuel Locatelli is about as far away as you can get from the days of Maldini, Nesta and co.
All three were outstanding in Saturday night’s win. Locatelli, given his chance with the unfortunate long-term injury suffered by Riccardo Montolvio whilst on international duty, belied his tender age, giving a composed and powerful performance in the centre of the park capped by his wonderful winner.
Romagnoli did little harm to his burgeoning reputation as one of the better central defensive talents in the European game, while Donnarumma continues to make you want to have a close look at his birth cert. Can this commanding giant really only be 17?
There were other performances of note at the San Siro too – 21 year old M’Baye Niang had a fine game as the Rossoneri’s outball all night, while fan favourite Giacomo Bonaventura and Slovenian Juraj Kucka worked likes dogs in midfield.
Former Liverpool centre half Gabriel Paletta also caught the eye as his partnership with Romagnoli begins to take root.
Montella deserves credit for recent developments, although the focus on youth has been somewhat forced upon him given long term injuries and the fact that the club, which is in the process of being taken over by a Chinese consortium and has struggled to cope with Financial Fair Play rules, has been understandably reluctant to loosen the purse strings.
And while there’s a feel good factor round this great club once again, it’ll be a long season for a squad that appears to lack depth. That issue may not prove to be too acute given they will only have domestic issues to worry about.
But then that was the case in each of the last three seasons, and Milan made little headway on the long road back. So the manager is right to preach caution despite the excitingly positive start.