x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

AC Milan find that winning formula

AC Milan believe they may have discovered the formula to bring them a first Serie A title since 2004.

Three goals in the opening 31 minutes, three points clear at the top of the table. And then a further trio of reasons, after their masterly victory over Brescia on Saturday, for AC Milan to believe they may have discovered the formula to bring them a first Serie A title since 2004.

The goals fell, in turn, to three new boys: to Kevin-Prince Boateng, to Robinho and, almost inevitably, to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Each of those players were recruited in the summer, in circumstances that, at the time, allowed sceptics room for pessimism.

Take the case of Boateng. He had ended the previous season at the bottom of the English Premier League, with Portsmouth, and even at only 23 years old, had accumulated a longer history of disciplinary controversies than testimonies to an undoubtedly abundant list of athletic qualities.

Nor did the transfer loudly proclaim Milan's capacity to hire - and become the desired home of - the game's very best individuals.

They wanted Boateng after his excellent World Cup with Ghana, but they baulked at paying a transfer fee to Portsmouth.

Instead, the Prince - as he now styles himself on the back of his Rossoneri jersey - arrived as if at the house of paupers. He came to Milan on loan from Genoa, who stumped up around €6 million (Dh29,273m), though the deal has since been turned into a co-ownership arrangement between the clubs.

At the current rate, both will want Boateng long-term. Against Brescia, installed in a role just behind a front pairing of Robinho and Ibrahimovic, he not only scored his first Serie A goal, but contributed energy, closing down space as well as prompting attacks.

In that position there is competition at the club, notably from Ronaldinho and Clarence Seedorf, but Boateng is in the ascendency. At the weekend, Ronaldinho started his seventh game in a row as a substitute.

Robinho scored Milan's second. It was his fifth goal in his last 10 Serie A outings, and there is a growing reassessment of the value of the Brazil captain to his new club.

The former Manchester City forward is fulfilling the less glamorous tasks of being a foil to Ibrahimovic with endeavour.

He looks happy, too, a posture he studiously avoided for much of his time as a City footballer. If Robinho's celebrations after scoring were not quite as photogenic as those of Boateng, who performed two somersaults, they were still full of joyful jiving.

Ibrahimovic prefers a more macho style when he honours a goal. He struck his eighth in the league, which put him one off the top of the 2010/11 capocannoniere goalscoring charts.

Given that Inter's Samuel Eto'o, who has nine goals, is still serving a suspension, the Swede will fancy his chances of surging ahead in that race.

In Milanisti eyes, Ibrahimovic is no longer the reject from Barcelona, the club who bought him for more than €60m from Inter and then 12 months later loaned him to Milan (with a compulsory purchase price next year of €24m), but the best striker on the Italian peninsula.

He sets up goals, too. He has six assists to his name. Against Brescia, his cross led to Boateng's fourth-minute opener.

Once Alexandre Pato returns to fitness, Ronaldinho to form and if Pippo Inzaghi's faith that he will be available again some time in the new year is justified, Milan's attacking strength in depth should foster even more belief that this is their year, at least domestically.

But they will still look warily over their shoulders at Juventus, who are the league's most prolific scorers, and will have no European engagements to concern them in the run-in.

As for Inter, they are off to Abu Dhabi. By the time they return to Serie A action they could be trailing their neighbours by as many as 16 points.