x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Milan look to shore up breaches

After a torrid spell in Serie A that has seen them trailing both Inter Milan and Juventus, their principal rivals, the winter break cannot come quickly enough AC Milan.

AC's Ronaldinho, centre, shows his frustration during the 2-1 midweek Coppa Italia defeat to Lazio.
AC's Ronaldinho, centre, shows his frustration during the 2-1 midweek Coppa Italia defeat to Lazio.

Nine goals conceded in their last four matches, beaten at home in the Coppa Italia and trailing both Inter Milan and Juventus, their principal rivals, the winter break cannot come quickly enough AC Milan. Almost as soon it does, though, coach Carlo Ancelotti will inherit a new set of challenges, namely where to play David Beckham when he arrives from America in the new year, and which areas of the squad he tries to strengthen in the transfer window.

The obvious place is defence, given the leaks that have lately sprung up, particularly in the air, where both Portsmouth in the Uefa Cup and Palermo last weekend found resistance lacking. Alessandro Nesta will always be missed and his long injury leaves a conspicuous gap in the Milan rearguard. Against Catania at the San Siro today, Ancelotti should at least have Rino Gattuso back to fortify the midfield. Kaka also returns from the suspension that prevented him travelling to Sicily last weekend.

He does so with a point to make. Deposed as European Footballer of the Year, Kaka might, were he not such an urbane, self-possessed young man, be taken for feeling miffed by his loss of status. Having handed over his Balon d'Or to Cristiano Ronaldo, he now seems concerned that some of his authority in the Milan team has been transferred to Ronaldinho. "When I don't provide so many goals and set-ups for goals I get criticised," said Kaka. "But we have to adapt our style of play and get used to new routines now that Ronaldinho has come in."

His point is that he feels obliged to play deeper since his compatriot joined Milan. Nor is it a jostle in which Kaka would expect to pull rank at the moment. Ronaldinho, though guilty of a poor, saved penalty against Palermo, has been Ancelotti's most influential servant during the trough of form, decisive at least in gaining points at Portsmouth in the Uefa Cup and against Torino in Serie A fortnight ago.

The difficulty for a team as stable as Milan have been over the last five years - the same head coach since 2001, more or less the same midfield since 2003 - is that routines and habits become addictive. Whatever the formulas that once made Andriy Shevchenko the most devastating striker in Italian football, they have not been recovered since Shevchenko's return from London during the summer. Marco Boriello, the other centre-forward recruited in the close-season, is currently on the injury list, so Pato should today complete an all Brazilian front three with Kaka and Ronaldinho.

Any more points dropped by Milan, or Juventus, who are at Lecce, could allow Napoli to close the three-point gap between third and fourth spot if they beat Siena. The odds on Juventus slipping up are relatively slim, however. Lecce have not beaten the Turin giants on any of the last six times the teams have faced each other, shipping 18 goals in the process. ihawkey@thenational.ae