Milan return to winning ways ahead of crucial stretch

Milan entered its game against Bologna off the back of two consecutive defeats, most recently losing to fierce rivals Inter in the Coppa Italia. With the Nerazzurri breathing down their necks, Stefano Pioli’s men needed a result on Saturday – and did just that. The Italian giants emerged comfortable 2-1 winners over Bologna, maintaining their narrow lead atop the table for another weekend.

The win could not have come at a better time for the Rossoneri ahead of a crucial stretch in the season. With morale low after a humbling defeat against Atalanta, as well as a disappointing exit in the Coppa Italia, Milan was in dire need of a result this weekend. Stefano Pioli’s side has a favourable run of games coming up before their schedule gets difficult.

Up next for Milan are two relegation candidates in Spezia and Crotone. Much like it was the case in the first half of the season, the Rossoneri cannot afford anything less than six points from these two games – especially as Inter and Juventus have difficult schedules of their own coming up. Inter takes on Fiorentina and Lazio over the next two matchdays, while Juventus locks horns with Roma and Napoli. In many ways, the upcoming weeks can help Milan extend their lead at the top before the next instalment of the Derby della Madonnina set for February 21.

As of right now, Milan holds a two-point lead over Inter with 18 games to go. With yet another derby on the cards, the Rossoneri will be hoping to cut Inter’s momentum short with a crucial three points. Milan’s games against Spezia and Crotone are good opportunities to blend in the side’s new signings, as well as build up their own confidence.

Milan is also in action in the Europa League Round of 32 against Red Star Belgrade later this month, taking on the Serbian outfit on February 18.  Factor in the Rossoneri’s winnable league affairs, as well as this two-legged tie with Red Star, and they can enter the derby extremely high on confidence.

Fikayo Tomori has looked good in his first two appearances in black-and-red and will have ample opportunity to stake his claim for more regular minutes. The Englishman offers some much-needed depth at the back and could use the next run of games to adapt to Serie A. Fellow January arrival – Mario Mandzukic - has featured sparingly since making the move, but as an intriguing second half of the season approaches, expect the Croatian hitman to play a more significant role. Manduzkic has regularly proven to be up to the challenge in big games and makes for an interesting partner to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

They may have been reluctant to say it in the early goings of the season, but one thing has been made clear since the turn of the new year: Milan is a legit title contender. The Rossoneri have largely downplayed this type of talk in an effort to take the pressure off themselves but can simply no longer avoid the contender tag.

Inter and Juventus are in it with a shot themselves but have been nowhere near as consistent as Milan this season. Barring their defeats to Juventus and Atalanta, Milan has impressed and taken care of business against the league’s mid-table sides. Stefano Pioli’s men will need much of the same heading into February – which is undoubtedly the side’s most important run of games.

Milan’s clash with Inter can potentially define the title race and could just swing the momentum in their favour. Talk about winning a Scudetto has largely been silenced in Casa Milan, but with only 18 games remaining – Milan is in the driver’s seat heading into a crucial month.

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Confident Milan gunning for title with busy transfer window

Milan enters its clash against Atalanta with the possibility of being crowned campioni d’inverno - the winter champions. The team that finishes in first place after the first half of the season typically goes onto win the ultimate crown in Italy.  Milan has shown its willingness to push on this transfer window, securing Fikayo Tomori, Mario Mandzukic, and Soualiho Meite. The Rossoneri’s proactive dealings demonstrate they believe in themselves and their ability to push on for the Scudetto.

Since Ivan Gazidis took over, Milan forged ahead with an ambitious youth project, looking to rejuvenate the side with young prospects on the cusp of greatness. Ismael Bennacer is but one of these players, taking the next step in his career and becoming one of Italian football’s midfield dynamos.

Rafael Leao is another intriguing talent and has since added end product to his game, delivering the goods when called upon. Led by the indomitable Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Milan’s young guns have surprised the rest of Italy, losing just once this season. The Italian giants have recognized the title is there for the taking and have reacted accordingly this January.

Mario Mandzukic offers some much-needed depth in the final third and will make for an excellent vice-Ibra. The Croatian has shown he is capable of starting on the left-wing and roaming into the box dangerously. Whether Pioli deploys him as a more traditional number nine remains to be seen, but Mandzukic’s skillset makes for an interesting pairing with Ibrahimovic.

Beyond guaranteeing goals, Mandzukic’s arrival is a clear signal of intent from Milan. The former Juventus hitman adds some veteran leadership in what is a relatively inexperienced locker room. A proven winner, Milan will be hoping Mandzukic leads by example and spurs the side onto new heights.

On the opposite side of the pitch, the Rossoneri bolstered their defensive ranks with Chelsea’s Fikayo Tomori. The Englishman arrives on a loan deal with an option to buy, offering Mian depth at the back. Simon Kjaer and Alessio Romagnoli are Milan’s undisputed center-back pairing, but Tomori will make for a quality option off the bench.

The 23-year-old kicked off his Chelsea career by bursting onto the scene but has since seen his minutes halved due to the arrival of Thiago Silva. A move to Milan may be exactly what Tomori needs to play regular football and deliver on his incredible potential. Should the Chelsea loanee struggle, Milan will simply not trigger its option to purchase him. In many ways, this deal is yet another win-win for Maldini and co.

Stefano Pioli’s side also wasted no time improving on its midfield depth, securing Meite from Torino. The 26-year-old arrives on a low-risk deal, with Milan holding the option to make his move permanent for a modest fee. Much like Tomori, this six-month loan spell will be Meite’s trial at the club.

Milan’s midfield has been ravaged by injuries and suspensions in recent weeks, forcing Pioli to deploy Davide Calabria in the double pivot. While the fullback has done an adequate job filling in, a player like Meite ensures the Italian giants are not short on options in the middle of the park. Bennacer and Kessie may be Pioli’s first-choice pairing, but Meite could still carve out important minutes for himself – especially as the side competes on three fronts.

Milan has extremely proactive this January transfer window, arming its side with quality depth ahead of the final run-in. The crafty formulas of their deals ensure they have close to no financial obligations should either Meite or Tomori struggle to adapt. Mandzukic, on the other hand, can prove to be the difference-maker in the title race, boasting a plethora of experience. As the second half of the season approaches, one thing is clear: Milan believes in themselves and they are going for it.

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