Milan Rollercoaster – Stefano Pioli’s Fate Amidst Tumbling Scudetto Aspirations

Atalanta’s late 3-2 home win against Milan on Saturday evening prompted fans’ mixed reaction over Stefano Pioli’s future. While the Italian’s exit can’t come soon enough for one supporter section, the others maintain he deserves respect for halting the club’s decade-long Scudetto drought.

Opinions remain extremely divided depending on which side of the spectrum of liking the Scudetto-winning manager one stands. But at the end of the day, it’s up to the San Siro hierarchy to decide what’s in the club’s best interest. After all, Pioli succeeded where seven of his predecessors failed. 

Can a club of the Milan caliber afford overreliance on past glory? It’s a million-dollar question. Or better say, €120m! That’s the figure Rossoneri earmarked in the summer transfer window to reinforce the squad following an abysmal defending Serie A campaign in 2022/23. 

Since Italian clubs can’t compete with Premier League sides’ financial prowess, Milan’s summer spending was an unprecedented effort to assemble a cast of players capable of regaining domestic supremacy. Only 16 rounds into the new season, Pioli’s men are nine points off the title pace. 

On top of their dreadful Serie A results, highlighted by four defeats and some inexplicable draws, such as Lecce and Napoli, Milan are on the cusp of an early Champions League elimination. Only half a year after featuring in the competition’s semi-finals, the 19-time Serie A champions face a realistic prospect of missing out on springtime European fixtures.

Whose fault is that?

Some fans fervently wish for Pioli’s head on a platter, identifying him as the main culprit for Milan’s disastrous campaign. Others advocate for granting him respect due to his role in winning the Scudetto two years ago. We’re not here to take sides but strictly examine the facts.

Milan unable to contend with Scudetto contestants

Supporters would forgive Pioli for losing at Atalanta or even bottom-half Udinese, but some results are beyond forgiveness. Expectations were at an all-time head ahead of September’s Derby della Madonnina, only for Milan to lose 5-1 to arch-rivals Inter in one of the most one-sided derbies in the fixture’s recent history. 

One could say Milan had a bad day, but can you recall Inter having a ‘bad day’ against Rossoneri? The team wasn’t prepared for a sudden shift from a 4-2-3-1 formation, which led the club to a 19th Serie A title, to a brand-new 4-3-3. Yet Pioli deemed it fitting to reshape a winning formula. 

Deprived of a ‘trequartista,’ Milan lost a cutting edge in the front third, leading to the team netting one goal or fewer in five of their 11 league outings in the post-derby fiasco. While discussing derby letdowns – Pioli’s side looked toothless as Juventus won 1-0 at the San Siro in October, taking advantage of Malick Thiaw’s expulsion. 

Just like that, Milan got outmuscled by the two fiercest Scudetto rivals. 

Performances lack guile and conviction

Still shocked by the Derby della Madonnina routing, Milan hosted perennial underachievers Hellas Verona the following weekend. Rafael Leao’s early opener inspired Pioli’s lads to a 1-0 win. Despite taking three points, it was anything but a pleasant experience for the San Siro attendees.

Milan, who barely had a chance to score after breaking the deadlock, had to thank second-choice goalkeeper Marco Sportiello for fending off sub-par opposition. Rossoneri fans must have had a sense of deja vu when Pioli’s side squeaked past Fiorentina in late November, only it was literally Mike Maignan’s face that saved the day this time. 

It’s impossible not to mention Olivier Giroud’s goalkeeping heroics in a narrow triumph at Genoa. Christian Pulisic netted an 87th-minute winner from Milan’s only decent scoring opportunity at Luigi Ferraris. Luck was on the visitors’ side that night. The Griffin hit the crossbar and failed to overcome the towering Frenchman wearing gloves for the first time.

That’s not how title-bidding teams are supposed to win.
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