AC Milan are Finally Heading in the Right Direction

Sep 23, 2020, 7:45 PM GMT+1
Zlatan Ibraimovic
Milan opened their 2020/21 season with a 2-0 victory over Bologna | Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Looking back, it's all a bit mad to think just how close Milan were to replacing Stefano Pioli with Ralf Rangnick at the end of last season.

Perhaps Pioli can count himself a little fortunate, but the truth is, he was the man that spearheaded the side's turnaround in form following his planned 'short-term' appointment in October 2019. The 2019/20 season looked set to be yet another forgettable, but a resurgence in form following the turn of the new year saw Milan finish sixth and qualify for the Europa League ahead of Napoli - seemingly out of nowhere.

Stefano Pioli
Pioli replaced the dismissed Marco Giampaolo in October 2019, initially until the end of the season | Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

The recovery saw the plug pulled on any pre-contract deal with Rangnick and subsequently saw Pioli rewarded with a two-year deal. It's precisely this reward and willingness to stick by a manager - complimented by a strong transfer window - that has put the the club in the most promising position it's been in for years. Although that isn't that difficult at this point...

Nabbing Sandro Tonali from relegated Brescia is one of the signings of the summer. While reports suggested all summer that the battle to sign the 20-year-old was between Inter and Juventus, it was Milan who managed to swoop in and complete a deal. Not only is it a shrewd acquisition on the pitch, but it does wonders for Milan's pulling power in the future as they are seemingly, once again, slowly becoming a destination for some of Europe's brightest talents.

It's a monumental beacon of hope for the club and its fans, but their business around his signing is what makes it better. As well as Tonali, Milan have loaned in young Brahim Diaz from Real Madrid, who has it all to prove after losing his way since signing for Los Blancos. They also made the loan deals of both Ante Rebic and Alexis Saelemaekers permanent, while securing Zlatan Ibrahimovic for another season.

Sandro Tonali
Tonali could inspire a revival at Milan | Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

This blend of new faces and requiring successful loanees gives the squad balance and stability. Consider that Milan also have the likes of Franck Kessie, Ismael Bennacer, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Theo Hernandez on the books too, they now have a quietly strong squad for the present and the future.

With all these names comes a sudden pressure to perform, however.

The standard has been jaw-droppingly low on the red side of Milan over the last decade, finishing as low as 10th in 2014/15. Watching the giants of Italian football fall was like watching ECW's drop in the early 2000s; once the hottest commodity in their industry and undeniably entertaining, recent iterations have been nothing short of embarrassing.

The Milan board putting their faith in Pioli puts weight on his shoulders to deliver, but with time and patience, the rewards will come.

The Rossoneri kicked off the 2020/21 Serie A season at home to Bologna and eased their way to a convincing 2-0 victory. By no means is the result one that sets the world on fire, but it's a positive start with signs that suggest things are moving in the right direction. Their first true test comes in the form of the Milan derby next month; until then, it's up to Pioli's side to pick up as many points as they can against favourable opposition.

Ismael Bennacer, Samuel Castillejo, Hakan Calhanoglu, Simon Kjaer, Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Ibrahimovic scored a brace in Milan's Serie A season opener | Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Look, we're not saying that this season is the year that Milan rise from the ashes like a peak Undertaker and storm to a Scudetto, but there certainly is the potential for genuine progress.

Milan finally have the tools to make strides forward and prove that there's a sleeping giant ready to be awoken. The squad looks refreshed, the manager has been backed and there's a newfound positivity around the club. A consistent campaign is a must, and might just see them sneak into the top four for the first time since the 2012/13 season.