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Honeymoon phase over Montella’s new look Milan after Lazio beating

Photo credit: VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images

Sunday’s defeat away to Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico marked the end of Milan’s honeymoon phase, as it’s now time to begin meeting expectations.

Throughout the course of the summer, supporters were enamoured by the overall transparency and acquisitions of sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli and CEO Marco Fassone who promptly stripped down a poor squad and rebuilt it into a Champions League contender overnight. By mid-July, total transfer spending had eclipsed 150 million euros, fans began dreaming of a top four finish and hope was restored in defining a new era at the club.

On the European front, positive steps were taken by the Rossoneri, toppling CS Universitatea Craiova (3-0 aggregate) and KF Shkendija (7-0 aggregate) en-route to Group Stage qualification, however, priority always rested in a strong Serie A campaign.

After earning six points from two matches over Crotone and Cagliari respectively, Milan encountered their first real challenge of the young season Sunday at the Stadio Olimpico versus Lazio. Fresh off the international break, Simone Inzaghi’s soaring Eagles capitulated Vincenzo Montella’s Milan 4-1, dealing the Italian giants an unexpected blow early on in the 2017-18 season.

Time was of the essence this summer, and it’s what compelled Mirabelli to bring in the proper personnel for Montella as quickly as he did. By that, the former Fiorentina boss was handed two months of pre-season to build chemistry within the locker-room and properly assess what shape was best from a technical standpoint. Inside Milan camp, there was a complete understanding that for Milan to fully reap the rewards of a massive spending spree, the training sessions and complexity of the fixtures were going to be key in ensuring everyone was settled and initial results were to be positive. Except, the first six fixtures, including both Europa League and domestic play, offered no true challenges early for the club, supporters and media to fairly gauge how far along this side was, though they were applauded for the outcomes.

Of course, Milan were advantageous in their approach against provincial sides. Patrick Cutrone dazzled, Franck Kessie’s box-to-box prowess overwhelmed and it was all smiles amongst supporters. But, it was in this lighter schedule that Milan’s current form was disguised.

As we saw Sunday, the defense is still learning to co-exist when facing pressure from an able attacking unit like Lazio’s – specifically on the counter. Immediately after surrendering possession from the final ten minutes on, there was a visible struggle to re-shape and limit the home side from running rampant. Captain Leonardo Bonucci, as experienced and astute a defender as he is, tended to drift too far forward in an attempt to fill the creative void in the final third and was ultimately exposed for his positional errors. Along with that, Davide Calabria and the rest of the back bank were caught ball-watching on several occasions. Going forward, Milan performed well in the opening 25-30 minutes, but lacked the end product to swing momentum in their favour. Much of this can be attributed to Montella selecting Fabio Borini, Calabria and Riccardo Montolivo over more talented options. Let’s face it, from the first team choices and poorly timed substitutions of Nikola Kalinic and Hakan Calhanoglu moments after falling into a insurmountable 4-0 hole, Montella got it all wrong.

These failed assignments and poor tactical decisions versus an organized and well-coached Lazio, unlike in earlier fixtures, resulted in a lopsided result that few expected. Having said all that, in many ways, this defeat serves as a lesson to Montella, the squad and fanbase all over the world that money alone will not bring Milan back to the promised land. Each individual must do their part, avoid complacency and never take for granted the opposition on any given match-day.

SHENZHEN, CHINA – JULY 22: Leonardo Bonucci of AC Milan looks on during the 2017 International Champions Cup China match between FC Bayern and AC Milan at Universiade Sports Centre Stadium on July 22, 2017 in Shenzhen, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Leonardo Bonucci to Milan TV after the brutal defeat yesterday:

“We must learn from this loss. Today we saw that if we do not give 100% we can be severely punished by our opponents. Lazio hit us hard on the counterattack. We were challenged from the start and were unable to react, it’s not good, we must improve.”

The eye test alone was enough to judge where Milan are currently as a team, but the margin of defeat proves they are not ready to hang with the best Italy has to offer just yet.

Milan and the supporters were knocked down a peg on Sunday, marking the end of the honeymoon phase. Now, it’s time for the club to take the beating as a reminder that their objective of a top four finish, and a full awakening as a fallen Italian giant, will not come easy.

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