With the UEFA Champions League on its winter break, uefa.com will publish mid-term reports on the 16 remaining sides in the competition every day until 31 December. Today we look at Italy's four-time European champions AC Milan, who have impressed so far this season as they seek their first Champions League crown since 1994.
The story so far
Milan's campaign began well with a 2-1 home win over RC Lens, Filippo Inzaghi getting both goals and beginning a rich vein of form that would see him find the net eight times in his side's first four European games. However, it was Milan's performance on Matchday Two that really made people sit up and take notice, as they secured a comprehensive 4-0 win at RC Deportivo La Coruña, with Inzaghi adding another three goals to his tally. Two wins over FC Bayern München, both achieved by the same 2-1 scoreline, put Milan in an unassailable position in the group while having the added advantage of virtually eliminating their German opponents, traditionally strong challengers for the Champions League, from the competition. Despite losing their final two games, the Italian giants still did enough to win the group and began the second group stage in equally impressive fashion with a 1-0 home win over perennial favourites Real Madrid CF and a 1-0 away win against BV Borussia Dortmund.
This is an extraordinarily attacking Milan lineup, with a lone striker closely supported by three midfield players. Coach Carlo Ancelotti is blessed with a number of world-class players, particularly in midfield, and has so far done well to rotate his ball-winning players, such as Massimo Ambrosini and Gennaro Gattuso, while perhaps his biggest success has been converting Andrea Pirlo into a deeper role. Ancelotti can call upon two top-class strikers in the shape of Inzaghi and Andriy Shevchenko, who recently returned from a knee injury. Rui Costa has rediscovered his best form and created Shevchenko's match-winner against Madrid with an astute defence-splitting pass. Meanwhile, Clarence Seedorf has been impressive since his transfer from city rivals Internazionale FC and summer signing Rivaldo, although not quite at his best yet, has shown flashes of brilliance. The defence was bolstered in the summer by the signing of Alessandro Nesta from S.S. Lazio, although the most impressive performer so far has been Paolo Maldini.
In many ways Ancelotti is spoilt for choice and deciding how to rotate his squad is a challenging task. For example, the coach favours playing only one of Shevchenko and Inzaghi at a time, meaning he will have to be careful how he balances his selection, as both forwards are eager to play in big games. Milan have a formidable look about them, and certainly possesses the firepower to worry any opponents, although as the competition progresses, it may be that Ancelotti is forced to rein in his side's attacking instincts rather than risk leaking goals at the back.
Key man - Paolo Maldini
In a side packed with stars it is hard to single out one player, but the former Italian captain has been in imperious form this season, having retired from international football after the 2002 FIFA World Cup. His defensive organisation has been crucial, and is one of the main reasons why Milan have a respectable defensive record despite fielding such an attacking team. He has a wealth of top-level experience to draw on, and remains one of the best defenders in the world at the age of 34. The leader of this Milan side, his true value is shown when he is absent.
Best moment so far
Inzaghi's 84th-minute winner against Bayern in Munich. Coming on the heels of Milan's demolition of Deportivo in Spain, it proved the Italian side were once again genuine challengers for the competition and sounded a warning to all their opponents.
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