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Milan's march shakes up Serie A

China Daily | Updated: 2020-12-28 08:57
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AC Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic reacts after missing a penalty in Milan, on Oct 29, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

It's shaping up to be a momentous Italian top-flight season as Juve's nine-year grip on title loosens

Like 2020 in general, it's been a strange year for Serie A.

For the first time since 2009, both Milan clubs are at the top of the standings at the winter break.

Inter went on to win the title that season, with city rival AC Milan claiming it the following campaign.

Neither of them has won it since, in a nine-year domination of Serie A by Juventus, but Milan ends the year one point ahead of second-place Inter.

Juventus uncharacteristically finds itself in sixth, trailing Milan by 10 points-albeit having played a match less.

Milan can't quite claim the symbolic title of "Winter Champion", however, as that goes to the team top of Serie A at the halfway stage. With the season having started later than usual-because of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the previous campaign-only 14 of the 19 rounds making up the first half of the season have been played.

The Serie A season will resume on Jan 3.

Here's what we've learned so far:

The Ibra effect

What a difference a year makes.

Milan has collected 34 points from its first 14 league matches, exactly double the number it had at the same stage last year.

It is also the only unbeaten team across Europe's top five leagues, with 10 wins and four draws and is within touching distance of a record.

Milan is only the second side in those five leagues to have scored at least two goals in more than 15 successive matches reaching back to last season. The Rossoneri have done so in 16 and are closing in on Barcelona's record of 18, set in 1948.

The key difference between this year and last is that Milan now has forward Zlatan Ibrahimovi c.

The team was 12th when Ibrahimovic returned to the club in January, eight years after his departure-and that of others-sparked a spiral of decline.

Ibrahimovic has helped transform the club not only with his goals on the field but also his leadership qualities off it.

The 39-year-old Swede has played less than half his team's matches this season as he has been sidelined with the coronavirus and injuries. He has nevertheless managed to score 10 goals in his six league matches.

Ibrahimovic has also helped coach Stefano Pioli bring out the best in Milan's young players. So youthful is Milan's squad that this season it has fielded the two youngest starting lineups in Serie A since at least 2004-05 when statistics supplier Opta started collecting that data.

"Pioli told me that there (Sweden) I have two children but here (Juventus) I have 25 and they need me," Ibrahimovic said in a recent interview.

Ibrahimovic has also instilled a never-give-up mentality in his teammates and that was clearly evident last Wednesday when Theo Hernandez scored in stoppage time to secure a 3-2 win over Lazio and ensure Milan headed into the winter break above Inter.

While ending the year top of the table might only be symbolic, its importance to the players was clearly shown by their wild celebrations.

It matters as much to their fans-around 500 of them welcomed the team bus to the stadium, letting off flares and chanting their support, with spectators still banned from arenas in Italy because of the pandemic.

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