Rossoneri: Part 4 – Tight Title Battle

Season two in Italy had started really with AC Milan, as a club-record winning streak took us just three points behind the Zebras heading into 2022. A key man behind the success had been goal machine Andrea Belotti, supported by a solid start to life from Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

We’d had a couple of injury crises but come through them, and the latest of which spawned a future superstar in 16-year-old left-back Giovanny Vieira, who’d signed for £500,000 from Maritimo in the summer. He’d played superbly in three games standing in for Layvin Kurzawa, including creating the only goal for Dani Ceballos at Cagliari, and is showing massive progress.

Another unsung hero was Sandro Tonali who, in his new role as deep-lying playmaker in the holding midfield position, was two behind Samu Castillejo’s record of 12 assists heading into the new year.

The winning run continued in the Italian Cup with a fully rotated team then a Belotti double led us to a 2-1 win against Napoli, who dropped to 5th and 14 points behind us. Then we ran riot on Inter in the Italian Cup quarter-final, with Alexis Saelemaekers scoring twice in a 3-0 win.

We also bolstered the squad in January with the loan signing of Real Madrid’s Marco Asensio, who’ll play on the left wing as Rafael Leao has delivered very little this season.

The streak looked to be coming to a tame end as we struggled to break down Brescia at home. But Asensio came off the bench for his debut and teed up young midfielder Tommaso Pobega to smash home an injury-time winner. We then somehow went behind to Cittadella through their only shot on target after we’d had 15 shots. I threw a water bottle at the break and the anger worked, eventually, as substitute Saelemaekers equalised before Rafael Leao came off the bench to create a Ceballos wondergoal, which earned him the January goal of the month.

We then somehow managed to concede the opener through Verona’s only shot of the match. But again fired back, this time winning 3-1 thanks to Tonali, Belotti and Pobega, who’s still only earning £575 a week! The winning streak ended with two 0-0s against Parma in the cup then at Lazio in the league, but that took us past 20 games unbeaten in all competitions. The goals flowed again as we thumped Parma 5-1 to book our place in the Italian Cup Final then a Belotti brace eased us past Crotone.

A massive fortnight

And that teed us up for a huge two week in our season. First up was Madrid away and we got well and truly dominated but had Gianluigi Donnarumma’s 16 saves to thank for keeping it to a 2-1 loss.

Our solid defensive efforts continued into the big top of the table clash in which we edged a poor game with late goals from Samu Castillejo and Belotti, with Asensio claiming player of the match. That took us top of the league for the first time and inflicted Juve’s first defeat of the season! We then beat Bologna 1-0 away before hosting third-placed Atalanta, in which Asensio scored his first for the club but we let in an equaliser just before the break and we stayed nine points clear of them but two behind the Zebras.

The stretch of big games ended with hosting Madrid in the second leg and we missed an absolute host of chances, racking up 14 shots inlcuding Belotti missing four great chances. And we looked to be getting edged out of it until Castillejo stepped up to curl a beautiful effort from the right into the far corner and seal an away goals win!

Champions League exit

The wastefulness continued in the Champions League quarter-final as we had 10 shots inside half an hour, 13 by half-time and 24 over 90 minutes at home to PSG. But somehow drew 0-0. In the second leg they were given a ridiculous penalty that enabled them to score with their first shot and that enabled them to ease to a 2-0 win.

Italian Cup Final

Our opponents in the final were obviously the Zebras, which made it a tough ask. And they proved it in the first half by dominating but couldn’t get past Donnarumma. An encouraging pep talk at the break did the track as Asensio nipped in at the back post to steal the opener. And we held on to nick it despite Juve having twice as many shots as us. However, there were negatives as I forgot I’d piled some big bonuses onto new contracts for winning the cup, such as Donnarumma earning £650,000!

Milan won the Italian Cup!

Battling Juve for the title

Despite beating Real Madrid, we then couldn’t beat Fiorentina and lost 1-0 to a goal from Pedro. But Atalanta and the Zebras drew on the same day, which took us three points off the top. We then missed a host of chances in racking up 22 shots against Sassuolo, but that man Castillejo again stepped up with the vital winner. Belotti missed eight chances this time! Ceballos then gave us another 1-0 win at Empoli, in which we had 15 shots and Calvert-Lewin took on Belotti’s role of missing chances.

We improved a little to beat Sampdoria 4-2 with Kurzawa’s first for the club and Belotti scoring his first goal in eight matches. But we somehow let them score two from three shots on target and five shots in total, which annoys me. Narrow wins over Udinese and Roma, who’d just clambered out of the relegation zone, followed.

That sent us into the Madonnina derby at Inter, which we started brightly as Asensio was denied a penalty by VAR but put us ahead with a delicious chip then Calvert-Lewin doubled the lead with his first goal in 10 matches and since early December (four months ago). We continued in the same vein as Castillejo made it three on the hour mark to seal a superb win.

That gave Calvert-Lewin some confidence as he scored again to help us defeat Torino 1-0 to keep us just one point the Zebras with three games remaining. That win also created a new club record for points in a season as we reached 85, surpassing the previous record of 82 in 2004 and 2011.

We struggled a little more at Parma who, despite going to 10 men, held us at bay until substitute Belotti struck the winner. The next day, Juve slipped to a 1-1 draw with city rivals Torino, which moved us to the top of the league!

A dominant start at home to Cagliari in our penultimate league game was rewarded by Asensio’s back post tap-in then Alessio Romagnoli doubled the lead just after the break. We made it three in remarkable style when the goalkeeper kicked it to Castillejo, who smashed home first-time from the halfway line! The Zebras also won, keeping us top by one point going into the final day of the season.

On the final day, we faced a tough trip to seventh-placed Napoli while Juve went to Cagliari. The superb Davide Calabria was suspended and in-form Asensio was nursing a knock that I decided to force him to play through. We got off to a flyer as Belotti bagged his 20th of the season on 13 minutes and a dull first-half breezed through to the break with us leading 1-0. And we did the same after the break as Kessié hit a 30-yard screamer within two minutes of the kick-off. Napoli offered little and we saw it through for a 2-0 win.

AC Milan were Serie A Champions!

Juve also won, which meant we won Serie A by just one point, ending their 10 consecutive years of domination in Italy! However, we actually lost £6 million for winning the league, paying out £10.25 million in bonuses and only earning a pathetic £4.11 million.

Season Review

Belotti was our top goalscorer with 20 goals and Tonali led the way with a club-record 18 assists, while Donnarumma kept a club-record 28 clean sheets. But, surprisingly, left-back Kurzawa had the best average rating (7.26 from 31 league games) and got the most player of the match awards (5), which led to him winning the fans’ player of the season and signing of the season.

Dani Ceballos won the league’s goal of the year for a wondergoal against Cittadella and I won the manager of the year award, while the excellent Tonali was named Serie A young player of the season.

Check out our season review in full here:

Join us next time as we look to build on this narrow, but record-breaking title success for AC Milan!

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