Robinho Lazaró had settled very nicely into the Italian lifestyle and the Italian football style. He’d bagged himself a beautiful little villa on the outskirts of Milan, and his AC Milan side had only conceded 10 goals in 22 games in his first six months in charge.
2057 began with another of Lazaró’s former players joining him at Milan. Wonderkid striker Wilson Salazar joined Man City from Sporting for £24.5 million in the summer. But hilariously, they’d given him four starts and he’d requested to leave! So Lazaró snapped up his fellow Colombian for £10 million rising to £20 million. That signing was offset by selling underperforming striker Kalu Alozie to Zenit for £38 million – and those were the only deals of the January window.
He joined an exciting young team that boasted the European Golden Boy, won by Iliya Kolev, and FIFA Best Under 21 Men’s Player, which Jan Mares won for the second year in a row, in its midfield.
Over the winter break, Lazaró decided to try and go back to his preferred 4-3-1-2 approach that worked nicely in Portugal. It should, in theory, get the best out of all his forwards and he though he might get more out of Kolev by sitting a little deeper.
A fine start to 2057
Salazar hit the ground running as his 29th-minute debut goal sealed a 1-0 at home to Venezia. And the new formation was seemingly working nicely as two goals in three minutes by Jon Azparren and Rosario Pagliore downed Roma 2-1, before the same two players scored in a 3-1 win at Sampdoria. Azparren, in particular, was flourishing in the shadow striker, scoring four in three in January having scored three in 20 prior to Christmas! And he took that form into a local derby with Atalanta, running from the halfway line then scoring an absolute screamer to double Milan’s lead after an hour.
A run of seven wins on the bounce ended with a 1-1 at Cagliari before an uncharacteristic 4-0 beating of Cremonese. But they soon suffered an injury crisis that ruled out all but one striker, both starting full-backs and all three goalkeepers! And they just about managed a 1-1 at Salernitana with a greyed-out goalkeeper.
Europa League knockouts
The first round of the Europa League gave Milan a tricky-looking tie against Marseille, which wasn’t helped by the mass of injuries. That more or less forced Lazaró into playing his Caosbala formation and a 16-year-old goalkeeper, which didn’t work out as they lost 2-0 in France. They got a few players back for the return leg and dominated it but wasteful shooting saw them only manage a 1-0 win – which meant an early exit.
Falling out of the title race?
Just as the injury crisis seemed to be subsiding star man Pagliero picked up a sports hernia, ruling him out for over a month. And that showed as Milan struggled to a 1-1 draw at home to Fiorentina. But Inter – who’d won 11 of the last 12 – and Juventus – who’d won 14 in a row! – were absolutely clinical, which saw Milan fall five points off top spot in late February.
Things got worse as they lost 2-1 at Bologna to fall even further behind, and their chances of a title race seemed to be over. That forced Lazaró into a rethink. He reverted to the original 4-2-3-1 formation, which had an immediate response as Kolev, Mares and Azparren scored and promising winger Marcel Dittmer bagged a brace in a 5-0 thumping of SPAL.
Milan’s shaky form continued as they lost 2-0 at home to Lazio. Then Dittmer stepped up again with another brace and an assist for exciting 18-year-old striker Andrea D’Avino to down Genoa 3-1.
Season-defining top of the table clashes
That teed up a huge must-win game at home to Juventus, which began well as Mares played Azparren in for the opener inside seven minutes. Juve stayed very much in the game until Azparren returned the favour for Mares, who hit “an absolute howitzer” into the top corner to make it 2-0. Centre-back Kelly Almeida soon made it three, to crown easily the best performance of Lazaró’s reign.
But could they back that up by beating bitter rivals Inter away to re-enter the title race? Well, they actually played really well but, as has become fairly standard, were wasteful with their chances. While Inter somehow managed to score all of their first three shots on target and won 3-0. That made Lazaró question what point there was having the supposed third-best goalkeeper in the world, if he just lets all of the opponent’s shots in? So he fined Landar Michielsen two weeks’ wages.
Playing for pride
That realistically left Milan playing for third place – and their own pride – in the last few games. But they ensured they couldn’t finish lower than third as a D’Avino brace secured a 2-1 win at home to Parma, and that guaranteed Champions League football for next season.
Yet the media were somewhat kind to include Milan, and Juve for that matter, in the claim that the title race was heading to the wire.
However, Inter lost their game in hand then drew at home to Cagliari to add a sprinkling of intrigue. Milan held up their end of the bargain thanks to Salazar nicking a 1-0 at fifth-place Napoli. But they were still seven points back with four games remaining.
Salazar, having scored twice in 12 games, suddenly had the taste for it as he and Pagliero bagged braces in a 4-1 win at Venezia. But Inter and Juve also both won to keep their title battle alive and officially take it away from Milan. But Rossoneri kept going, securing consecutive 1-0 wins at home to Frosinone and away to Roma.
Out of nowhere, that gave them an outside chance of finishing second going into the final day. Milan trailed Juve by three points but, crucially, had a better head-to-head. Milan hosted relegated Sampdoria and Juve travelled to Genoa.
Milan did their bit in emphatic fashion,battering of bottom of the league Samp 7-0 led by Salazar’s 13-minute first-half hat-trick and a Kolev hat-trick of assists. While Juve lost 1-0 at Genoa… so AC Milan nicked second place on the final day. Additionally, Inter lost 1-0 at Lazio, so Milan ended up only missing out on the title by one point!
Milan’s final tally of 88 points would have won them the title by seven points the previous season, and would have been enough to be champions in all but one of the last 12 Serie A seasons! Furthermore, it was a new record-high points total without winning Serie A.
Milan had the best defence in the league, only conceding 22 in 38 games, and scored 70, which was clearly skewed by the final day seven. Azparren and Kolev racked up the second-most assists in Serie A with 13 apiece, Michielsen kept the most clean sheets with 20, and the quietly impressive Dittmer had the third-best average rating of 7.40 from 14 games. But Pagliero scored 17 in just 25 games, so had he been fit more often Milan probably would have won the league.
All in all, Lazaró was really pleased with his first year in Italy. He still wasn’t quite sure how they only missed out on the title by a point, but there were clear issues within the playing squad.
One of the biggest issues was the availability of key player Pagliero. When he played, Milan nearly always won, as he racked up a club-high 20 goals in just 32 games. Pushing him close was Azparren, who scored 11 and got 16 assists. Kolev also got 16 assists with a slightly disappointing four goals, D’Avino scored 12 in 26 (of which four were in one match) and Mares got six goals and nine assists.
Salazar did well at the end of the season with nine goals in 16 games, which promises plenty for next season. And youngsters like Mislav Grubisic, Edgar Ruiz, Almeida and Dittmer also impressed. However, the likes of full-back Roman Petrik, midfielder Sócrates and defender Hamadar Badr had been really disappointing and Lazaró was keen to move them on in the summer.
The end-of-season form saw Lazaró pass the board’s objective to challenge for the Serie A title one year ahead of schedule. However, as the end of the season ticked around the 73-year-old still hadn’t been offered a new contract with his current one-year deal expiring at the end of June.
Lazaró was getting slightly concerned and began casting half an eye to the Job Security page. Elsewhere in Europe, by the way, PSG finished sixth in France, Bayern only nicked fourth on the final day, Sporting finished 11 points behind Benfica having sold most their best players, and Real Madrid finished 26 points behind champions Atlético. But Liverpool and Man City were still fighting over the English title by some distance!
Eventually, on 5 June 2057, Lazaró’s concerns were eased as the Milan board did offer him a new deal and a£10,000 pay rise to £50,000-per-week. But strangely, they again only offered him a one-year contract.
Join us next time to discover if Robinho Lazaró can challenge Inter and Juventus for the Serie A title in 2057/58!