Season one in Italy had been a rather surprising success for Robinho Lazaró. While the 73-year-old Colombian hadn’t won a trophy with AC Milan, his side came mightily close to champions Inter on the final day – securing the record-high points total without winning Serie A.
Lazaró was looking to further rebuild his squad in the summer of 2057, starting by clearing out some of last season’s underperformers. Disappointing left-back Roman Petrik moved to Shakhtar for £17 million, right-back Hamada Badr joined Atlético for £15 million and midfielder Sócrates went to Dynamo Kyiv for £23.5 million. That put the club’s finances, which had been looking worrying, in a much stronger position, especially with Champions League football to come.
But they got even better following interest in star player but injury-ravaged winger Rosario Pagliero, who got unhappy and eventually moved to Juventus for £76 million. Then centre-back Kelly Almeida, who played fairly well last season but wanted silly money to renew his contract, joined Barcelona for £23 million, Venezia bizarrely decided to spend £8.5 million on backup winger Neven Sutalo and Benfica paid £6 million for dodgy midfielder Roger Batista. That meant Lazaró suddenly had £150 million to work with!
He invested most of that money into signing a world-class centre-back. And, as has come pretty much standard, it was a player he knew very well in his former Sporting star Vítor Veríssimo. The Portuguese joined for £20 million rising to £45 million, rejected Chelsea for Milan, and instantly became the best player at the club! And just look how good those mental and physicals have become. Sticking with players he knew well, Lazaró also put in an ambitious bid for Danish elite striker Anders Lassen, who chose to reunite with his former boss over moves to Man City and Bayern.
Lazaró spent the early part of the summer scouring international youth teams for new talent and those efforts paid off with several exciting new arrivals. The pick of them was probably Norwegian attacking midfielder Thor Gronnesby, who cost a cool £10.5 million from Benfica. Other signings included two exciting 16-year-old midfielders Hubert Drewnowski for £1.5 million from Legia and Diogo Marques for £750,000 from Vitória. But potentially the best new arrival may be Mexican striker Jordan Montano, who joined for £5 million and went back on loan to Santos Laguna, where he’s already scored 54 in 111 and scored braces in his first two games back there! Then on deadline day they brought in Lazio centre-back Simone Caniani for £3 million rising to £9 million.
Those new signings were joined in the first team by 15-year-old goalkeeper Moris Lombardi, who was the star of last year’s youth intake, was already the third-best keeper at the club and had been called up to Italy Under 21s, and 18-year-old 6ft 5 in striker Lorenzo Crestani, who went out on loan last season then won the Under 20 World Cup Golden Ball and Golden Shoe.
Lazaró thought his squad was in a good place after a busy transfer window. But his plans were given a major blow by striker Wilson Salazar breaking his ankle two weeks before the start of the season, ruling him out for three months.
But with the new players through the door, Lazaró decided that his preferred 4-3-1-2 approach was the best option going forwards.
Tough start to Serie A season 2
The media still had Milan at fourth favorites for the title at 18/1 to win it, behind Inter (11/10), Juventus (9/4) and Napoli (16/1). And goalkeeper Lander Michielsen is joined by Veríssimo in the dream 11.
Milan began the 2057/58 campaign with a potentially tricky trip to Lazio. But new boy Lassen didn’t need any time to settle as he scored 56 seconds into his debut! And that proved to be enough to edge a pretty even game.
Their first game at San Siro saw a similar result, as centre-back Pierre Pelletier’s second-half strike was enough for a 1-0 win over Torino. But next was a really tough test as they took on city rivals Inter at Giuseppe Meazza. Lassen put them ahead with a close-range header and it looked like another 1-0 win was on the cards, only for Inter to nick a deserved equaliser in injury-time.
But they maintained their strong start thanks largely to Jon Azparren. The Spaniard bagged a brace and created the first of the season for exciting homegrown striker Andrea D’Avino in a 3-0 win over Sassuolo, then scored two more in a 4-1 win over Fiorentina, in which Veríssimo got his first Milan goal. D’Avino and Pelletier secured a 2-0 win at local rivals Atalanta to take Milan top of the league before midfielder Iliya Kolev scored one and laid on the other for Veríssimo to beat Napoli 2-1.
Jan Mares was playing a key role in the team and, despite his ability rating dropping to 3-stars, he was now considered a world-class midfielder. That was proven by his brace securing a 2-0 win at Udinese, before Crestani bagged his first goal for the club in a 2-0 win at bottom side Spezia. Milan and Roma were the only unbeaten sides heading into a big clash at Stadio Olimpico, which saw Roma come out on top 2-0.
While Milan were flying both Inter and Juventus were struggling. When Juve came to town in early December, both their biggest rivals trailed Rossoneri by nine points. Milan started on the front foot and Mares made it count as he drilled home from 10 yards after nine minutes. Juve’s keeper made a stunning save to keep Lassen out and Milan led 1-0 at the break only to be made to pay for their profligacy as Juve scored an undeserved equaliser four minutes after the break. But Lazaró pushed for the winner and that man Mares delivered it four minutes from time. And it was nice to see Pagliero play a 6.3.
Milan kept their good form going through an easier run into Christmas and that sent them into the winter break top of the league. They only led Roma, who were still unbeaten, by three points. But crucially, they led Juve by 15 points and Inter, who were way down in 10th, by a huge 19 points. Their form was largely inspired by Kolev, who had a league-high nine assists and second-best average rating of 7.49. And his form was honoured by taking the FIFA Best U21 Men’s Player award away from Mares.
Champions League group
Milan’s chances of winning the Champions League were even slimmer than the league, with the media putting them at 200/1 outsiders. They got another interesting group alongside Lille, runaway Spanish champions Atlético and Basel.
They kicked off at home to Basel and late goals from D’Avino, Kolev and Pelletier sealed a 3-0 win. D’Avino nicked a draw in Lille before a pretty turgid game with Atlético that only had 10 shots somehow ended 3-2 to Milan thanks to Lassen, Mares and Kolev strikes. Milan then lost 3-0 in Spain but an Azparren brace sealed a 2-1 win over Lille sealed qualification.
Milan found themselves in a strong position in the league and facing a Champions League tie with Spurs as they moved into 2058.
But could Lazaró add the Scudetto to titles in Germany, England, Spain and Portugal, as well as his league wins across the Americas? Join us next time to find out!