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Serie A - Football: Can Milan hold their nerve?

AC Milan are one of the most decorated sides in world football, but it is 11 years since they were last crowned champions of Italy.

It has certainly been a lean period for I Rossoneri, who have only lifted two Supercoppa Italiana trophies since they last claimed the Scudetto in 2011, but with less than two months remaining in the Serie A season, their wait for a major honour could be about to end.

A decade in the wilderness

When Max Allegri led Milan to their 18th Scudetto during the 2010/11 season, nobody would have predicted the club were about to embark on their leanest period for over 60 years.

I Rossoneri finished six points clear of rivals Inter Milan at the top of the standings that season and they boasted a team with a plethora of star names such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alessandro Nesta and Clarence Seedorf.

Milan continued to challenge over the following two seasons, finishing second and third, but the 2013/14 campaign saw a drop off in both results and performances, which led to the sacking of Allegri in January 2014.

The club concluded that season in eighth place, their lowest finish since the turn of the century, but worse was to come the following year, as they ended the campaign 10th under the stewardship of former striker Filippo Inzaghi.

Over the following four seasons Milan continued to struggle and they went through numerous managers, with Sinisa Mihajlovic, Cristian Brocchi, Vincenzo Montella, Gennaro Gattuso and Marco Giampaolo all trying, with limited success, to restore the club to its former glories.

However, it wasn't until the appointment of former Lazio and Fiorentina boss Stefano Pioli in October 2019 that Milan's time in the wilderness finally showed signs of coming to an end.

Pioli inspiring return to the top

Pioli's appointment as Milan head coach was considered underwhelming at the time, but after a disappointing start to the 2019/20 season under Giampaolo, the 56-year-old was able to steady the ship and lead the club to a sixth-place finish.

The jury was still out on Pioli at the start of the following campaign, but Milan proceeded to begin the 2020/21 season with a 15-match unbeaten run that raised hopes of a first Scudetto success in a decade.

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Milan ultimately slipped away during the second half of the season, finishing 12 points behind champions Inter, but their second-place standing was still their highest in nine years and also ensured a return to the Champions League for the first time since 2014.

It was hoped that experience would be beneficial for Milan heading into this season, and so far that has proved to be the case.

Milan the team to beat this season

Just as they did last season, Milan made a flying start to the current campaign, winning 10 and drawing one of their opening 11 Serie A fixtures.

There were fears history was going to repeat itself when I Rossoneri then struggled for results towards the end of 2021, but unlike last season, the club have been able to bounce back from that indifferent period.

Since mid-December, Milan have lost just once in 12 Serie A matches, winning eight of those games, a sequence that includes victories over title rivals Napoli and Inter.

Pioli's side headed into this weekend sitting three points clear at the top of the standings and they are priced at 11/8 to go on and win the Scudetto.

With Napoli, Inter and Juventus all within striking distance, Milan still have plenty of work to do in the title race, but there is a steeliness to this side that has been lacking over recent years.

There is a great balance of youth and experience within the squad too, with youngsters such as Fikayo Tomori, Sandro Tonali and Rafael Leao all impressing alongside proven winners such as Olivier Giroud and Ibrahimovic - the latter was of course part of the last Milan team to win the title.

Can Milan get over the line?

It is simple really, if Milan win their final eight Serie A matches of the season they will be crowned champions, but we all know it is never as easy as that.

While I Rossoneri do not have to play any of their direct title rivals between now and the end of the season, they do have some testing fixtures to come against European hopefuls Atalanta, Fiorentina and Lazio.

Milan have also dropped points against struggling Spezia and Salernitana over recent months, which would suggest even the more favourable fixtures they have to come will be anything but easy.

All Pioli and his players can really do is focus on one game at a time, starting with Monday's clash against mid-table Bologna at the San Siro - a match that is available to watch as part of our European Soccer Live Streaming Highlights.

I Rossoneri have a good recent record against Bologna, winning 11 and losing none of the last 12 meetings between the two sides, a record that should inspire confidence ahead of Monday's clash.

Milan can be backed at 4/11 to win that contest, which would move them a step closer to the Scudetto, with a Bologna victory available at 8/1 and the draw 15/4.

Even if Milan do ultimately come up short in their pursuit of the title, it has still been another season of progression under Pioli, and it is surely only a matter of time before I Rossoneri are winning major honours once again.

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