AC Milan end lackluster tour on a positive note
After suffering disappointing defeats to Olympiakos, Manchester City and Liverpool in the International Champions Cup, Milan finally had reason to be cheerful as they ended their tour of the United States and Canada with a 3-0 win over Chivas in Houston on Wednesday.
Although it may mean little given the context, it was vital for both Pippo Inzaghi and the players to regain some confidence and conviction in what they are trying to achieve ahead of the new season. The Milan coach insisted that he was encouraged by the "beautiful spirit" demonstrated by the players, and acknowledged signs of improvement.
Admittedly, there is still concern over the defence, with both the woodwork and Christian Abbiati saving the Rossoneri in the first half, but ultimately it remains to be seen which pairing Inzaghi opts for in central defence in the final three preseason games.
As noted previously, there is a vulnerability about starting with Alex and Philippe Mexes, as Milan are prone to being caught on the counterattack and in behind given the lack of pace. However, with Cristian Zapata returning to the fold after his World Cup exploits, he would arguably complement the Brazilian perfectly moving forward.
In a positive development, Bryan Cristante has enjoyed extended minutes throughout the tour, and it is likely that the young midfielder will be given the responsibility of replacing Riccardo Montolivo's creativity and graft in the centre of the pitch.
While his work in the defensive phase still needs improvement, the 19-year-old has been a personal favourite within this squad for years with his range of passing and ability to set the tempo of the game.
Having now seemingly been given the opportunity to stake a claim in the first team under Inzaghi, he hasn't disappointed thus far, and it is hoped that he can carry some good form into the start of the season as Milan await the return of their influential captain.
Further afield, Inzaghi noted that he was particularly pleased with the combination play in the attacking phase, and with time this is likely to improve further. With Jeremy Menez also returning to action after an injury layoff, perhaps the most important aspect at this stage of preparations is that the new coach has an almost fully fit squad at his disposal.
Nevertheless, while spirit can only get a side so far, it was pleasing to see Milan secure a much-needed victory which will boost morale moving forward.
Following from Clarence Seedorf's dismissal, various players publicly criticised his approach and manner in dealing with certain aspects of his role, and ultimately there was a sense that the squad was far from happy despite denying such speculation to the media.
However, under Inzaghi it appears to be different, with Menez the latest player to praise his new coach, saying he has a good playing philosophy, and he is certain that Milan will be ready for the season opener against Lazio.
With movement in the transfer market, Milan will likely continue to strengthen in the next fortnight, and hopefully this is the start of more positive things to come.
Sumeet Paul covers AC Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @SP_Calcio.