Inzaghi starts Milan tenure with crucial win
With the new Serie A season finally getting underway this weekend, Milan kicked off their campaign with a crucial 3-1 win over Lazio at San Siro.
Goals from Keisuke Honda, Sulley Muntari and a Jeremy Menez penalty were enough to secure all three points, and it was vital for the club as a whole that Pippo Inzaghi got off to a winning start.
While it wasn't an entirely convincing display, the Rossoneri showed the type of spirit and determination that will be required this season. An attacking trident lacking an out-and-out striker was effective at times, with Stephan El Shaarawy undoubtedly playing a starring role.
As mentioned throughout the summer, this season is the 21-year-old's year to shine. Although new signing Fernando Torres will likely add to the threat Milan possess, it is clear that El Shaarawy is heavily involved in Inzaghi's thinking.
The current 4-3-3 system reflects that and it will be beneficial to both the club and the Italian international, and there were promising early signs that he will flourish in his preferred position on the left flank.
In addition, there were significant performances across the pitch with Diego Lopez, Alex and Nigel De Jong particularly catching the eye.
Lopez's late penalty save would have been a huge boost for his confidence, while aside from the unfortunate own goal, Alex looked commanding and comfortable through the majority of the game in his new partnership with Cristian Zapata.
However, from both a defensive point of view and given his ability on the ball, De Jong stood out from the rest. The Dutchman is vital to how this system works, and particularly with Riccardo Montolivo injured and Bryan Cristante left on the bench, he is also effectively responsible for starting attacking plays.
Perhaps the biggest criticism of Milan's performance was their inability to keep possession and construct attacks consistently. With a midfield including both Muntari and Andrea Poli, there is ultimately a 'destroy and release' attitude but they will need to be smarter in possession moving forward.
Nevertheless, with the way Inzaghi set the team up, there was an obvious emphasis on quick counter-attacks which will invariably work against superior opposition. However, against teams who perhaps come to San Siro with a draw in mind, it could prove to be a frustrating and risky strategy.
Inzaghi will have time to analyse the performance and make changes that he feels are necessary ahead of the clash against Parma in a fortnight's time, but there is no doubt over how important a good start was.
The timing of Milan's first two goals were key in that the early strike allowed them to break quickly with Lazio committing players forward thereafter, while the second came at a time when the visitors looked dangerous.
The Milan coach opted to even celebrate on the pitch with the players at one stage, while CEO Adriano Galliani was seen in the stands gesturing to stay calm and keep focused. It will be the latter attitude which will be key moving forward, but a winning start to the season is exactly what Milan needed.
Sumeet Paul covers AC Milan for ESPN FC. Twitter: @SP_Calcio.