Must Milan prioritize the Europa League?

AC Milan

AC Milan kicked off their European campaign with a narrow 1-0 win over minnows F91 Dudelange. FOX Sports Asia takes a look at whether the Europa League holds the key for the Rossoneri.

Having finished a staggering 31 points behind and 5 places below the Lega Serie A champions, Juventus, last season and without a Scudetto in 8 years, even the most ardent of fans will struggle to deny Milan’s obvious decline. No longer the continental powerhouse they used to be, when Silvio Berlusconi finally relented control of the club in 2016 to Chinese ownership, it was expected to usher in an era of renewed dominance, the waking of a sleeping giant. Two years and a plethora of signings later, they appear no closer to the best in Italy, let alone Europe.

Although Gennaro Gattuso, now in charge of his first full season of the club (having joined late in November last year), certainly seems to have brought the spirit and doggedness he is so famed for into the club, yet performances remain dire. While they managed to string together a 3-month unbeaten run starting in December soon after Gattuso took charge, what was noteworthy was that the positive streak was ended by a resounding 3-1 defeat by Juventus at Turin. Milan have tellingly failed to win more than two matches on the trot in the league following that defeat, a run extending into the current season.

The Turin giants on the other hand continue to dominate Italy, with the recent addition of Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the world’s best, further underscoring their European ambitions. In stark contrast, Milan have failed to even qualify for the Champions League since the 2013-14 campaign.

Having started the new season with a 3-2 defeat against Napoli, a win against Roma and an unexpected draw at Cagliari, Milan’s old failings are on show once again.

It might indeed be time for the manager to shift their focus onto the Europa League this season. Following the group stages, in which they’re almost certain to progress, the Europa League offers a chance for silverware with only 9 matches – including the final – to navigate. It also makes sense for the club to go for European glory as Milan, once as closely associated with the European Cup as the likes of Real Madrid are today, last had their hands on a continental trophy back in 2007. Having made 11 signings in the summer window, Gattuso certainly has the depth in his squad to go for it, albeit questions over the quality of the recruits remain.

Any decision however, need not be gung-ho for it has only been 3 matches into the league and Milan’s form can certainly pick up hereon. Moreover, the Europa League this season is filled with some Champions League regulars – Chelsea, Arsenal and Sevilla to name a few, with more to follow after dropping down from the Champions League group stages. It wasn’t too far back when Milan were taught a footballing lesson by an Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal last season in the very same competition.

Thus, while there certainly might come a point later in their overall campaign where Milan have to choose between the league and Europe, it’s far too early into the new season for them to put all their eggs into one basket. It’s a fascinating conundrum for it is a reminder of how far behind Europe’s elite Milan have fallen in the past decade.

One way or another, the end goal remains the same, return to the Rossoneri’s Holy Grail – the Champions League.