Coppa Italia can spark Milan's season but Mihajlovic stands in their way
Coach Vincenzo Montella has made no secret of his desire to deliver the Coppa Italia to AC Milan this season, as he prepares to host Torino in the round of 16 at the San Siro on Thursday night. The tie pits the Rossoneri against former coach Sinisa Mihajlovic, and it promises to be anything but a straightforward encounter.
"We care about the Coppa Italia, it's one of our objectives for this season," the Italian tactician told Sport Mediaset. An extended cup run to coincide with a push for a top three finish in Serie A would certainly be a positive start for him at the helm.
Milan fell agonisingly short last season as they suffered defeat in the final to Juventus, and with the Scudetto out of their reach again this season, the Coppa represents the most realistic opportunity of more silverware.
In turn, it's only right that Montella gives it the importance that it deserves, as he must aim to make winning a habit at the club again having got the ball rolling with the SuperCoppa Italiana success in December.
It's refreshing that Montella is expected to put out a strong lineup as he acknowledged that Torino will pose many threats to his side. In turn, it's hoped that the Rossoneri can build some momentum and put a run together as they will also face their Turin rivals in Serie A on Monday night.
While Milan have made a solid start under their current boss, the man they face on Thursday deserves plenty of credit for the position that they are currently in.
Having already crossed paths in the first game of the season, which saw Milan run out 3-2 winners in Serie A on Aug. 21 thanks to a Carlos Bacca hat trick and a dramatic late penalty save from Gianluigi Donnarumma, it will undoubtedly bring unique emotions for the Serbian coach.
In the weeks leading up to Massimiliano Allegri's sacking in January 2014 to the merry-go-round that followed with Clarence Seedorf and Filippo Inzaghi both being given an opportunity to coach Milan, the club lacked solidity and personality.
Admittedly, it would have been difficult for any coach given the drastic changes in the squad and distinct lack of quality, but there was a vulnerability about the team that was regularly exposed and ultimately led to disappointing results.
Mihajlovic arrived for the 2015-16 season, and although he didn't survive until the end of the campaign, his work should be commended as Milan were given an identity and a path towards rebuilding and overcoming their long-term issues.
Further, it could be argued that he set the tone for a new strategy by bringing Donnarumma into the starting lineup, helping to inspire the likes of Manuel Locatelli and Davide Calabria to follow suit.
After his dismissal, Christian Brocchi lasted just a few games before another change was made, and finally it seems as though the club can now settle with Montella and build towards a successful future.
Looking back to the prematch news conference prior to their meeting at the start of the season, Montella even praised Mihajlovic for what he had done the previous year and it has helped him start his tenure the way he has.
Now, the objective is to continue to build on those foundations but also continue to stamp his style and personality on the team, with a combination of the two delivering positive results thus far.
Montella is expected to field a strong side, but Thursday's outing undoubtedly gives him an opportunity to see what his fringe players can offer too.
If there is one criticism of this Milan squad, then it is that it lacks depth to sustain positive results across an entire season, something that won't be fixed until the takeover of the club is completed.
The likes of Gustavo Gomez, Jose Sosa and Andrea Bertolacci could all see significant minutes, and it will be a real test for them to prove that they can provide Montella with selection headaches moving forward.
While some may disagree over the level of influence Mihajlovic had, others will argue that he played an integral role in getting Milan where they are today.
By no means are they the finished article, far from it. However, this team is harder to beat, more tactically disciplined and concentrate for the full 90 minutes.
It's no coincidence that these were principles that Mihajlovic preached when he arrived at the San Siro, and it's serving the club well now as they look to plot the downfall of his new charges in two games over the space of five days.
Sumeet Paul covers AC Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @SP_Calcio.