Milan made it to the last 16 of the Champions' League with a 3-2 victory over Germany's Schalke 04 on Tuesday but the manner in which they did so told much of the strengths and weaknesses of Carlo Ancelotti's side.
Milan ended at the top of Group E but, given the tight balance of the group, had Schalke scored in the nervous final 25 minutes a 3-3 draw would have eliminated the six-times European champions.
Ancelotti chose to focus on the positives after the win. "The reality is that Milan are in the last 16 and there has to be a reason for that," he said. "The team responded well physically and reacted well to the defeat at Chievo on Saturday. We have gone through in first place and we will be contenders this season as we have been in the last three years."
Milan won the competition in 2003 and were beaten finalists last season, losing to Liverpool on penalties after leading 3-0 at half-time. The reason Milan are contenders again despite failing to beat PSV Eindhoven over two games and drawing away to Schalke before Tuesday's narrow win is their attacking quality. Two goals from the Brazilian Kaka, lively and inventive throughout, and yet another magnificent free-kick from the set-piece specialist Andrea Pirlo were the highlights of Milan's display. Andrei Shevchenko's constant movement and intelligence were a reminder of the contribution the Ukrainian can make to the side even when he fails to get on the scoresheet.
It was a game made for Gennaro Gattuso, the tigerish midfielder whose aggression made sure that Milan more than matched Schalke physically in midfield although the Italy international was lucky to get through the 90 minutes with only a yellow card after some stern challenges. But, surprisingly for a team packed with internationally respected defenders, it is Milan's backline which remains their weak point.
Admittedly the Brazilian right-back Cafu was missing through injury and the captain Paolo Maldini limped off in the first half but a central pairing of Alessandro Nesta and the Dutchman Jaap Stam would still be the envy of most clubs. Yet Milan never looked secure against the Schalke attack and, as several Serie A teams have exposed this season, they are surprisingly weak at dead-ball situations.
"The problem in such situations is too much apprehension," Ancelotti said. "It is something we still have to improve on."Reuse content