Oct 212018
 

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There isn’t much in terms of breaking news as far as on the pitch and injuries go, both teams meeting once again for the derby are relatively healthy with coach’s preferred lineups more or less easy guesses. Of course a Milan derby is anything but predictable and as the cliche goes will throw up the unexpected regardless of form. The 222nd derby will go a long way in setting the mood of the rest of the season as Milan try to get back into the top 4.

Milan’s disappointing start to the season may be behind us, at least we hope. Goal laden wins before the international break vs Chievo, Sassuolo and AEK Athens lifted the optimism, if only somewhat. The additional good news for Milan fans is the capture of Lucas Paqueta, the 21 years old Flamengo midfielder for around €35 million. The player is one of the better Brazilian prospects and his January 2019 arrival is all but official. Leonardo’s Brazilian connections have surely helped in this transfer but the team is still very much under UEFA’s Financial Fair Play watch and will be limited and will require creative accounting moving forward for years to come. There are also whispers about a new stadium but if that indeed happens, as opposed to a very possible prolonged stay at the San Siro, it will not be in the near future.

Back to the game at hand. Milan’s 4-3-3 will be challenged by the 4-2-3-1 often preferred by Inter’s Luciano Spalletti. The Nerazzurri with Mauro Icardi, Radja Nainggolan et al will create problems for Musacchio and Romagnoli and Higuain. Milan need the opportunism of the Argentine forward to beat Milan Skriniar, Stefan de Vrij and Inter. Milan is still struggling in terms of midfield creativity so Suso and Calhanoglu’s movement between the wings and middle of the pitch will go a long way in dictating the outcome of this game. Biglia’s relative good form will of course be as crucial in the middle of the pitch.

 

 

Oct 072018
 

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With whispers that Gattuso’s job is on the line after several lackluster games and points dropped the team responded with two important wins in beating formerly high flying Sassuolo 4-1 away and coming from behind to beat Olympiacos at home 3-1. The manner of the two wins were not overly convincing but provide a glimmer of hope for a team despeprate to make the Champions league places.

The game versus Olympiacos proved that Cutrone is still a very exciting prospect, the injured 20 years old returned and scored twice in less than a half of play. It is rather ironic that a team that features only two real center forwards – Higuain and Cutrone – has no space for the young Italian. The 4-3-3 doesn’t include a place for both, at least on paper. The team also has little quality in the midfield area and 4-3-3 doesn’t always convince.

In somewhat related news to the aforementioned formation and number of center forwards rumours of an Ibra loan return have surfaced. Could the 37 years old make a difference in a six month stint at the San Siro? The answer is probably yes…partly depending on the formation.

For now however the team will remain familiar. Caldara carries an injury and is not available, Calabria is likely to be rested so Donnarumma, Abate, Musacchio, Romagnoli and Laxalt or Rodriguez will be the back line. Kessie, Biglia and Bonaventura will be the middle three with no space for the so far disappointing Bakayoko. Calhanoglu, Higuain and Suso will start while Cutrone and Castillejo battle for time from the bench.

Chievo sit 20th with -1 point and only two ties in seven games and a 3 point deduction for false accounting to create fake profits.

Sep 302018
 

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Week 6’s result was even more underwhelming than the week 5 1-1 tie vs Cagliari. A team without the injured Higuain managed to strike early via a Biglia strike, deflected and awarded as an Leonardo Capezzi own goal. However the team faded soon after and allowed the promoted team to tie it in the second. Borini replacing the aforementioned Argentine was mostly invisible. A not fully fit Cutrone came in and unsurprisingly was unable to drag the team out of another tie. Perhaps just as disappointing was  that a Romagnoli giveaway and mistake led to Empoli’s goal.

To make matters worse and pile on even more pressure on the deservedly criticized Gattuso, the team is still handcuffed by the lack of depth at center forward. Higuain is still not available and neither Cutrone nor Borini is fully fit. Winger Castillejo seems set to play up front as the cliched false 9.

The back will feature more or less the same four with the alternating Abate or Calabria the only unknowns. Laxalt may play in Rodriguez’s spot too but that seems less likely at Sassuolo. The mid three are very predictable at this point and barring a relatively big change of heart Gattuso is proving himself stubborn.

Calhanoglu’s poor form has been one factor in the poor start. Suso has shown flashes but the offensive unit as a whole is not functioning at all. Gattuso may not lead the team for too much longer if immediate improvements don’t come. Facing Sassuolo – led by Kevin Prince Boateng – who are a surprising third before week 7’s matches will present one other challenge for this fragile Milan.

Sep 272018
 

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Another slew of missed chances and another two points dropped. Twice leading but getting only one point against Atalanata at home is a poor and costly result. Fingers are starting to point at Gattuso and whether or not that is fair where the players were the ones missing chances is up for debate. What is not up for debate is that the team still lacks in many areas and the coach does have responsilbilty in trying to change things up and find solutions.

A visit to Empoli for a mid week game provides an opportunity for a changed 11. A number of injuries are not helping but changes have and need to be made to get back to winning ways.  For this game however, Milan’s star and best player is being kept at home as a precaution. Higuain is back in Milan and Cutrone is still not 100% fit so it seems we are left with Borini as a starter, in an advanced or more withdrawn so called false 9 role. The other anticipated change is the use of Abate in Calabria’s place. This change is not a positive one as Abate showed when he came as a sub vs Atalanta. As there is no word that Calabria is unable to start or play this rotation might be a negative one.

Elsewhere on the pitch the usual starters are very likely to keep their place. Empoli have 1 win in 5 games, three points are a must.

Sep 232018
 

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Week four away at Cagliari was an underwhelming match, Milan started very poorly and the team was punished as early as the 4th minute. The team gradually improved but a second half Higuain goal was to be a consolation only. Dropping points like this will soon add up and a top 4 and Champions League place can fade quickly.

Atalanta provide the second home opposition of the season and the Bergamo club have had an indifferent start to the season as well.

The line ups used this season, except for the Europa League opener midweek, have been too close to last season’s and this seems to be norm for now. Higuain and either one of Caldara or Musacchio remain the only changes from the regular 2017-2018 team. Big changes didn’t provide a big spark vs Dudelange and it was left to a partially deflected Higuain goal to get the three points. These two matches were further evidence that Gattuso still has a lot of work to do to create a new team or gel the players into a top Serie A or Europa League team.

Cutrone will still miss this game and the short term knock is taking a few more days than expected. Mauri and Bertolacci underwhelmed versus the Luxembourg team and do not look like players capable of adding quality depth for the midfield. The team will require the best from the starters. Kessie, Biglia, Bonaventura and perhaps even more so Bakayoko need to have great seasons. Suso and Calhanoglu need to be pushed by Halilovic and Castillejo and perform as well and better than last season.

Caldara is set to miss week five with what is described as a muscular issue so the defense pairing with Musacchio and Romagnoli is again predictable.

Sep 162018
 

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The last minute Cutrone goal vs Roma for the 2-1 win enhanced the team’s outlook somewhat and the team entered the international break with some more optimism. The new new era is moving along with more financial stability and the hope is that results on the pitch will follow the same trajectory of the 2017-2018 season and Gattuso’s time as coach in particular.

There are reasons to question the state of the team and to be cautious. The biggest of those reasons are that, at least for now, the team is barely changed. Of the eight summer arrivals only Higuain has a regular spot. As mentioned, the team did well under Gattuso last season but does one change, as important as it is, make a whole lot of difference? No one would compare Kalinic to Higuain but the rest of the new comers must be integrated into the starting 11 sooner rather than later.

The back four will likely be Calabria, Romagnoli, Musacchio and Rodriguez with Kessie, Biglia and Bonaventura in the middle, Suso, Calhanoglu and Higuain will complete the 4-3-3. Cutrone is out with a knock but it is thought to  be very short term and he could be available as early as the midweek Europa League opener at F91 Dudelange in Luxembourg.

Aug 252018
 

Gennaro Gattuso will need to inject new blood into the squad.

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The first game of the 2018-2019 season vs Genoa was postponed following the Genoa bridge collapse tragedy. Milan’s season gets underway at Napoli and the week 1 match is to be played on October 31st.

It has been yet another summer of change at Milan with new ownership, Elliott management, bringing in a semblance of stability and recruiting and convincing former legends to join in leading roles. The long hard work that Leonardo and Maldini have on their hands is now fully Gattuso’s too. There were eight new arrivals but at least initially only three of them are close to being starters. The early weeks might feature fewer new starters than many might hope or expect. Gonzalo Higuian will need to continue his goal scoring exploits because not only goal scoring was a weakness last season but the new season brings in less alternatives for the center forward spot. Andre Silva and Kalinic exited Milan and Bacca converted his loan away to a full exit – in the Samu Castillejo deal with Villarreal – so Cutrone is the sole real alternative to the Argentinian. Tiemoue Bakayoko will be an option in the middle of the park as a central or right midfielder and Mattia Caldara will likely feature when Mateo Musacchio does not. The other five arrivals, Castillejo, Laxalt, Halilovic, Reina and Strinic will have to fight for spots and gain Gattuso’s trust. Strinic is on the sidelines for an indefinite period with a recently discovered heart issue, so the left back spots will be contested between Rodriguez and Laxalt for now.

As before, other than the aforementioned goalscoring woes, the midfield will be under scrutiny to see if a more creative, direct squad can be found. The start will be mostly a feeling of deja vu with Kessie, Biglia and Bonaventura the more likely starters in the 4-3-3. Although he was due to be suspended for the first game vs Genoa Calhanoglu is suspended for this game and the question for the left wing or the left front player is still unanswered, a familiar face might increase the deja vu feel as Borini is a possibility.

Aug 102018
 

Radja Nainggolan and Ronaldo at Inter and Juventus

Milan’s manic summer seems to be reaching a hopeful conclusion with new (temporary but long term!) ownership under Elliott and the return of capable and legends in Leonardo and Maldini. Other Serie A teams and rivals in the upper half of the table have had busy and newsworthy summers as well. There is still one week left in Serie A’s transfer window but a lot has happened already.

The big transfer news of the summer is that of Ronaldo leaving Real Madrid after three consecutive Champions League wins and making a €100 million+ transfer to Juventus. The reigning champions’ summer activity will certainly affect betting and bookmaker bonuses and expectations will be higher in Turin, especially when it comes to taking the next step and winning the Champions League. Juventus lost Gianluigi Buffon to PSG but signed Mattia Perin to compete with Wojciech Szczesny. Other transfers have strengthened the team, including making Douglas Costa a permanent member of the team. Joao Cancelo who was close to an Inter switch after spending time on loan was snapped up too. Not forgetting getting Bonucci back from Milan (in exchange for Caldara). Losing top scorer Higuian would have been a significant loss but Ronaldo’s arrival made it inevitable.

Napoli’s biggest move was bringing in Carlo Ancelotti, as it turned out long before Maurizio Sarri was officially gone. Ancelotti had left Bayern Munich last year and the stated reasons for it were not reassuring. Bayern players complained that training was too relaxed. Leading up to the transfer deadline there have been plenty of rumours but activity has been minimal.

Inter have been under Financial Fair Play pressure and have been creative in loaning or selling youth players with buy back options to add revenue for the current fiscal year. The likes of Davide Bettella and Federico Valietti have left to Atalanta and Genoa to add millions to the books. Those millions allowed the team to sign Radja Nainggolan from Roma. One early arrival was Stefan de Vrij from Lazio on a free transfer to boost the defensive line.

Roma have been busy with director of football Monchi making wholesale changes to the team again. Javier Pastore, Justin Kluivert, Davide Santon and others have arrived replacing departing players such as Juan Iturbe, Bruno Peres and the aforementioned Nainggolan. Dane Robin Olsen arrived after a long search for an Allison replacement. The Brazilian World Cup goalkeeper made a big money transfer to Liverpool.

Lazio have had a big shoe to fill with de Vrij’s departure. Ex-Milan player Francesco Acerbi has signed on to be part of that. Lazio also lost Felipe Anderson to the English Premier League (West Ham) for big money and have spent some of that to bring in Joaquin Correa from Sevilla.

It has been a bust summer elsewhere too with Atalanta, Fiorentina and Torino trying to remain top half teams. Duvan Zapata has been loaned to Atalanta by Sampdoria, ex- Milan midfielder Mario Pasalic is also on loan at Atalanta from Chelsea. Fiorentina have captured loan moves for Marko Pjaca and Kevin Mirallas. Torino are hanging on to Andrea Belotti and have signed Tomas Rincon, Armando Izzo, Soualiho Meite and others to make up a solid team.

A lot of hard work ahead to not only stay in the top 6 and possibly crack the top 4 for Gattuso and Milan.

Aug 062018
 

News spread quickly that Maldini will return to Milan after dismissing several attempts in prior years. He had always maintained that he is interested in a decision making role with a project he believes in. He had also expressed his doubts about the Chinese take over last year.

With Elliott taking over from Yonghong Li and appointing Leonardo in a director role Maldini was convinced and returns as what is described as director of strategic development.

Today at the presentation news conference team president Paolo Scaroni emphasized the importance of having the club legend back at the club after a nine year absence when Maldini retired from playing. With Leonardo present they described the role as taking care of everything on the sporting side, but not excluding the possibility of another sporting director being appointed.  Maldini described his confidence in the new Elliott project and described his role as helping Leonardo in every aspect of the team, including the youth sector where his son plays.

Other notable points at the conference were Paolo Scaroni saying that a CEO will be announced in the coming weeks. Ivan Gazidis of Arsenal is still the rumoured name with Umberto Gandini a possibility in a similar general manager role. Leonardo mentioned that Lazio’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is impossible because he is too expensive, the management will keep looking for players but financial constraints, especially those of UEFA, will make things difficult. PSG’s Adrien Rabiot is one other name circulating, the 23 year old will be cheaper in part because his contract expires next summer.

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