Apr 232017

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Week 32 featured a big match, the derby of course, and start of a new era with a new Chinese ownership. New era has heralded new hope for a return to the heights of the European game. While questions remained and remain as to the viability and ability of the new ownership to deliver on promises of massive investment the players on the pitch delivered an exciting tie vs Inter. Zapata with the very last minute equalizer kept Milan ahead of the city rivals. Earlier Romagnoli had reduced Inter’s 2-0 first half lead. The come back for a tie was a good omen for the new era, perhaps.

Empoli – and next week Crotone – present easier on paper opposition. Easier on paper hasn’t always meant anything for Milan and three points will remain difficult. Empoli sit just outside of the Serie A relegation zone and are coming off a very big win vs Fiorentina in week 32. They will surely be motivated to finish the season off strong.

No changes are expected in the line up, although Pasalic who was suspended for the Inter match may return to the starting line up and play alongside Sosa and Mati Fernandez in midfield. The midfield also now welcomes back captain Montolivo after a long injury lay off. The front three will remain unchanged as well. Deulofeu and Suso will play with Bacca. The latter may be nudged out in the summer transfer window however, as Milan try a new look offence. Plenty of expensive names are being linked to replace the Colombian. Whether the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Andrea Belotti are realistic targets remains to be seen.

In defense Calabria, Zapata and Romagnoli and De Sciglio will likely remain constant till the end of the season, barring injury of course. The push for a Europa League spot is on.

Apr 152017

After 31 years the Berlusconi era came to an end on April 13 2017. The Chinese take over led by new team president Yonghong Li arrived just in time for the latest edition of the Milan derby.

After some two years of searching for new investment or owners and continuous delays Milan is in the hands of Chinese owners, much like local rivals Inter Milan. The saga that began with Mr.Bee’s attempt to buy minority shares while keeping Silvio Berlusconi as president dragged on for months before the Thai businessman’s attempt to gather funds evaporated without much fanfare. As Fininvest, Berlusconi’s holding company, refused to remain involved in a money losing football operation one where they had to write off the team’s losses every year the search for new investment continued. Late last Spring news emerged that Berlusconi has found new investors willing to pay €500 million for over 99% of the team and has them promise to return Milan to the top of the European game while additionally investing upwards of €350 million. All this while paying an amount greater than Inter had been sold for and also assuming the then €220 million debt – that debt has now grown when one includes the 2016-2017 season numbers.

The Chinese takeover was shrouded in secrecy as no one knew who was involved, whispers of Robin Li’s (of Baidu search engine) involvement came and went quickly, then names like Haixia Capital excited fans dreaming of owners with very deep pockets. Several delays dampened enthusiasm and cultivated more doubts, especially as Suning’s takeover of Inter Milan had seemed smooth and relatively quick. Then late in 2016 and early 2017 the fears grew as the Chinese government put in new rules that included strict limits on capital exports amid the local Chinese economy showing signs of weakness. This was seen as affecting not only amounts of money available to buy and invest in Milan but also more specifically making it impossible for government affiliated or controlled entities like Haixia being in it at all. This all led to a March closing date – which was in the final stages of going ahead with a press conference planned and scheduled – being scrapped.

As hopes faded Yonghong Li officially disbanded his now partner-less Sino Europe Sport group and set up a new group called Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux with the aim of using or finding money from outside of China to complete the payments to Fininvest and close the deal. Enter Elliott Management Corporation, a US hedge fund. The fund agreed to get involved, help complete the amount needed and as is natural for a hedge fund to put interest and controlling interest clauses in case Yonghong Li fails to find further investors or generate extra revenue. The make up of the ownership remains a mystery, as of today’s (April 14th) press conference to present the new era the people officially involved remain Yonghong Li and Han Li, the meetings also elected other board members and they are Bo Lu, Renshau Xu, Roberto Cappelli, Marco Fassone, Marco Patuano and Paolo Scaroni. How much wealth and know how exists on the business side is not well known, Italians somewhat familiar with the Chinese business community have expressed doubts, these include Marcello Lippi who has been coaching in China for nearly five years.

Marco Fassone as general manager and CEO along side Massimiliano Mirabelli as sporting director, both ex-Interisti, have the know how and bring promise, but if given funds. The promises are there and there is room for ore than just cautious optimism but doubts linger, the same doubts that were spoken by legends such as Maldini months ago.

As it happens the first game of the new era is the Milan derby. The team led by Montella and youngsters such as Donnarumma and Locatelli sit two points above Inter at this 32nd match day. The Milan injury list includes Abate, Bonaventura, Bertolacci and Montolivo. Inter are a healthier team but one that has, as is typical for them, had an up and down season. Montella is likely to start Mati Fernandez in place of suspended Pasalic with two of Sosa, Locatelli and Kucka alongside him. Up front the preferred trio is set as Suso, Bacca and Deulofeu. The latter will be one that Fassone will try to retain for next season, even if it means a further loan. At the back Donnarumma, with an extension now very high on the agenda, will start in goal of course. Calabria and De Sciglio are almost certain starting full backs. Romagnoli and Zapata will be the centerbacks with the latter now preferred to Paletta.

Lots of work ahead and the new management will need to make a splash not only in the transfer market but to also pursue and convince at least one team legend to get on board in a meaningful role. That name is unlikely to be Maldini but Albertini or Ambrosini may be enticed.

Forza Milan.

Apr 092017

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Only managing a point versus a last placed is never good of course, to be unable to fully recover from an early Paletta back pass that was missed by Donnarumma is even worse. Milan came away from Pescara with one solitary point and a tie that made European football less likely next season. Sitting in 7th spot at match day 31 leaves little time to reach fifth. In any event Palermo is a team in the depths of the relegation zone, much like Pescara, and three points at home are mandatory.

The team welcomes back Suso from injury and his presence will be vital for the last seven games. He will partner Deulofeu and Bacca up front. The midfield set up is fluid under Montlla and Sosa, Pasalic and Kucka seem the likelier trio this week, however Locatelli and Mati Fernandez remain in contention for starts. The back four looks to feature Zapata instead of Paletta, along side Romagnoli. With Abate out for the season De Sciglio, Vangioni and Calabria will share the load until the end of May.

Donnarumma’s mistake in mishandling the Paletta back pass was arguably the first big mistake of his very young career. Look for him to set aside any doubts and save Milan again.

This match day is another installment of the ‘this is the last match of the Berlusconi era’ soap opera. The signs are good that it will be the case this time, but we have said that before. The derby is up next and it may be the kick start of a new Milan.

Apr 022017

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Milan entered the latest international break after beating Genoa at the San Siro. The week 29 game featured encouraging signs and the somewhat surprising start given to Mati Fernandez was proven to be a good move as the veteran Chilean scored a beauty for the lone goal of the game. Genoa didn’t put up much of a resistance however and it was clear why the visitors are sitting near the bottom of the table.

The injury situation that contributed to the previous game’s changed line up is still affecting the team with Abate and Suso still on the sidelines for this week 30 match. Pescara are now coached by Zdenek Zeman, the attacking maestro replaced Massimo Oddo earlier in the year with the team sitting in last place. The Abruzzo team are still occupying last place and now feature Sully Muntari as a starter.

Mati Fernandez may be given another start in midfield with Sosa and Kucka, the attack will welcome back Bacca to partner Deulofeu and Ocampos. The defense will welcome back another player as Romagnoli returns from suspension as well. With Antonelli apparently not in the best shape Vangioni looks set to retain his spot with Paletta and Desciglio the other defenders.

Once again the main news of the break featured the never ending sale saga. The near collapsing deal after the withdrawal of virtually every Chinese investor was suddenly resurrected with the reported involvement of an American hedge fund. Elliot Management Corporation has partnered with Yonghong Li to provide the funds to close the sale. The nature of the funds, coming from a hedge fund, add a lot of risk and penalty or interest and may signal some danger ahead. Milan fans however, have no choice but to hope for the best and hope that the Chinese investors reappear after the sale has gone through to not only invest in the team but repay the American funds as soon as possible. The news of the American involvement also reignited transfer rumours and all sorts of names like Lorenzo Pellegrini, Sead Kolasinac and Mateo Musacchio are seemingly back in the picture. For now mid April – 13th or 14th – seem to be the crucial dates for the closing.

Mar 182017

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Week 28 proved controversial, almost as expected. Playing against Juventus has always meant to provide moments that will equally enrage and disappoint every opponent. The last second penalty that gave the win to Juventus has almost universally been judged to have been the wrong call. The cross that hit De Sciglio’s hand has not been a penalty decision in a normally officiated game in years, the distance from the attacker’s feet to the hand of the defender was calculated to be less than two meters and the hand was not stretched out to any great measure. At the end of the day anger and player protests after the penalty have meant that Bacca and Sosa are suspended for this Genoa match, the former for protesting after the whistle and the latter for getting a second yellow.  They are joined by Romagnoli who got a yellow earlier in the match and is suspended too.

To add insult to injury Suso remains injured. He missed the Juventus match after seemingly being ready in the build up to last Friday’s match but is now due to miss at least two more week due to a muscular injury. Abate has not been called up but the report is that his eye problem is now fine and he should be back after the upcoming international break.

There was very worrying news on the team sale front as the third and promised €100 million has not arrived. Reports of Chinese government efforts to halt large scale capital exit from China has the potential to bury this deal altogether. Another extension is unlikely and it now seems that Fininvest and Berlusconi, however unwillingly, may hang on to the team.

Genoa travel to the San Siro with Adel Taarabt as a likely starter. The Liguria team have been sliding down the standings and have won only once in the last 10 games.

The lineup for this match will look different than the best possible, by necessity of course. Lapadula is to take Bacca’s spot with Ocampos and Deulofeu flanking him. Montella has a decision to make as to who to use in midfield and with Locatelli not exactly an automatic starter, still for unknown reasons, the coach seems likely to use Bertolacci in the middle. Beyond that any two of  Pasalic, Mati Fernandez and Kucka will start around him.  Back in defense Vangioni may get another start with Paletta, Zapata and De Sciglio lining up to his right. The hope is that the players available for this match will channel the anger from the Juventus match into a positive and grab three points to stay in touch with the European places. Donnarumma kissing the Milan badge at the end of the match in Turin gives us hope that the commitment to the team will compensate for some of the missing talent.

Mar 102017

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Week 27 saw Milan take the team’s undefeated streak to five games. Just as importantly the 3-1 vs Chievo was the first of the streak where the margin was more than one goal. Bacca scoring a brace from open play – and having other chances – contributed to the relative bigger score and the Colombian’s return to goal scoring form would be very welcome of course. The concern post game was Suso’s injury, the Spaniard came off injured in the first half and was replaced with Ocampos. Refereeing was typically poor and Bacca missed one of the penalties awarded to Milan, Lapadula converted the second to seal the win late.

Week 28 is away to league leaders Juventus, the Turin team only managed a tie (1-1 at Udinese) last week and might be distracted with their upcoming Champions League game vs Porto. They are also missing Juan Cuadrado (suspension) and Giorgio Chiellini (injury).

The defense looks set to be different again as Abate and Antonelli are still out injured and Vangioni not really trusted. Reports suggest Montella will try Romagnoli as left back with Paletta and Zapata in the middle and De Sciglio on their right side. The midfield is likely to feature Bertolacci, Sosa and Pasalic with both Locatelli and Kucka somewhat surprisingly starting on the bench. To the relief of virtually every Milan fan Suso returned to normal training during the week and was thought to be ready to play alongside Bacca and Deulofeu, but latest is that Ocampos will get the start.

The uncertainty off the pitch continues unabated with glimmers of good news about the sale and closing keeping hopes barely alive. The ‘latest’ closing date is said to be late March and needs to be preceded by another €100 million deposit. That would take the total deposit paid to €300 million, surely an unbelievable amount to pay for just a deposit. No one can say for sure what will happen next, time will tell.

Mar 042017

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Milan scraped through another narrow win and beat Sassuolo 1-0 in week 26. Bacca converted a penalty not long after Domenico Berardi missed his own. For once Berardi didn’t score against Milan and Milan got another much needed three points. The bigger news of the week has not been about anything happening on the pitch however, more on that below.

The injury situation has alleviated somewhat with De Sciglio and Romagnoli back to the fold for this Chievo match. Abate, with an eye injury is out of the running for at least one week. Paletta or Zapata will start alongside the Romagnoli with De Sciglio and Vangioni the full backs. In midfield Locatelli’s short exile to the bench is set to end. The teenager is set to get his first start in nearly one month. Sosa retains his spot but as a mezzala with Bertolacci the other midfielder. Up front Bacca, Suso and Deulofeu will once again needed to provide the goals.

As mentioned above the big news of the week concerned the 800 days and counting team sale saga. At the beginning of the week all seemed a go, finally the sale closing was within sight. The money transfer and the news conference including flown in journalists were all set for a final signing off before this Chievo match, but things unraveled quickly. News and rumours of an investor, possibly China Construction Bank, withdrawing came through and uncertainty took over. Sino-Europe Sports led by Yonghong Li now lacked funds and the already existing doubts kept growing and no one was sure what would happen. News that Berlusconi would pull the plug completely was countered by the possibility of a new deadline and/or deal that would be agreed to if another €100 million was paid in seven days. Most on the outside, including fans, had and have found it hard to believe that the €200 million paid already would come to nothing and hoped for a miracle of sorts. Sino-Europe Sports’ lack of transparency had always made this deal one to be unsure of and now more than ever few actually believe that the Chinese deal would be a good option for Milan’s future, if the deal is still possible at all. Can Berlusconi look for and find another group now? Can Nicholas Gancikoff, involved in the take over deal until last summer, make another come back? If Fininvest and Berlusconi do keep the team what will the team look like in a year or later? Milan is at a crisis point off the pitch while it collects points on the pitch.

Feb 262017

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Week 25’s 2-1 win over Fiorentina provided three important points and somewhat revived the dimming European football hopes for next season. The injury situation made for another almost second choice lineup with Gomez and Vangioni covering for the missing Romagnoli and De Sciglio. Defensively the game wasn’t always convincing and Sosa in midfield was poor without the ball and was little help for the defense. The Argentinian’s start was also somewhat perplexing as Montella seems to have benched Locatelli for now. In the end good finishes by Kucka and Deulofeu mattered most and three points were very welcome.

Sassuolo are up next and the so called Milan nemesis, Domenico Berardi, has recently returned from injury and is getting back in to form just in time to possibly hurt Milan again.

Milan’s own injury situation sees De Sciglio back in the squad but possibly not starting. Romagnoli and Antonelli are still not ready so the defense might remain identical to week 25 with a possibility that Zapata takes up Gomez’s place. The midfield looks to be anchored by Sosa again with Bertolacci and Kucka around him.

The misfiring Bacca apparently refused another China offer to stay at Milan. The loyalty that he has shown to Milan is very commendable but his goal production and effort on the ball are much less so. In recent months Milan has missed a poacher and goalscorer as much as any other player. The Colombian seems to have the coach’s trust however, and will start with Deulofeu and Suso.

If all goes as planned and reported this will be Milan’s last match of the Berlusconi era! Forza Milan.

Feb 192017

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In retrospect the week 24 1-1 tie at Lazio was not the worst result possible. Having to play with 3 out of 4 regular defenders missing and not allowing a goal from open play should be acceptable – Lazio’s only goal came when Biglia converted a penalty after Donnarumma was judged to have brought down Ciro Immobile. Suso salvaged a late point when it again looked unlikely.

The full back injury situation was and is not helping and will affect this week 25 match as well. Antonelli and De Sciglio are still a week or two away from action but Calabria is back in the squad. Romagnoli is still out but Paletta is back from yet another and now seemingly continual red card suspension. News is that middle three will be led by Sosa and not Locatelli, the teenager was surprisingly subbed early vs Lazio and Montella seems to want to use Sosa more. The reasons for this is not very obvious but Locatelli does shows signs of inexperience. Bertolacci and Kucka are the likely starters and in front of them Bacca will once again start. For the Lazio match Montella opted for the so called false 9 formation with no recognized strikers in the line up. Deulofeu played with Suso and Ocampos but the experiment is unlikely to survive.

If all goes as planned or rumoured this could the last home match of the Berlusconi era as the Chinese may close the sale before Chievo visit the San Siro in two weeks. Time will tell.

Feb 132017

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The match at Bologna proved one of the more bizarre in memory. To start, the fullback injury situation meant Vangioni got a start. The match itself was mix of poor judgment and poor refereeing. Paletta and later in the second half Kucka got themselves sent off with virtually every foul a yellow courtesy of ref Daniele Doveri. Milan having had started dominantly the first 10 minutes faded quickly due in part to the expulsions. Down to nine men Milan’s substitutions started to look odd on paper with, for example, Gomez coming on for Locatelli. To add to the troubles Romagnoli injured himself in the first half – he will be out for an as of yet undetermined period – and later with all subs used a hard working Poli, himself a sub, had to remain on the pitch after a knock. Finally, with two minutes remaining and to the surprise of most watching Deulofeu dribbled his way into the Bologna zone and cut inside to the rushing Pasalic who scored relatively easily. The 1-0 win will enter the record books as one of the most unlikely.

The injury situation plus the suspensions make for a much weakened team for this Lazio match. Romagnoli, Paletta, De Sciglio, Antonelli, Calabria and Bonaventura are unavailable. The defensive line is therefore at best unreliable. The  aforementioned Vangioni will line up with Zapata, Gomez and Abate. Poli or Bertolacci will line up with Locatelli and Pasalic in midfield. Bacca is due a bench spot because his production has been anything but satisfactory, one can even question his work rate. While Montella apparently considered using Deulofeu as a false 9 in middle of Suso and Ocampos it is Lapadula who is expected to play with Suso and Deulofeu.

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