The pandemic disrupted 2019-2020 season ended on an extremely positive note for Milan on the pitch. The team, inspired by Ibra, Rebic, Calhanoglu, and virtually all of the squad finished the season unbeaten and set the stage for optimism not seen by fans, Oly Bet website, predictors, the players, management and others in a decade or more. The re-confirmed management team headed by Maldini and Massara set about investing and rebuilding the team.
The task was and remains not easy. Funds are obviously not infinite and even with pandemic induced relaxation of the financial fair play rules the business of football is facing losses in the billions.
There have been obvious weaknesses in the team and they cover virtually every area of the pitch but Ibra’s eventual decision to stay for one more year has allowed Maldini to concentrate on building elsewhere and look to players that can grow with the team. Quality players are needed and while Milan are being smart by signing young players, like Pierre Kalulu and Emil Roback, on the cheap immediate help is desperately needed for this upcoming season. One name that had been circulating the rumour mill was Sandro Tonali. The young highly rated Italian midfielder had been deemed expensive and one step away from Inter. Fortune favoured Milan when the situation at Inter changed when Antonio Conte apparently pivoted to an arguably short sighted ‘experience is the answer’ strategy and withdrew his interest. Tonali, a documented Milan fan, jumped at the chance and Maldini’s diplomacy secured a surprisingly favorable loan with option to buy deal for the player. Another young player was added when Madrid shed another young player and agreed to a dry loan for Brahim Diaz. The young player could yet stay at Milan for a longer period but for now the skilled midfielder will hope to provide depth on the attacking side of play.
The short transfer window is open until October 5th and other areas need attention. The mediocre right back spot is calling out for an upgrade and the center back position is devoid of quality depth. A host of players have been linked with those positions though some of the names are not exactly exciting. It remains to be seen if any of Celtic’s Kristoffer Ajer, Fiorentina’s Nikola Milenkovic, Tottenham’s Serge Aurier or PSV’s Denzel Dumfries do arrive for reasonable amounts. Bakayoko has long asked for a Milan return and he would to shore up the midfield but Chelsea are not exactly willing to let him go on the cheap. Various other names have come up as alternatives, for example St Etienne’s Wesley Fofana. The right wing is yet another area that has many unconvinced. Is Castillejo the man to carry the load? Can Saelemaekers lend a helping hand on a regular basis? Many are looking forward to a possible Enrico Chiesa transfer but Fiorentina look to make big money on him and Milan may not be able to match their demand. All in all Maldini has gone a long way to convincing most fans but the team has a long way to go to get where it needs to be: Regular qualification for the Champions League.
The season starts with the team having already made a big gamble in retaining Pioli. The job of continuing where the team left off starts versus Mihajlovic’s Bologna. The former Milan coach is battling cancer and has recently beat COVID-19. The motivation for the visitors to do well for their coach is likely very strong.
Milan start the new Serie A season days after beating Shamrock Rovers 2-0 in Europa League qualifying. A meeting with Norway’s Bodo/Glimt awaits midweek but for now a Romagnoli-less Milan will open the season hoping for a rare opening day win. The captain is still rehabilitating from an injury he picked up at the end of last season and is unlikely to be available for at least another two weeks. The team should still look familiar with Donnarumma in goal. Calabria, Kjaer, Gabbia and Theo at the back, Bennacer and Kessie behind the in form Calhanoglu and Rebic, Castillejo and Ibra working hard and establishing a vertically quick and fluid game.
Late in the week news arrived that the Italian authorities will allow 1000 spectators in the stadium. Milan have allotted the space to medical workers as a thankful gesture. The team will therefore play in front of a crowd for the first time since March.
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Sandro Tonali who weeks ago seemed out of reached has joined Milan. For much of the past few months there have been conflicting reports as to how much Milan can spend this abbreviated window. The pandemic has hit finances hard but the amounts being spent remain large and Tonali had been rumoured to be close to joining Inter.
Late August saw Inter make a U-turn in an apparent shift to more experienced players. Milan rekindled their interest and managed to convince Massimo Cellino, the Brescia president, to accept a high loan of 10 million with an option of further 15m and 10m in bonuses. Cellino praised Maldini’s professionalism in the negotiations and the player himself jumped at the chance of joining a team he has followed and been a fan of since his childhood. The highly rated midfielder has garnered high praise and has been progressing well at Brescia.
Milan also pried away another young player. Brahim Diaz joined Milan on a simple loan that could possibly be extended in later negotiations. The attacking midfield can become a back up for Calhanoglu or perhaps play on the wing but it seems very doubtful that he will remain a Milan for more than one season. Madrid have sold players like Oscar Rodriguez and Achraf Hakimi this summer but have been unwilling to let Milan buy or have an option Diaz.
Milan’s youthful team gains more of it and has looked good in three preseason matches so far, albeit against lower division opponents. Continuing the post lock down momentum can take this team where it needs to go.
Tommaso Pobega has been part of Milan’s youth set up since 2013 and has now signed an extension until 2025. The player spent the last two seasons on loan at Ternana in Serie C and Pordenone in Serie B playing a total of 64 games at those levels. It is expected that he will remain with Milan for the 2020-2021 season and bolster a position that is in need of depth. Milan’s midfield is in need of bodies and indeed improvement as Bennacer, Kessie, Krunic, Paqueta and Calhanoglu are the only players available for Pioli.
The 2019-2020 season started with some hopeful promise but it derailed much sooner than almost anybody expected. With Gazidis as CEO and Maldini and Boban in somewhat ambiguous sporting director and development roles the offseason’s main action was the hiring of Giampaolo to replace the ‘successful’ Gattuso. Rino had steered the team into fifth place but the decision was made to change the coach. The transfer market activity was based on value signings with solid but not superstar players arriving and everybody hoping that they would fit into a new coach’s system.
Giampaolo came with the 4-3-1-2 formation almost set in stone. This immediately put into question Suso’s place. The right winger was overused by several coaches and often under-performed. The Spaniards poor form and at least perceived one dimensional ability was going to be difficult to fit in the advertised formation and within one week – the week 1 loss to Udinese – Giampaolo was hinting at a change of formation. It only took 6 more matches for the coach to be fired. It was a case of unworkable and registered as a mistake for Boban, Maldini and all of management. In the meanwhile Maldini had acquired a bargain as Theo Hernandez started to display great offensive ability down the left. Stefano Pioli arrived to underwhelming reaction and results. Fans had hoped for a bigger name in the summer and still weren’t convinced.
The calendar year marched towards December with not much to write home about and ended with a humiliation. On the last match of 2019 Atalanta destroyed Milan 5-0. The ensuing transfer window found new homes for Piatek and Suso to free the team of two disappointments. Ibra was convinced to rejoin the team, Kjaer arrived on an initial loan and several other small moves replenished the team. A few decent results greeted 2020 but still a derby loss stung. In the background a possible management change was brewing. Rumours kept swerving that Elliott and Gazidis want to take a big risk and hire Ralf Rangnick of Leipzig in an all encompassing role to revolutionize the team from scouting to the wage bill. This almost certainly meant a big youth reset and cut backs. This was of course treated with skepticism and not only among fans, betting tips 4 you, most fans and observers felt the same too. Boban publicly complained and left soon after. Maldini almost did too.
Then football stopped because of the COVID-19 pandemic as Italy and rest of the world were hit hard.
It took until June for calcio to return. Following up on some medical protocols and looking at the Bundesliga example closed stadium matches returned in an urgent need to conclude the 2019-2020 season. In the first match after the restart Milan exited the Coppa Italia as a 0-0 at Juventus tie was not enough to reach the coppa final.
Twelve Serie A matches remained to try to salvage the season and get a European spot. Lecce were beaten 4-1 away and the wins and goals kept coming. Initially Ibra was rusty and uninvolved but he along with Rebic, Calhanoglu and Leao too kickstarted an offensive machine that didn’t lose the rest of the way. Many of the players shined and some unexpectedly so. Kessie had become a different player, Bennacer mostly effective, Castillejo hard running and Saelemaekers – another January loanee – hard working. On the defensive side Kjaer showcased solidity, experience and leadership in claiming a spot alongside Romagnoli.
Milan turned the season around and Pioli kept his cool and despite continuing Rangnick rumours – which would or would not include a coaching change – insisted on doing his best. The team moved smoothly, was more direct and resisted the collapses of the recent seasons. A come back from 0-2 to beat Juventus 4-2 highlighted a changed team. The transformation was the catalyst for a change of plans. A sudden U-turn off the pitch surprised many when Rangnick announced that the near done deal was off and the team immediately rewarded Pioli with a two year extension.
Keeping the status quo brings great risk of its own because the team needs more than just a rethink at the very top. Milan needs better and more proactive scouting and youth development to navigate the financial fair play world. For this pandemic era UEFA has modified its rules to allow more flexibility for current accounts but in the near future Milan needs more income from top to bottom. Rangnick would have created the conditions for a big change that Milan needs for the long term but Pioli’s 2020 work had to be and was rewarded.
Boban has gone, apparently without regrets, but Maldini has a lot to do. Ibra had clear reservations about any management change but will now almost certainly stay and his influence is not to be doubted. He himself agrees(!) players agree and fans do too.
Giacomo ‘Jack’ Bonaventura joined Milan on September 1, 2014 in an infamous last minute transfer. Jonathan Biabiany was set to join Milan and was even photographed with the Milan jersey, but his medical uncovered a heart issue and he returned to Parma. In a scramble to find an attacking player Galliani talked to Atalanta’s Antonio Percassi and Giovanni Sartori and hijacked a proposed move (rumoured to have been to Inter). A €7 million fee was paid and the left sided players went on to play 184 games scoring 35 goals and assisting 30 times for Milan.
His contract is now expired and the soon to be 31 year old could return to Atalanta or find another home.
Milan’s record since the season resumed after the COVID-19 lockdown in Italy and around the world has been surprising to say the least. The 13 games has included beating Juventus and tying SPAL! The record since the mid June resumption stands at 9 wins and 4 ties with 35 scored and 12 allowed. Ibra, Rebic, Calhanoglu have been in excellent form up front and supported by impressive performances by Kessie, Bennacer, Donnarumma and most of the squad. The fluidity, quickness, pressing and not buckling under pressure has made most fans and witnesses take notice. There is more to write about this great run but for now …
Milan gained another impressive three points at Sampdoria. The team continues to look confident and quick, in attack especially. The absence of Romagnoli at the back did leave some space for the hosts but Kjaer and Gabbia did well along with the whole team to close down many of Sampdoria’s attempts to move into Milan’s final third. Ibra scored twice again and along side Rebic and Calhanoglu the team has the shape of an offensive power house. Saelemaekers continues to work hard. Bennacer and Kessie have become an excellent back bone to the team and provide short passes, clean up threats and generate movement.
Rebic misses this season finale due to a yellow he got very late in the first half at Sampdoria, the Croatian seemed a bit to agitated and was also substituted at half time. This win along side Napoli’s loss to Inter and Roma’s win at Torino means that Milan have already finished sixth – and in the process gained a Europa League qualifying spot – so this week 38 match has no bearing on the standings. Some have wondered if Pioli will use a few of the youth or B team but that is not the case and at least the starting 11 will be the full strength team. Leao is likely to replace Rebic but Castillejo and Saelemaekers both starting can not be excluded meaning a start for Paqueta on the left side. Castillejo has returned from injury and was a sub on week 37. It is possible that Lorenzo Colombo and Daniel Maldini do get a few minutes but also Bonaventura and Biglia in what is almost certainly their farewell matches for Milan.
Cagliari have plunged down the standings in the 2020 calendar year but did upset Juventus in week 37. Radja Nainggolan, Luca Pellegrini and Joao Pedro are all out injured.
After the match the focus will immediately shift to the soon to start 2020-2021 season with training camp opening within weeks and the transfer window requiring a lot of attention. It is also very likely that Ibra renews for another season or even two.
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Milan faced Atalanta without a full team. Conti and Romagnoli out injured and Theo and Bennacer on yellow accumulation suspensions. The replacements didn’t all have good games. Gabbia and in particular Biglia didn’t shine and the latter’s performance only served to confirm that he will leave on a Bosman after the season. Laxalt and Calabria did have good moments but all in all a 1-1 tie with an offensive powerhouse riding high in the standings was a good result. Calhanoglu continued his good form to open the scoring and the soon to sign an extension Donnarumma saved a Ruslan Malinovsky penalty. It is worth noting that VAR remains a farce in particular when it comes to hand balls.
The final two matches will settle the 5th, 6th and 7th spots for the 2019-2020 season. The difference between these rankings is how early the teams enter the Europa League. Seventh means earlier and more (qualifying ) games. Fifth means direct entry into the Europa League group stage. With Roma four points ahead finishing fifth is now unlikely. The battle for 6th and 7th will be between Milan and Napoli. Milan host Cagliari on the last match day. Napoli – currently one point behind Milan – lost their week 37 match to Inter and will host Lazio on the last day.
With Theo and Bennacer back the team is in better shape to face Sampdoria. Donnarumma, Calabria, Kjaer, Gabbia and Kessie will form the defensive unit in the 4-2-3-1. The front line is expected to remain unchanged as Saelemaekers, Calhanoglu, Rebic and Ibrahimovic will try to finish the season as strongly as it has gone since the restart.
The hosts – featuring Andrea Bertolacci – have lost their last two games, before it they had won three in a row.
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Week 35’s 2-1 at Sassuolo was overshadowed by big news off the pitch. On the night the match was being played it was revealed that the idea or deal to have Ralf Rangnick take over was off, this was immediately confirmed and Pioli’s good work immediately rewarded with an extension. The news was surprising and time will tell if it is correct to keep the status quo in Pioli. Certainly the team is a different one since the lockdown was lifted but Milan needs more than just a good 10 or so games span. The quality of the matches have improved and the 4-2-3-1 has suited many of the 11 and perhaps more importantly the team is stronger mentally (Ibra effect?) but fundamental changes are still needed to shape the team beyond match days and beyond 2020.
The more immediate concern after Ibra’s week 35 brace is who will play in the remaining three matches of this season. The three matches will take place in a nine day span and Romagnoli won’t take part in them. The captain limped off early at Sassuolo and won’t be ready before the season is done. Conti was injured too and will miss an unknown number of days. Hernandez and Bennacer got yellows to get themselves suspended for week 36. This handicaps the team, at least for the Atalanta game. The defense might not even have Kjaer because the veteran Dane is not 100% with muscle fatigue. This leaves Calabria, Gabbia and Laxalt as the only fit members of the back line. Biglia will likely start in Bennacer’s spot to play along side Kessie and the front four will be Saelemaekers, Calhanoglu, Rebic and Ibra. Castillejo is very close to a return however. Donnarumma – still only 21 – played his 200th game at Sassuolo and wore the armband after Romagnoli left the pitch. A contract extension is near and the goalie looks to stay at Milan for at least another two seasons.
Atalanta are Serie A’s high flying team. Gian Piero Gasperini has become a much celebrated coach in getting his team to the latter stages of the Champions League and having them sitting in second place and just six points behind Juventus. The Bergamo team have scored 21 goals more than any other team so far this season.
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A lot happened on July 21 2020 in Milan land. A brief summary below:
Milan beat Sassuolo 2-1 away at the Mapei Stadium. Ibra scored a brace and Calhanoglu assisted on both goals. The game featured a Francesco Caputo penalty after a Calhanoglu hand ball in the box. The referee had to use the monitor to confirm the accidental hand ball. The hand ball rule remains a farce.
Yellows for Theo and Bennacer mean that they will both miss the Atalanta week 36 match. Conti and Romagnoli left the pitch with injuries and are doubts for the match as well. Especially since the match is only three days away.
As the game was underway news arrived that Ralf Rangnick is not taking over Milan and the team agreed that Pioli’s good work that has the team unbeaten since the restart deserves a continuation. An extension was announced soon after the Rangnick report was confirmed. Pioli has his contract extended until June 2022. The likelihood that Maldini stays at Milan is now higher, so is Ibra’s possible stay. One must wonder how Boban feels about this. This will also have repercussions on the incoming market as players like Dominik Szoboszlai are widely seen as Rangnick choices.