A strong start had Ibra miss a chance that would have been offside, Theo and Leao lively and Meite had a free header from a corner.
Atalanta roamed and tried to breach the Milan defense. Zapata was the usual strong forward all expect and Ilicic a threat. Kalulu and Kjaer were kept busy.
Eventually the possession and domination opened the way for Atalanta to score. Cristian Romero got a better position in front of Kalulu and took advantage of a cross to beat Donnarumma from close range, the goalkeeper had no time to deal with the ball that was headed right at him.
Atalanta remained the more dangerous team and had much more of the ball, the home team went into the half having to adjust.
Almost predictably Diaz came on for Meite for the second. Atalanta scored their second when Kessie’s elbow caught Ilicic in the box. The same player converted the penalty as Kalulu in pain and unable to even walk off the pitch was replaced by Musacchio. The young French defender had been struggling since a foul a few minutes earlier.
Mandzukic and Rebic came on for Castillejo and Leao to try to force the game into the Atalanta box but the best chances still fell to Zapata and Atalanta and it was the same player who hit the post and later made it 3-0.
A late mini charge by Milan had Mandzukic and Diaz come close. In the end Atalanta handed Milan another convincing (0-3) defeat and the Milan players and coach were left looking forward to the next match and a response.
There is some relief on the injury front as well as a very 2020-2021 tale. Theo and Calhanoglu missed training prior to the Cagliari game, returned to training but eventually went back to isolation and both missed the week 18 game. It turns out Theo’s tests were a false positive and he is back in the squad for week 19. Krunic and Rebic have recovered and are back as well. Saelemaekers returned from injury in the aforementioned game but got two quick somewhat undeserved yellows to get himself suspended. Romagnoli got himself a yellows accumulation suspension. Bennacer was hoped to be ready but looks like he needs another week. Leao however returns from his suspension.
All in all it has been a chaotic past few weeks. Maldini and the management picked up the pace for a transfer window version of chaos too. After Duarte left to Turkey it was Conti’s turn. The right back left, also on loan, to Parma. His transfer can turn to an obligation if Parma stay up. In addition to Meite’s incoming loan Mandzukic and Tomori have arrived, the former on a 6 months renewable deal and the latter on loan. The Croatian veteran will help upfront and provide relief or support for Ibra. The young Canada born Chelsea center back may have few chances to showcase his talent with Kjaer and Romagnoli as the regular starters. Picking up all these options will make for an expensive 2021 summer but the team is well placed to spend some money and has managed to add both experience and highly rated youth.
Playing Atalanta is an important undertaking not only because the opponents press and score goals aplenty but also because it was this team that humiliated Milan at the end of 2019 and the memories certainly linger. The current Milan team that will face Gasperini’s men has grown by leaps and bounds since thenm and of course features Ibra. Donnarumma will start behind Calabria, Kalulu, Kjaer and Theo. The midfield duo features the improving Tonali and the ever present Kessie. There is some question as to who will play in Calhanoglu’s spot. Diaz has been the normal deputy this season but Pioli has decided to use Meite in that spot. It is probably one of the more interesting selection choices this season. Leao and Castillejo will play alongside behind Ibra. Rebic might get a few minutes in Leao’s place. One question mark added to the season is the possibility that Mandzukic and Ibra play together at the same time and what that does to the heavily favored 4-2-3-1. We may see that some time in the season.
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Born in Canada to Nigerian parents he moved to England as a toddler. He represented Canada at the the under 20 level briefly before switching to England. He has one senior English cap vs Kosovo in 2020 and before it he starred for the English under 19, 20 and 21 teams.
His main attribute is his pace and therefore his power to track attackers, recover and then launch quick counters. Once he has the ball his passing and ball skills are above average.
The defender arrives on an initial loan with an option to make the transfer permanent for around €28 million.
Mario Mandzukic has signed a short term deal until the end of the 2020-2021 season. His deal is set to include an option if Milan qualify for the 2021-2022 Champions League. He will earn between €1.5 to €1.8 million for these initial six months. He last played for the Qatari side Al-Duhail until last July. He had transferred there from Juventus. At Juventus he played 162 times scoring 44 goals, sometimes as a left winger.
An injury riddled line up missed Theo, Bennacer, Calanoglu, Rebic, Saelemaekers, Gabbia and Leao. The latter due to suspension.
Early minutes most of the action was in Cagliari’s half. Diaz buzzed around well and in the 7th minute Charalambos Lykogiannis made contact with Ibra in the box, a quick check VAR check awarded the penalty which somewhat surprisingly Ibra took himself. It was converted for the lead.
In 24th minutes Calabria took a long shot that forced Alessio Cragno into a diving save. In the 36th minutes he was close again, he got his left foot following a scramble in the box and hit the post.
Cagliari got into the match more late in the first and on one move Romagnoli got a yellow for blocking Cagliari player, a yellow which means he will be suspended for week 19 versus Atalanta.
The second half started with Kalulu replacing Kjaer.
Ibra scored on a good run from a long Calabria pass but the 52nd minute goal needed VAR review to confirm the Swede was an just level.
Perhaps Cagliari’s best chance came in 63rd minute hen Giovanni Simeone made it through the central defense but Donnarumma blocked his shot well.
Saelemaekers made his injury return for a mostly uninvolved Hauge. In the 72nd Meite his Milan debut coming on for Tonali. Saelemaekers’ return was short lived as he got an almost immediate yellow for a high foot and a second soft yellow to earn himself a red.
As Cagliari found more room and had a penalty claim Conti came on for perhaps his final minutes in a Milan jersey.
The match finished with another 2 goal game for Milan with plenty of selection headaches yet to come.
The results have remained mostly positive and Milan continues its position at the top of the table. The injury situation seemed to be heading away from the crisis mode that earlier had up to seven regulars out. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has pulled the team back into a crisis. Rebic and Krunic tested positive almost two weeks and are still not cleared to return. This week amid some confusing news when Calhanoglu and Theo missed training on Friday – but Theo returned to training on Saturday – both were declared positive and will miss some time. Saelemaekers has made the squad but may not be ready for minutes and Bennacer still a few days away. Gabbia remains a more long term casualty.
Transfer activity has the team signing Meite from Torino and close to adding experience in the form of Mario Mandzukic and with more to come. For this match Nikos Michelis, Enrico Di Gesu (both midfielders) and Emil Roback (forward) have been called up from the primavera to have enough bodies on the bench. Dalot will deputize for Theo in the back four with Romagnoli, Kjaer, and Calabria. Kessie and Tonali will be the two pivots with Meite a candidate for some minutes. Up front Pioli may have little choice but to use Castillejo, Diaz, Hauge and Ibra. Leao is serving a one game suspension for yellow accumulation. His latest in the game versus Torino was very clearly a refereeing mistake. With Inter having beaten Juventus the race for the top spot is now tighter.
Cagliari feature several notable players in Joao Pedro, Radja Nainggolan and Diego Godin all with experience and history against Milan. The Sardinians however sit in 17th place with Eusebio Di Francesco struggling yet again to get his team going. Cagliari added Alfred Duncan on loan from Fiorentina just days ago and he is due to start.
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Soualiho Meïte arrives from Torino on a cheap 6 months loan with an option to extend it for around €9 million.
The midfielder has scored once and assisted once in 11 starts this season. His position is listed as a defensive midfielder though on occasion in his career he has been a right sided one. His main strengths are reading of the game and in the air.
It is expected that Meite will be a back up when the time is right for Kessie to get some much needed rest.
A much changed Milan team that however included Ibra in the starting 11 needed a shootout to beat Torino.
The round of 16 Coppa Italia match is certainly not the highest priority. Kessie, Calhanoglu, Theo and Gianluigi Donnarumma started on the bench. The former three took some part in the gamer despite rest being very much needed. The latter got sent off while on the bench with the referee once again in the thick of things.
Torino were generally poor and Milan had some bad luck with three posts and poor missed by Diaz in particular. Leao missed a good chance close up to Vanja Milinkovic-Savic, the Torino goalkeeper.
Primavera player Giacomo Olzer made his senior debut and in the few minutes looked lively, the man of the match though was Pierre Kalulu who started in his more familiar right back role.
Tatarusanu saved Tomas Rincon’s penalty and Milan converted all five to advance and will meet either Inter or Fiorentina in the Coppa quarter finals.
Franck Kessie 1 – 1 Andrea Belotti
Theo Hernandez 2 – 2 Sasa Lukic
Sandro Tonali 3 – 3 Lyanco
Alessio Romagnoli 4 – 3 Tomas Rincon X
Hakan Calhanoglu 5 – 4 Vanja Milinkovic-Savic
The absentees made for a long list but Ibra returned to the bench. Calhangolu was expected to be out with an ankle problem but made the bench too.
Early minutes possession was all Milan with Diaz and Hauge looking livelier than recent appearances.
The domination led to an opening goal by Leao. In the 25th minute Theo accelerated with the ball, passed to Diaz who in turn made a one touch pass to Leao running down the middle. Torino’s three man defense was breached.
Milan doubled the lead in the 36th minute. Diaz ran into the box on Torino’s left side, Andrea Belotti made some contact with the Spaniard. A Lengthy VAR review and pitch monitor review gave the penalty for Milan. Kessie cooly converted to make it 2-0.
In one of the few forays into Milan’s half Torino were awarded with a free kick for a Romagnoli foul. Former Milan player and free kick taker hit the cross bar with a very well hit ball.
Salvatore Sirigu made a very good save to deny Kessie in first half added time. Milan had made a quick counter.
Early in the second a penalty was given to Torino, a monitor check showed that there was no foul and indeed it was Tonali who had gotten kicked in the calf. The young Italian was replaced with Dalot which meant Calabria reprised his midfield role.
In a surprise move Calhanoglu came on for Diaz. The Spaniard had been playing well but may have withdrawn as a precaution.
Torino got a bit more into the game. In the final 10 minutes Leao was yellow carded for an apparent dive(?), it looked anything but. Leao will miss the Cagliari match for yellow accumulation. The Portuguese was then replaced with Ibra returning to action.
In current terms this was a relatively comfortable 2-0 win.
The 27 match league unbeaten streak dating back to Spring 2020 is over. An injury and COVID-19 affected team couldn’t contain Federico Chiesa and Juventus and succumbed 3-1. The make shift team included Calabria as a midfielder fought well at times but Juventus were too good and took advantage of some questionable defending as well. The referee’s influence was apparent of course and both teams’ fans had a lot to say about calls and non-calls.
How the team rebounds will give further indications on the state of team that surprised and surpassed all expectations in 2020. The injury issue is still very much in effect. Although Ibra is back in the squad it is perhaps not wise to count on him for this week 17 match. Calhanoglu developed an ankle problem after the Juve match and while he is also in the squad his status is not certain in the hours leading up to the match. The rest of the absentees are either few days or in Gabbia’s case weeks away.
Donnarumma, Calabria, Kjaer, Romagnoli and Theo will be starters of course. The latter two were caught out by Chiesa, Paulo Dybala and Juve and need to get back to form. Tonali returns from his one game suspension and allows Calabria to move back to his usual spot. Kessie will partner the young Italian. Diaz, Hauge, Castillejo will start behind Leao. If Calhanoglu is somehow ready he will be in this spot. The Turkish international had good moments versus Juventus drifting left and exchanging positions with Hauge. The Norwegian hasn’t shone whenever he has gotten minutes in recent weeks but like most young players new to Serie A that is not unexpected. Leao had a good week 16 first half but faded in the second.
This will be Marco Giampaolo’s first meeting with Milan since his departure in the fall of 2019. His team is relatively healthy and while Torino remain relegation threatened (17th and only three points ahead of 20th placed Crotone) they haven’t lost in their last four Serie A games (1 win, 3 times).
The two teams will meet again in three days for the Coppa Italia round of 16 matchup.
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