Milan ended the 2010s with a 5-0 defeat at Atalanta. The overachieving opponent has provided a contradiction to Milan, even making to the Champions League knockout stage at the team’s first attempt. Milan started the 2010s with Allegri taking over and winning the scudetto. The rest of the coach’s tenure at Milan mirrored the team’s downfall of course and he left Milan in 2014 with many not missing him. But as we all know the fall has accelerated ever since under one too many coaches and owners as well. Many words have been written about the past and more is perhaps not necessary. The team and its fans need to work and look towards the future.
Is there a plan for that future? That is a very good question. Perhaps the only consistent future outlook has been about a new stadium. Whether the path chosen, sharing a new one with Inter, is correct or not at least the team is trying and will eventually overcome the traditional governmental hurdles.
On the team itself however, so far empty promises and talks of the glorious past still dominate. A new management team has arrived and it includes another contradiction. It features a person best known for cost cutting but on the other hand two team legends making promises. Gazidis may be able to right the team’s finances and rebuild a new Milan but that is almost certainly at odds with Boban and Maldini’s hopes of getting Milan back to the top very soon. Hoping otherwise is not the most logical argument. Simple finances and UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules make it unlikely. Though it must be said a team like Inter navigated the transfer market maze rather well and got in UEFA’s good books last summer. Juventus managed the same, but with a stadium.
The former team’s activity in the market may point to a path forward but this new Milan has not yet shown it can emulate that. For one thing the primavera team must be rebuilt or at least the team must find young players on the cheap earlier than it does and then it can have an arsenal of players to sell for more later. There is little sign in that happening. The latest example of that is Barcelona’s Jean-Clair Todibo. The 19 year defender is the subject of transfer rumours of around €20 million. The same player was bought by the Spanish team for less than €2 million a year ago. If Milan is to rebuild its finances it need to be in for the player at the €2 million level.
A poll on our forum here on MilanMania asks about Milan’s future. A big majority of fans favour the ‘First and foremost a smarter board/ownership and coach and staff. Then let them build’ option with little support for other choices that include the steady as you go status quo option.
Coaching and its stubbornness is also an issue. Giampaolo has been the sole coach to attempt something other than the miserable 4-3-3. It doesn’t help that all coaches insist on the same under performing starters. The tactics have also been talked about often and on some match days it seems the obvious problems are ignored by coaches. Will that change under a new owner? Elliott have denied any urgency in selling the team but rumours do pop up. The French Arnault family – from the fashion industry with an astronomical net worth – have denied interest several times but their name keeps resurfacing. That is not to say a new rich owner can be exempt from UEFA’s rules but may at least provide a future plan that only looks ahead and makes a real and modern attempt to fix every thing from scouting to the first team.
The week 16 match versus Sassuolo finished 0-0. Based on the whole 90 minutes this was perhaps an undeserved result. The first half may have been mediocre or sloppy but it featured another Theo Hernandez goal that was called back after VAR review. For a Kessie barely hand ball moments before the Frenchman had shot in the ball. The second half was close to a domination and featured both a cross bar and a post by Leao. The unlucky Portuguese had come on for the again ineffective Piatek. The other members of Milan’s forward trio also made little to no impact.
With January closing in the subject of transfers and in particular the likelihood of Ibra’s arrival is starting to overshadow the matches. The Swede is apparently willing to come to Milan but money, contract length and a PowerPlay like relationship with his agent, the infamous Mino Raiola of course, is delaying a decision that Milan’s management had hoped would arrive by last week’s 120th birthday of the team. Not that Milan’s sole need is at center forward. The team can use improvement in every position except perhaps left back where Hernandez continues to be a revelation.
However, the left back will miss this week 17 match due the yellow he got last week, so will Paqueta. Rodriguez could get what amounts to a farewell start as he is likely to leave. Borini is another player who is all but confirmed for an exit.
Gabbia and Caldara may be considered in Musacchio’s spot but the defense will likely remain unchanged except for the aforementioned left back forced change. The same goes for midfield where Kessie is keeping Krunic on the bench for unknown reasons. The forward line of Suso, Piatek and Calhanoglu is already given too many chances but it is not expected that Pioli will have a change of heart about the three starters. As repeated and said many times he is not very much into playing two center forwards at the same time. The 4-3-3 will live on for a while yet.
One could argue that fourth place is already out of reach but the progress of recent weeks has at least sown some optimism, so at least there is that.
Atalanta surprised many by reaching the last 16 of the Champions League and it can be claimed that they are overachieving again. Duvan Zapata will miss this match but Papu Gomez and Josip Ilicic are available again.
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Milan scored three times for the first time this season, on week 15. That stat shows, more than anything, why Milan has one of the lowest goals scored numbers in Serie A. On week 15 the final third looked more vibrant, active and showed more promise. Paradoxically it can not be said that any of the offensive players had an exceptional game. Piatek, Suso et al are nowhere near top form. Milan’s first was a penalty when Mattia Bani had his legs tangled with the Polish striker. Hernandez shot in Suso’s assist for Milan’s second to continue his offensive form, however before the end of the half a corner nodded off his leg for an own goal. Right after the break Bonaventura also continued his stellar form to make it 3-1 before a not too dissimilar penalty was awarded to Bologna and converted for a 3-2 final score.
Progress but lots left to do. Pioli talked about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We shall see.
Sassuolo have won only once since the beginning of November and for Milan this is an opportunity to win a third game in a row. The previous two wins almost guarantee little or no change to the starting line up. Conti, Musacchio, Romagnoli and Hernandez line up behind Kessie, Bennacer and Bonaventura who in turn hold down the fort for Suso, Piatek and Calhanoglu. Changes are rare when Milan is losing so the likes of Laeo, Krunic and Paqueta are not likely to get starts when the team is getting wins. For now the aforementioned trio and Castillejo will be on the bench and get minutes only here and there.
As January gets closer and the possibility of Ibra or other re-enforcements nears it will be fascinating to see how far up the table Milan can climb before they arrive.
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This week also marks the 120th birthday of Milan. Forza Milan.
Week 14 was a somewhat dominating performance at Parma, the statistics tell such a story. Possession in the upper 60 percentile and shots on goal very lopsided. However, it took a near last minute ‘in the right place’ goal for Theo Hernandez to save Milan. The finish was very well but the ball rebounded or deflected to Frenchman’s feet. The 1-0 win was an improvement but it needs to happen more often and the goal drought has to stop.
Piatek has three goals and Theo has three goals. This is not a winning formula. Piatek’s form has been so poor and erratic that the talk of him leaving in January has increased. Ibra may arrive and give everybody on the team a kick. It is indeed that bad that a 38 year old is a remedy. Ibra is no ordinary 38 year old of course.
Not that coach after coach care to change much. Leao may not be a great alternative but he struggles to get minutes eventhough the Polish striker is at best off form. The same issue goes for Suso. Samu doesn’t seem likely to get many minutes. In the same vein Kessie started at Parma and got 71 minutes while Krunic was on the bench. All these defy explanation. Even more so when Pioli is not the first to insist on such a lineup.
The Rest of the midfield and front three will likely remain the same as Bonaventura, Bennacer and Calhanoglu are preferred to Biglia, Paqueta and Rebic. The same goes for the back four. Conti has shown flashes of good form and will line up with Musacchio, Romagnoli and Hernandez. Donnarumma was not busy at all at Parma and continues to be number one.
Bologna are of course coached by Sinisa Mihajlovic. The Serbian was diagnosed with leukemia and has been in and out of the hospital since the summer. His team sit one point and one place behind Milan. The hosts will be missing Gary Medel through suspension and Roberto Soriano through injury.
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A 1-1 tie versus Napoli may be considered progress in a season of crisis but Napoli are going through their own version of crisis with relationship at an all time low between the players and ownership of Aurelio De Laurentiis.
The game with Napoli started well enough with the visitors pinned in their half but Milan’s offensive prowess has been mediocre at best and the visitors were the ones who opened the scoring and with another defensive breakdown. Hirving Lozano pretty much left alone headed in a rebound when Donnaruma had made an initial save.
Bonaventura, in a man of the match performance, seemed the most energetic and determined player. The Italian tied it soon after with a good shot that beat Alex Meret.
Suspensions had left Milan without Calhanoglu and Bennacer and the starting 11 featuring Biglia. This made for a poor middle three. Providing some evidence for a lack of depth or perhaps ineptitude Pioli’s subs included Kessie for Rebic and Calabria for Biglia. In typical fashion the game finished poorly with a panicked side gaining a barely positive solitary point.
Parma sit four places above Milan in 9th place and have lost only once in their last six Serie A matches. No game will be easy for Milan and the underperforming Piatek has people talking about replacements. Ibra’s name is mentioned regularly and he might indeed arrive. Even if he does not a forward signing seems a certainty and the possibility remains that Piatek gets shipped out in January.
Calhanoglu and Bennacer look set to regain their starting spot and Bonaventura surely deserves a start. Suso was due to start versus Napoli but pulled out late due to a stomach issue. His Croatian replacement, Rebic, was unimpressive so the often favoured Spaniard will be back starting. The week brought news that Leo Duarte injured his heel and will be out for a while. This prompted news that Milan will be searching for central defensive enforcements in January. That doesn’t say much about the team’s confidence in Musacchio or Caldara. The former will get the starts in the meanwhile.
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