Feb 172020

Week 23 was disappointing. A 2-0 half time lead against the city rivals had shown that the team and Pioli can get things right. Inter’s midfield was anonymous and their defense confused by Ibra, Rebic and others. The two forwards scored but it was already a tied game by the 54th minute. Lack of coverage and intensity started the capitulation. First Marcelo Brozovic shot from distance and beat Donnarumma then Matias Vecino popped up from midfield to just shoot in an Alexis Sanchez return pass. The Chilean had just evaded the offside trap to move in on Donnarumma. Stefan de Vrij scored from a well headed ball and just before the end, as all had given up, Romelu Lukaku jumped higher than Kjaer to make it 4-2. Lots of Pioli vs Conte comparisons followed in the postmortem but Milan had a Coppa semi final first leg to deal with too.

Meeting Juventus many feared the old fragility and loss of confidence issue to make the Coppa Italia game a disaster in waiting. The fear was mostly unforunded, whether this is attributed to the coach or presence of Ibra one can’t be sure but despite numerous yellows the team managed well and took the lead through Rebic, again. The game proceeded towards a win but the refs, aided by the at best confusing hand ball rules, handed a tie to the visitors. Calabria jumped in an attempt to intercept a cross but Ronaldo’s volley hit his arm. A VAR and on pitch review gifted Juve the penalty. Calabria had his back to Ronaldo and was only a few centimeters away from the Portuguese but modern football is unforgiving at best and corrupt at worst.

A busy – and controversial – week means this week 24 match is on a Monday. A free falling Torino dismissed Walter Mazzarri earlier in the month and are led by Moreno Longo, for now. Milan will likely feature a mostly unchanged team from the derby. Conti is suspended due to yellows. The excessive yellows and Hernandez’s red in the Coppa match apply to the Coppa only. There is some question about Calhanoglu’s fitness so Paqueta might be the only other change to the team. Donnarumma at the back with Calabria, Kjaer, Musacchio and Hernandez in defense. Bennacer, Castillejo, Kessie will round off the midfield with the very much in form Rebic partnering Ibra.

A win will keep the team’s very slim top 4 hopes alive.

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Feb 092020

A trimmed squad without loaned and sold players faced Verona in the first match after the winter window closed. Verona themselves unbeaten in 2020 too left the San Siro with a tie. Milan were without flu stricken Ibra and missed the suspended Bennacer in midfield. The aforementioned smaller squad meant that both Alexis Saelemaekers and Daniel Maldini came on as subs in the 1-1 draw. The 18 years old latter made his full Serie A debut and became the third generation Maldini to feature for Milan.

Focus shifts to the derby and with Inter flying high with Conte at the helm the task is a difficult one. Ibra was still in doubt for much of the week but will be ready to play up front. The Swede could possibly play as a lone center forward with more midfield support behind him but the 4-4-2 with Leao seems the more likely formation. If the so called 4-4-1-1 does happen it could mean Calhanoglu playing behind Ibra and a midfield four of Bonaventura, Bennacer, Kessie and Castillejo providing the spine for the team. The right back situation has remained a problem area with neither of Conti and Calabria convincing and it seems Pioli can’t really decide which player is better. Musacchio is likely to retain his spot and play with Romagnoli in central defence and of course Theo Hernandez is the left back.

Inter have dominated the derby in the past decade and look to jump into a tie with Juventus at the top of the table with a win. Samir Handanovic has a hairline fracture in his little finger but claims to be able to play. If the team decide to not risk making the injury worse Daniele Padelli will get a rare start. Lautaro Martínez will definitely miss the derby as he is serving the second of his two game suspension for being too aggressive at the referee in the game vs Cagliari.

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Feb 022020

Milan are suddenly on an unbeaten run. The team hasn’t lost in the 2020 calendar year. This includes three wins and one tie in the Serie A and two Coppa wins. Is this turn around a sign of things to come or not? The tools given – or not given – to the team during the now concluded January transfer window may have some bearing on that. Beating Udinese 3-2 and beating Brescia 1-0 with a resurrected Rebic have revived hopes. A convincing win vs SPAL in the Coppa Italia followed by a come from behind last minute tie and extra time win vs Torino have added further optimism.

Sitting in sixth place and eight points behind Roma for fourth spot Milan host Verona. The Serie A odds of a top 4 finish can still be considered a long shot but with Ibra’s arrival and a new two striker formation the outlook is at least different.

Some fans and commentators expected star signings in the winter transfer window. Many felt that Ibra would be one of two or three bigger signings. This did not materialize. Perhaps summer will be busier or perhaps the much rumoured and subsequently denied change of ownership means an asset stripping is in progress. Early January saw a few loans which meant players like Reina and Caladara were replaced like for like. The last days of the transfer window saw increased activity and Rodriguez and Suso left on loans. The former with only an option to PSV and the latter with a somewhat easy to achieve condition for an obligation to Sevilla. A buyer was found for Piatek and his once promising Milan career fizzled into a trip to Berlin. A young Belgian arrived and young American almost did. Alexis Saelemaekers arrived as a right sided player on loan from Anderlecht. Antonee Robinson even flew to Milan but a medical issue had the Wigan full back return to his team. The team has shed some salary and made some money too but is now smaller and lacks depth.

Week 22 features Verona, Borini’s new home after he terminated his Milan contract, visiting the San Siro. Milan look to continue the unbeaten run before the week 23 Milan derby. The 4-4-2 with Leao and Ibra should survive but Bennacer will miss the game due to accumulated yellows. The focus will be on the front two gelling more and the middle two – now possibly Krunic and Kessie – doing more to provide and defend too. Castillejo and Calhanoglu have been hard working and both have contributed from the wing and more centrally in the case of the latter. Donnarumma has been impressive recently and will play behind the now seemingly regular Kjaer and Romagnoli partnership. Conti may get the nod ahead of Calabria and Theo aka the star of the season will look to impress again.

Late in the week word arrived that Krunic, Kjaer and Ibra have knocks or in the case of latter are ill and will be replaced in the starting lineup. Musacchio and Rebic will fill their spots.

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Jan 192020

The first half of the season ended with a win and a successful return for Ibra. The Swede got his first start in a pseudo 4-4-2 alongside Leao up front. The quality of the play was not the best and required Ibra to move back and try to create from midfield several times. Leao showed his pace and potential but also showed his rawness. In the end both forwards scored in the second half to beat Cagliari 2-0. Leao got a big deflection for the first right after half time and Ibra diverted a low Hernandez cross into goal like only he can.

The January market changes have begun but nothing major has been done yet, loan moves for Reina and Caldara have baffled as much as anything and the two have been replaced with Asmir Begovic and Simon Kjaer. The former may get a start as Donnarumma’s thigh issue is not healed.

The rest of the lineup in the so called 4-4-2 looks to be similar minus injuries. The back line will feature Conti, newcomer Kjaer already getting a second start following the midweek Coppa win, Romagnoli and Hernandez. In front of them Castillejo, Kessie, Bennacer and Calhanoglu will play the midfield roles that have to improve service to the front runners.

In contrast to the week 19 opponent Udinese have won three in a row and have climbed to just a point behind Milan. The team is led by Rodrigo De Paul, the Argentinian is subject to a few rumours and his stocks looks set to rise with a transfer away from Udine likelier every week.

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Jan 162020

Milan entered the 2019-2020 Coppa Italia race with a 3-0 defeat of SPAL. Rumours of Arnault family of LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) group taking over Milan persist despite denials. The market in fire sale mode?

A much changed line up featuring a front three of Castillejo, Piatek and Rebic won easily against a SPAL team who mirrored their poor league form. With injuries to Gigi Donnarumma his brother started in goal. New comer Simon Kjaer covered for the injured Musacchio. Ibra was on the bench to see Piatek scoring and looking better than he has recently. Castillejo scored the second and along with Rebic worked hard. Hernandez added the third and continued to be star of the team.

A handful of loans have been completed, another few may be on the way. Joining Reina and Caldara for the exit door could be any or all of Rodriguez, Piatek, Calhanoglu, Kessie, Paqueta and Suso. The team will need replacements for most if not all of the potential departees and should be asking for more than some of the rumours indicate. Milan’s historical inability to sell high may be exposed again with most departures turning into bargains or loans.

LVMH group have denied interest in Milan on more than one recent occasion but the alleged negotiations seem to be going on and Elliott may be getting ready to sell. The rumoured near 1 billion euros take over is somewhat hard to believe in these Financial Fair Play times for a team in poor shape on and off the pitch.

Jan 112020

Ibra made his second Milan debut early in the second half versus Sampdoria. The first half of the game was largely ineffective in the same way Milan’s season has gone so far. The Swede’s availability this early after signing with having not played competitively for two months was a good sign of his commitment and he partnered well with Leao, another second half sub, but the game ended a 0-0 tie. The team, Suso in particular, had a poor game that once again focused the need for big changes.

The changes may or not accelerate. January transfer rumours have certainly ramped up with many possible exits including Caldara, Borini, Rodriguez, Kessie, Piatek and the aforementioned Suso’s names in the mix. Caldara is set to be loaned to Atalanta. There is little sense in losing another central defender when Duarte is on the injury list but the Italian’s loaning will mean at least one central defender will arrive. He could be a veteran like Simon Kjaer or other surprising name. Earlier rumour mentioning Barcelona’s Jean-Clair Todibo is now dead as the young player joined Schalke in the Bundesliga.

Team strengthening will need to happen somehow, the team’s offense is one of the worst this season. Ibra’s influence and the need for changes may finally become catalysts for a formation change that drops so called wingers. A 4-3-1-2 or other to forward formation may return with Leao and Ibra together. Calhanoglu is the likely candidate to play behind them. The rest of the line up is to change little for now. Krunic struggled versus Sampdoria so a Kessie return is likely, Bennacer and Bonaventura look to keep their place. Calabria, in Conti’s place, was a somewhat surprising week 18 starter. The former looks to line up again with Musacchio, Romagnoli and Hernandez, in front of Donnarumma.

Cagliari led by Joao Pedro and Giovanni Simeone were flying as high as 4th in early December but have fallen to sixth place after losing their last three Serie A games.

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Jan 062020

Week 17 was a humiliation. There is no other way to describe it. It was also a tragically apt way to close the decade that saw Milan fall and fall further down with Berlusconi’s mishandling of all aspects of the team all the way to the present uncertain or incapable hands of Elliott. Losing 5-0 to Atalanta will hopefully present a lasting wake up call to face the reality of football and Serie A moving forward instead of talking about the past.

The first step is however a return to past. Ibra, all of 38 years old, will arrive and attempt to kick start Milan on the pitch. He would represent an exception because there are probably no other 38 year old players that have the skill, stamina or standing to affect a game and team morale too. It says a lot that even though he has just arrived and signed he is available to start and may get the start versus Sampdoria. Whether that is wise or not remains to be seen but this is one of the reasons his presence should and will make a difference.

The 4-3-3, such as it is, will survive for now and the focus may switch to Leao instead of Piatek. The latter may be the obvious casualty of Ibra’s arrival, especially if 4-3-3 and/or any one center forward formation remains. It would seem unlikely that Pioli will alter the team’s formation too much. Conti, Romagnoli, Musacchio and Hernandez will play in front of Donnarumma. Bonaventura, Bennacer and Kessie will again be the three man midfield. The latter may be sold soon however. Suso and Calhanoglu’s future is also somewhat uncertain but for now they will remain part of the front three.

A few names have been rumoured for the January market but it remains to be seen if big changes are possible in the winter or help will arrive only in the summer. For now Milan’s management will attempt to help Ibra and Milan by finding a star or two as soon as possible.

Sampdoria had a horrendous start under Eusebio Di Francesco but have improved with Claudio Ranieri’s guidance. However the team is still in a relegation fight and of course features its own version of successful older player in soon to be 37 Fabio Quagliarella.

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Dec 272019

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.

The rossoneri need to look ahead, perhaps with fresh faces again

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.

Dec 222019

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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