May 212017
 

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The week 36 1-1 tie versus Atalanta condemned the team into possible July fixtures to qualify for the Europa League proper. While European football is in Milan’s DNA and the Europa League provides exposure and limited riches playing qualifying games in July will hurt the team in another way as they limit the long planned July friendlies in China. Fiorentina lost to Napoli in those teams’ week 37 encounter so a win versus Bologna fulfils wishes of European participation, repeatedly expressed by Marco Fassone and others in charge of Milan.

Milan’s recent form has been anything but impressive and Montella took advantage of both absentees and returnees to give Montolivo a first start in a long time. The new and nominal 3-5-2 used versus Atalanta this late in the season added question marks for the coach but with one win in the previous six he was perhaps entitled to change the make up of the team. In the end the point meant little and a Suso yellow has ruled him out of this fixture vs Bologna at the San Siro.

Bologna have been scoring and conceding many goals in recent weeks and in their last four games – where they have a record of two wins and two losses – they have scored ten and allowed seven. Milan’s suspect three man defense will need to have a mistake free game and secure European football with three points. No excuses even though Bologna have shown they can score in bunches. The aforementioned 3-5-2 is set to include both Lapadula and Bacca starting together with Deulofeu possibly forming a trio to make it look more like a 3-4-3. Paletta might get a start instead of Gomez along side Zapata and Romagnoli. Vangioni will start in De Sciglio’s spot because the latter suffered a hamstring injury late in the Atalanta match and will miss the final to matches of the season, and if transfer talk is anything to go by he might have played his last Milan match altogether.

May 132017
 

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Any lingering doubts that the current Milan squad is not up to par with the top – and bottom, based on recent results! – Serie A teams were erased by the humiliating and embarrassing 1-4 home loss to Roma. Even after the last dismal decade the week 35 loss was hard to take. The loss also came at a time when Montella’s job, if not under threat, was subject to queries. Those questions have now grown louder. Whether the old ‘he doesn’t have the players to win’ argument really applies now or not is perhaps barely and slightly debatable but the exile of Locatelli and somewhat questionable substitutions – various ones involving Ocampos and Vangioni for example –  do not help. It may even be time to wonder if Bacca should be given more minutes to at least perhaps and may be poke in a goal or two. Lapadula has not offered a better glimpse of goal when played in the Colombian’s place.

The predicted line up for the Atalanta match is an eye opener. Several sources claim Milan may switch to a 3-5-2 for this match, with a slight chance of playing without a center forward! It seems that Montella will load the middle of the park and leave two of Suso, Deulofeu, Lapadula and Bacca  as forwards. The latter two starting up front is of course normal and there is nothing new with forward-less line ups either but a major change this late in the season may simply not make a difference.

Romagnoli is healthy and back in the squad, he may start in a back three with Zapata and Gomez and the aforementioned packed midfield will likely feature any five of De Sciglio, Pasalic, Kucka, Sosa, Vangioni, Suso and the returning Montolivo.

Atalanta are six points ahead of Milan and feature two familiar names in Bryan Cristante and Andrea Petagna. The closest rivals have also dropped points with Inter notably firing Stefano Pioli this week. The form of other teams has allowed Milan to remain within touching distance of fifth spot but anything less than three points this week and it is over. Perhaps thankfully for Milan and its fans the Coppa Italia finals features Juventus and Lazio. This means the sixth place does qualify for the Europa League, but with games starting in late July!

May 072017
 

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Dropping points versus lowly teams has become a major issue for Milan. The 1-1 tie vs Crotone reduces the chances of making it to the Europa League next season, a target that new CEO Marco Fassone has repeatedly stressed is very important. As is it is already unlikely that the fifth placed team, Atalanta five points ahead of Milan, can be caught with so few games left. Milan’s only route to European football next season may be via an extra spot due to both Juventus and Lazio contesting the Coppa Italia final being ahead of Milan and top five in Serie A.

Romagnoli will miss another game and the poor and mistake prone duo of Paletta and Zapata will face a much stronger team in Roma. In midfield Kucka is suspended as a result of his two yellows against Crotone. Sosa however is back from suspension – as is De Sciglio – and is likely to start at the expense of Locatelli. The continual light use of Locatelli is something that adds a few questions for Montella to answer. Up front Bacca continues to add very little and Lapadula may start again. Roma are coming off a 1-3 home loss to Lazio and have Antonio Rudiger and Kevin Strootman serving suspensions.

Having said all that, the summer transfer activity is capturing a lot of fans’ attention. Whether the promised millions, as high as €150 million according to many rumours, will really materialize is up to question, as is the ability of Milan to attract top players. For now players like Franck Kessie and Lorenzo Pellegrini are the subject of most rumours. Fassone has also said that the aim is to build a strong Milan ready for the Champions League. It remains to be seen how easily that can happen with players like the two aforementioned midfielders. Mateo Kovacic may be difficult to pry away from Real Madrid but is a better option. Up front a top class replacement for Bacca will be needed but whether one can be found is difficult to tell, many fans hope of the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang but that is not very realistic. At the back a partner for Romagnoli is near the top of team need and Mateo Musacchio continues to be linked. Lots to be done to take Milan back into Europe.

Apr 302017
 

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Once again Milan failed to make up ground to teams above them by beating a lowly team. Week 33’s 1-2 home loss to Empoli was another frustrating chapter of games against teams that are near or in the relegation zone. In the case of Empoli the lowest scoring team in the league too. Before arriving at the San Siro Empoli had scored 8 goals in 16 away games this season.

Crotone is next and is another team fighting not to get relegated. Easy three points … in theory.

The week leading up to this game has been dominated by a growing controversy regarding the future of De Sciglio. The some times team captain is thought to have told the new management that he wants to leave. The player was booed vs Empoli and may be on his way out in the summer. For now however he is suspended for week 34 for accumulating yellows. Sosa is also suspended for the same reason.

Sosa’s suspension means that the midfield will once again look different. The latest is that Locatelli will get a start with Mati Fernandez and Kucka, but Pasalic is in contention as well. Up front the misfiring Bacca, another candidate for a summer exit, will be replaced by Lapadula, Suso and Deulofeu will start up front with him. Back in defense Romagnoli is set to miss another game therefore the Zapata, Paletta tandem will feature in middle of Vangioni and Calabria.

Donnarumma will of course start in goal. His new contract is the subject of many rumours as super (greedy) agent Mino Raiola is and will be demanding big money for the player and himself too, in the form of a percentage of any future transfers. Donnarumma will cost Milan a lot of money to keep but if that is normal for a player of his calibre can the same be said of his agent? Stay tuned for lots of activity in the summer.

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.

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