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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A game under the shadow of the pandemic with two players missing from each team – Rebic and Krunic for Milan and Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro for Juve. Ibra, Gabbia, Bennacer and Saelemaekers still out injured for Milan while Alvaro Morata was out for Juve. Pioil opted to use Calabria as Kessie’s midfield partner and Dalot started at right back.
Early minutes featured missed half chances by Paulo Dybala and Hauge and others in an open game.
Chiesa came closest hitting the post in the 16th minute.
Good movement and pressure paid off for the visitors as an interchange between Chiesa and Dybala ended with the former opening the score. Theo and Romagnoli were outplayed. Juve and Chiesa in particular, were in good form.
Leao came closest on several occasions with Calhanoglu moving wide to provide crosses and chances while Hauge drifting more centrally behind Leao. As Milan seemed to take at least some control the tying goal came. Milan won the ball up the pitch – Juve players felt Calhanoglu had fouled Rabiot and there was a short VAR check – then Leao crossed the ball to Calabria who shot well under the crossbar as Wojciech Szczesny was rooted to his spot.
The second half started more quietly with both teams looking more settled. However Juve took the lead again with a good Chiesa strike. Theo could have done better again, so too Romagnoli. The game went back to a more chaotic up and down state with fouls and non fouls and half chances. Juventus added their third with Weston McKennie finishing Dejan Kulusevski’s short cross in close range. Both Juve subs. Milan’s left sided defenders were once again in the thick of it.
Changes were made as all of Maldini, Colombo and Diaz came on but not a lot was created.
The absentees and defensive lapses caught up to Milan as the unbeaten streak ended.
Week 15 was hectic and eventful. Playing a Benevento team that has been improving and winning points was to present a challenge. Being without several first team players added to the test. Penalties, non penalties, a penalty miss and red made for an unforgettable game. In the end the 2-0 win extended Milan’s time at the top of the table and extended the record of scoring two goals or more to 17 games.
Playing the defending Serie A champions is another proposition. The Juventus team is a changed one from its previous seasons. With a novice coach at the helm and a somewhat younger team the team hasn’t been the most convincing but seem to be close to finding form. Obviously the team is off the pace in the standings in 5th place and 10 points behind Milan, though with a game in hand.
On the day of the match news arrived that Rebic and Krunic have tested positive for COVID-19 and are self isolating. Milan are still missing Ibra, Bennacer, Gabbia and Saelemaekers. Kjaer made a welcome return at Benevento and was a solid leader. Somewhat foolishly Tonali got himself suspended from this week 16 encounter with a red. The midfield if ofcourse lacking in personnel and the most likely option alongside Kessie is Calhanoglu. There are other options and one is pushing Calabria to that position and letting Conti or Dalot play as right backs. Diaz started as a nominal right winger versus Benevento but wasn’t impressive so it is likely that Castillejo will reclaim his spot. This would be with Rebic and Calhanoglu lining up behind Leao but with the virus affecting the team again Diaz and Hauge are very likely to get starts. Calhanoglu was chosen as the Serie A player for the month for December and in the midst of contract talks could yet receive a big raise from his current €2.5 million per season salary. Leao scored a great goal to give Milan the 2-0 lead but needs to be more present and hard working for the whole 90.
Speaking of contract talks. The Donnarumma situation keeps dragging on and despite numerous reports of an imminent signature his agent keeps pushing things back. The player himself has professed his love for Milan but it hasn’t translated to action off the pitch. Fortunately the love has been very evident on the pitch. In front of the young goalie Theo will make a welcome return from his one game suspension.
On Juventus’ side, on Monday it was revealed that Alex Sandro has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss this game, it was further revealed that Juan Cuadrado has tested positive as well. There are some calls for caution and postponement of this game but it is likely to go on and Juventus will also miss Alvaro Morata with a thigh muscle issue.
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With Moncada at the scouting helm Milan are looking at the ever plentiful crop of French prospects and the latest is Kouadio Koné.
The midfielder is somewhat a regular starter for Toulouse with the team currently in Ligue 2. The 2001 class player has featured for the French U19 and U18 levels as well.
He is an aggressive well built for his age midfielder who covers a lot of space well defensively. He seems to do well in one on one situations and tackles but has a lot of growing to do in learning to avoid mistakes and cards. His stamina is above average.
Various reports suggest his team want upwards of €10 million for him. It is a somewhat questionable amount for a second tier player in general.