Oct 202019
 

Milan has a new coach and his first task after an international break is to play at home versus a promoted team. As easy as it gets, surely? One can never predict how this Milan responds and having nine points out of 21 is at best mediocre.

Plenty has been said and written about Giampaolo and whether he needed more time, in the end the team didn’t show improvement and the coach’s selection and tactics left many disappointed, and crucially this included Milan’s management team. A new hire with more top of the table experience and seemingly a different take on discipline has come in and will try to salvage this season. A season where a top 4 and Champions League place will go a long way in helping the team move ahead.

Elliott and the ownership keep indicating that they are hanging on to the team and forging ahead with the stadium project. It is perhaps odd that a hedge fund is so vested in a football team but they probably feel they have to hang on to the team until they can sell it for a much heftier return than it is currently possible.

For now Pioli seems to have changed some training methods and habits including things like the team spending pre-match nights with family instead of together. On the pitch he seems to have decided to stick with a 4-3-3 after briefly considering a 4-2-3-1. Either formation creates a dilemma. Is off form Piatek a sure starter and if not is Leao the center forward the team needs? Should the latter be on the left wing with Polish striker up front? Suso is seemingly certain to retain his right wing spot. It seems clear that his form will dictate Milan’s season more than any other.

In midfield Biglia seems to have gained a spot at Bennacer’s expense with Paqueta a more sure starter as well. No change is expected at the back but Calabria will miss this week 8 match due to a red card suspension. Conti will get a chance to impress the new coach.

It is also very possible that any line up, which may include Rebic as a starter on left wing, lasts only a week…if Milan don’t get a convincing result vs the southerners from Apulia.

Follow the match as it happens, on the forum.

Oct 132019
 
Can Pioli save Milan's season?

On October 9th Stefano Pioli became Milan’s eighth head coach since Massimiliano Allegri was fired back in January 2014. Pioli, 53 with 16 years’ coaching experience, thus became Milan’s most experienced coach since Ancelotti a decade ago. Can the experience make a difference? Can adapting to players, as Pioli claimed in his introduction, be more than just empty words and a positive?

The failure that was Marco Giampaolo was seen in stark detail in the opening matches where Milan managed a poor three wins and four losses. His very short tenure started with some promise with good games in the US preseason tour but it had seemingly evaporated in the last preseason 0-0 tie at Cesena. That game would prove a foreboding. Very soon after the season began the coach seemed to abandon his favoured 4-3-1-2 and admit defeat. The over use of underperforming players such as Calhanoglu and Suso seemed to confirm the defeatist attitude and the promising coach left after a win, versus Genoa, but overall a whimper. Certainly Giampaolo wasn’t first choice but finances and/or financial fair play pressures and of course missing the Champions League limited Milan’s options in the summer.

Boban and Maldini talked of doing big things fast but have so far been unable and then by firing Giampaolo admitted failures. Whether Boban and Maldini will last longer than Leonardo is a very good question. It seems that these former legends and players still dream of the glory sky is the limit age they were part of and expect Elliott or any owner to provide the means back to the top quickly.

Whether fans and others agree or not this team will remain a young and relatively low budget one for the time being. Whether this relative low budget and young era is an excuse for being midtable or worse is the true question here. It rests on Pioli’s shoulders to make true changes to the team and whether he truly favors a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 the bigger question is will he build a team around the best performers or not? Suso has been hailed as a “champion” by many in and around Milan but has shown very little for too long. In a 4-3-3 where he has been the key creator for the lone center forward he has failed the team and himself more often than otherwise. Calhanoglu has been used as a de facto attacking midfielder and has failed even more often. His ball winning and possession has been atrocious at best and this is not counting the creative aspect that would be needed to provide an alternative to Suso in the attacking third. Others, particularly the full backs, have disappointed more often than not and the likes of Conti who arrived with much promise is barely used, when available.

Pioli has to change more than just formations, he has to reshape the starting 11 and the team’s morale. He has apparently already made changes to foster team bonding with schedule changes for breakfast and team get togethers. On the pitch he has to prove himself flexible and fearless. Dropping Calhanoglu and Suso would be only first steps in the process of changing how the team creates and moves on the pitch.

Oct 052019
 

It is week 7 and the coach has already been under fire for weeks. Safe to say that this is a full on crisis and its roots go back to before the just concluded summer. There is plenty to write about how Milan has reached here but most of it is repetition and deja vu.

For now Marco Giampaolo needs to win to keep his job and Milan needs to win to not remain just outside, or plunge into, the relegation zone. The team is surely much better than 16th spot and two wins in six games. The stubbornness that numerous coaches, not just Giampaolo, have shown in giving starts to the likes of Calhanoglu and Suso have got others and this latest coach where he is and there is no sign that he is relenting, not fully at least. There is plenty of on pitch evidence that Calhanoglu needs the bench and he may finally get it but the replacements must do better and have the confidence of the coach for more than a game. Suso has slowed down many attacking plays and has been generally below par but he is seen as a “champion” by many and is likely to remain the focal point of the transition to attack and the offense itself. If Milan and the coach are to survive one of two things need to happen, a formation without the Spaniard or a vast improvement by the winger.

Others like Bennacer have shown flashes of talent but are of course partly responsible for the very poor start. The Algerian may sit for Biglia. Whether the Argentinian veteran represents an improvement in the middle of the pitch is questionable at best. Kessie has been the misfiring Kessie we all know, not good enough and especially one that should not be taking shots at goal. Piatek’s poor form has carried over from late last season but at least Leao has shown promise up front. Paqueta is seemingly one of the casualties of the season but may get a chance versus Genoa. The Brazilian has missed time to injury but does not seem to be Giampaolo’s first choice. At the back Hernandez has been better than Rodriguez and should be given chances to settle and prove himself. Romagnoli hasn’t been at his best but Musacchio has been poor. The latter is missing this game due to suspension and newcomer Duarte will get his first Serie A start. Donnarumma has made a few mistakes but remains one of the team’s best players.

Follow the game as it happens, on the forum.

Aug 312019
 

Week 1 was a very poor start to the season. Losing 1-0 to Udinese away is always a bad start to a season but the manner of the loss and the tactics and player choices were disappointing at the very least. The team was unable to apply any sustained pressure on the hosts and the movement and cohesion was missing. This was perhaps not very surprising because the entire starting 11 was composed of last year’s players. No starting places for Bennacer, Duarte, Krunic and Leao.

As bad as the match and result were Giampoalo’s post match interviews were worse. The coach seemed to admit defeat and show willingness to abandon his famous 4-3-1-2. It is true that the team has not managed to acquire a real number 10 to play behind the strikers. Suso in that spot was unlikely to be a good long term fit and it showed but maybe Paqueta or Bonaveuntra could do well there. Not to mention a a new player may arrive, even someone as highly touted as James Rodriguez from Real Madrid (on loan). Nevertheless the coach seemed willing to revert to the failed 4-3-3 after only one week of action. All this, implicitly if not explicitly, to accommodate Suso.

In the end 2019-2020 started as bad as any and confusion has reigned since. Will the coach really do a 4-3-3 versus week 2 opponents Brescia or will he try a 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree. Football betting sites, journalists and fans have had a hard time figuring what could happen for the home opener. Most are in agreement that Bennacer will anchor the midfield as Biglia is carrying a small injury. The defence looks to stay the same and feature Calabria, Musacchio, Romagnoli and Rodriguez in front of Donnarumma. Kessie and Calhanoglu may start behind Suso, Castillejo and in a late surprise Andre Silva. That looks like a defacto front 3 but could be a 2 behind Piatek. Since the start of preseason Castillejo has been indifferent and poor, so has Piatek and this lineup does not look promising. A poor result against a newly promoted team would confirm a disastrous start to the new season. After the match there will be only 48 hours left in the transfer window. Eyes will be on that too.

Mario Balotelli signed for his home town team of Brescia in the summer but is carrying a four game suspension from last season and won’t play versus Milan. Brescia won their season opener 1-0 versus Cagliari, without Balotelli of course.

Follow the match as it happens, on the forum.

Aug 252019
 

Season 2019-2020 is upon us and fans hope that this season is a real beginning, a true reset and restart. Aborted attempts at a “year zero” have dominated recent seasons while Milan’s revenues have fallen and the on pitch product has disappointed. Numerous coach, mostly inexperienced and mostly with connections to Milan, have come and gone. Marco Giampaolo could be different, he as no Milan connections and has a track record of helping younger players and provide an actual tactic. The 4-3-1-2 or any other tactic must not be imposed unless the players available to the coach suit the characteristics. The summer transfer window has been mixed to disappointing so far but one more week of it is left and perhaps player(s) long sought after will arrive and fit well. Correa might finally arrive, at great cost, and one hopes he is really that well suited to Giampaolo’s two forward system and is worth the price.

For now though, Week 1 looks to be a deja vu. Leading up to the game none of the summer arrivals seem to be in line to be starters. For now there is no sign of Bennacer, Krunic, Duarte and Leao although the latter has the best chance of getting minutes. Whether or not the reasons are justifiable it is fascinating to see how different the same players will do under a new system and coach.

At least with the seemingly imminent exits of Laxalt and Strinic the left back picture is clearer. Rodriguez will start until Hernandez is fully healed. On the other side Calabria is preferred to Conti and the struggling Musacchio will partner Romagnoli in the center of defence. Biglia has a knock but apparently Bennacer is not considered ready because all indications are that Calahanoglu will start in the middle of the pitch. Calhanoglu as a regista is actually mentioned by pundits and fans before so it will be a useful experiment at least. He will be flanked not by Kessie and Bonaventura but by Paqueta and Borini! If it doesn’t go well and the full backs are exposed there will be some questions after the match.

Suso had an okay time behind the two forwards in preseason. Will the inconsistent winger continue to do so? The question might be answered when he lines up behind Castillejo and Piatek. Castillejo as a non winger or psuedo second striker has not and does not look promising either and Piatek’s preseason form was nonexistent.

Udinese will feature a familiar name up front in Kevin Lasagna and the hosts have not changed drastically during the summer.

The season is about to start with many questions, follow the match as it happens, on the forum.

Aug 192019
 

Now that the season is less than one week away it is a good time to look back at the preseason. The transfer window has still two weeks to go and the team will and needs more change and as if to prove that the latest 0-0 tie at Cesena looked like a step back from the rest of the friendly games played this summer. The first point to observe other than the poor 1 win in these 6 friendlies is the make up of the team available to Giampaolo. All the games had one thing in common. The new players have not been available and have barely gotten minutes. The danger is that these new players would not be able to contribute right away when the season starts. Theo Hernandez got injured very early in his Milan career so he has been absent. Rade Krunic has not gotten many minutes mainly due to coach’s decisions. Rafael Leao played a half vs Feronikeli and is now carrying a slight injury. Ismael Bennacer was away due to Africa Cup Of Nations commitments and has only recently joined the team and finally Leo Duarte only played as a sub versus Cesena, in mid August having been a recent transfer. The team is in search of other signings and Angel Correa’s apparent inflexible and expensive fee has some wondering why the management has not moved on to another target already. In other words the team that has played this summer is mostly composed of the players that finished fifth last season. Suso has performed mostly well this summer and has given some hope for the spot behind the two forwards in the 4-3-1-2 but he is not really suited for it and hasn’t been consistent the last two seasons. Giampaolo has said he believes Paqueta is a midfield player so the attacking midfield role needs to be filled by someone more consistent that the Spaniard. The attack will be set by Piatek, Leao and perhaps Correa or someone cheaper and safer. Castillejo is not very useful in a winger-less formation. Andre Silva will leave one way or another and the lack of teams wanting him is making him look like a lazy flop, which he is really not. The left back spot still requires exits, the most realistic of outgoing rumours have mentioned Laxalt but what of Rodriguez or Strinic? There have also been a few right back rumours most mentioning Conti’s possible departure but why? The only other right back on the team is Calabria.

The sole win was a solid 2-0 versus a weak side but the KF Feronikeli match provided a glimpse of the tactics, passing, two forwards and vertical movement that the coach will try to implement. The other games had positive points as well. The 0-1 loss to Benfica was somewhat unlucky, the team was not poor in the loss against Bayern (another 0-1 loss) and nor was it in the 2-2 tie vs Manchester United. The final friendly versus Cesena was the most disappointing but it has to be kept in mind that Borini has spent the preseason playing on the left or right side of midfield. The concern is that the start of the season versus Udinese, Brescia and Verona is not being met with a fully ready and strengthened team. Dropping points before meeting Inter in late September can potentially ruin the whole season. A top 4 spot next May is of utmost importance. Management’s aim should be and should have been to conclude transfer business well before the season starts so the players and coaches can hit the season running.

Aug 122019
 

The off season is nearing an end and the real games will start in less than two weeks. The team building and rebuilding has not been exactly very active but the squad is taking shape and the recent friendly, a 2-0 win at KF Feronikeli, provided another look at Giampaolo’s ideas. The opposition was obviously not the strongest and the squad is still not complete but Suso provided encouraging looks, so did new arrival Rafael Leao. Bonaventura also seems to be in good form, especially for a player who hasn’t played in months. However, Kessie and Bennacer have not even played yet and trained very little due to national team commitments.

The friendly will have served its purpose and the team will continue to learn the coach’s system. The question that Milan and its management still haven’t fully answered is about those leaving. Andre Silva was of course close to Monaco but negotiations failed and obviously not due to a medical issue because the player trained soon after and has played in the preseason. Finding a destination for him seems even more difficult now that English transfer window is closed.

Besides the Portuguese there have been whispers that Suso might leave. His coach insists that the Spaniard is valuable in his system but the greater concern is the numbers quoted in aforementioned rumours. They are simply too low. Rumours indicate Milan would be willing to sell him for €32 million. This figure might be very profitable in Financial Fair Play terms but much like Kessie’s rumoured asking price of €28 million undervalues the player. Suso was bought for relative peanuts of around €1 million over four years ago. A €32 million would be a big profit and in terms of FFP an even more positive on the balance sheet. In almost the same way that Cutrone’s €18 million sale to Wolves was a massive profit – since the forward was brought up in Milan’s own system. Creative FFP accounting works by spreading a transfer fee over the life of the contract therefore and for example in the oft mentioned Andre Silva case his €38 million transfer with a 5 year contract reflects as €22.8 million now (38 divided by 5 is 7.6 and it has been two years since the fee was paid therefore 38-(7.6*2) equals 22.8). Any outgoing transfer of over €22.8 million counts as a profit for the coming season. All these calculations however don’t reflect the true value of Suso and Kessie (and perhaps even Silva). Further the somewhat persistent rumours of Correa arriving for about €40 million or so entitles everybody to wonder why Suso could be cheaper than the Argentinian.

Other candidates for the exit door include Strinic, Laxalt and Rodriguez, perhaps even Castillejo. Two of the first three are surely dispensable as Hernandez (if healthy) can claim the starting left back spot.

In the meanwhile Leo Duarte was made official so the central defence spot is more secure, a william hill promotional offer more assured too, and this is especially good since Musacchio hasn’t been at his best during the preseason.

More movement is expected before the window closes and rumours of a surprise, Mr.X type, signing have popped up a few times. They are supported by hints given by Boban that Elliott will try to find more (important) players this summer. Modric? Rakitic? Unlikely but stay tuned.

 

Aug 022019
 

Rafael Leão signs for Milan. Image courtesy acmilan.com

As the 2019 summer transfer window enters into August and its second half Milan’s management is answering some questions and leaving some perplexed too. The team is being built but slowly and not necessarily cheaply. The acceptance of Europa League exclusion has certainly opened to the door to some spending but how much can be spent and how much risk can be taken for this and future seasons remains a big question.

As of early August the supposed imminent Andre Silva to Monaco transfer has collapsed. It is presumed that his medical at the principality revealed something but nothing is known publicly. Will his (super) agent find a solution for him. He certainly looks to have no future at Milan but the so called solution is apparently tied to lowering his price. Can Milan afford to sell for less? And will Jorge Mendes will eventually help or hurt Milan?

Speaking of Mendes, another of his clients is now a Milan player. Rafael Leao, formerly of Lille has signed on for around €30 million. The young Portuguese forward left Sporting Lisbon in their terrible summer of 2018 and impressed in France. The versatile forward has now given Milan someone to play with Piatek up front. A risk as he is only 20 and the gamble carries memories of Andre Silva’s own arrival at Milan two summers ago. Leao has the tools to be a different player but time will tell if he can have a long term future at Milan.

The other supposed imminent transfer to Milan is now in a prolonged limbo. Angel Correa was close to Milan for somewhere between €35 and €50 million. The €50 million is widely thought of too expensive but will Atletico accept less. The player seems to have agreed to join Milan and provide an attacking option but his current team may not care and want the maximum. Fans and best betting sites Italian Football will be more optimistic about Milan if he provides Giampaolo a hard working option. At a low enough price to lower the risk!

With only two healthy and ready central defenders in Romagnoli and Musacchio – and one injured in Caldara – a search for a fourth defender has been in effect since the season ended. Mattia Gabbia, the youth product, is thought to not be ready and such players have rarely made the senior team so the management unearthed a Brazilian. Leo Duarte has arrived in Milan – with Serginho’s endorsement – for around €10 million and has already completed his medical. The 23 year old Flamengo player could be made official soon but then again Milan fans can’t be sure what comes out of anything. For example, Algerian midfielder Ismael Bennacer completed his medical and left for vacation before any official announcement.

In other preseason news Theo Hernandez injured his ankle less than 45 into his Milan debut and will miss at least a few weeks. Perhaps only a few weeks. If his status is cleared may be Milan can go ahead and finally sell one of Rodriguez, Laxalt or Strinic. The latter has struggled in the preseason in part due to his long term absence due to his heart problem.

Maldini and co have a month to build the team at a reasonable cost. Fans are left with little choice to take a wait and see attitude and hope that by season’s start Milan have taken enough steps for a top four finish.

Jul 232019
 

Late July is still weeks away from the start of the season and the window closing, there is still lots of time left to shape the squad, right? Yes and no.

Training is well under way and the team is in the US for the International Champions Cup matches versus Bayern Munich, Benfica and Manchester United. If European football was on the cards real matches could be sooner too. A new coach, another rebuild and one would hope that the coach would have most of his players at his disposal but that is not the case. However, Milan is far from the only team with little movement until late in the window, in this or any summer.

Andre Silva’s exit has always seemed likely. From the outset he seemed out of place and didn’t get much game time, his loan to Sevilla started well but that also fizzled out. He returned this summer to whispers that he might be useful and/or needed in Giampaolo’s two forward formation but that is now near an end as well. He is all but gone to Monaco for upwards of €30 million. The number is less than his €38 million arrival but for accounting and Financial Fair Play purposes represents a profit due to the 38 being spread out over the length of his contract. In his place Angel Correa of Atletico Madrid is rumoured to be close. When the rumour first appeared numbers like €50 million were quoted. That would represent an over payment for the 24 years old winger or second striker. If the transfer does go through that number is likely to be lower but it would represent a big gamble, perhaps even breaking Milan’s transfer record (The 44 million Milan paid for Rui Costa back in 2001). The other question raised is if Silva’s sale is enough to cover Correa’s fee. A few mentions that Cutrone might be up for sale as well are disappointing. If for no other reason that the team needs depth and options.

Speaking of depth the central defense is lacking it and so is the midfield. On the former, there were rumours that Juventus might be willing to loan or even sell Turkish international Merih Demiral to Milan for €40 million, only weeks after buying him from Sassuolo for 18! Milan do need a central defender, likely for a short time, until Caldara recovers but such a deal represents robbery. Caldara may only miss the first three months of the season and although Milan are barely covered with only Romagnoli and Musacchio on the senior squad spending big amounts on a central defender might not be wise and is certainly difficult. RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano could be one long term option with perhaps Calhanoglu going the other way. An older, more temporary option, in the form of a veteran defender might be a wiser choice. It is up to Maldini and co to get the right find. On the midfield issue, Krunic’s arrival is set to be supplemented with another Empoli player. Ismael Bennacer is back in Europe after starring for the cup winning Algeria at Africa Cup of Nations. His imminent €16 million (plus small bonuses) arrival is welcome as central midfield needs options and starters too, and he could be a good one.

There is also the outgoing business to ponder. Milan do have historical difficulty in selling players, perhaps due to the comfort and high wages many players enjoy at Milan. A host of names could leave Milan but how much time is there to replace them even if a buyer is found? One or two of Laxalt, Rodriguez and Strinic are surely surplus to requirements. Does Suso do enough to convince Giampaolo and is Suso really a triquestra in the coach’s 4-3-1-2? What of Castillejo? There are even questions around Kessie and Biglia. Either could be sold, for profit and cause of age respectively.

The transfer window closes on September 2nd and the season starts nine days before on the weekend of August 24th.

 

Jul 172019
 

The new rebuild, year zero , etc. is under way. Ricky Massara, Paolo Maldini and Zvonimir Boban, complete with shiny titles, are set to rebuild Milan. Elliott and CEO Ivan Gazidis are promising to make Milan challengers again. How fast and at what expense? No one can really tell. Notwithstanding any possible reprieve via the Europa League exclusion deal with UEFA there are limits at what Milan can and is able to do. Not to mention the possible expense of a new (shared) stadium to come.

The three sporting side leaders introduced Marco Giampaolo as coach, the introduction news conference held last week was not even big on generalities and few details were available or given. Giampaolo mentioned that his preferred system, the  4-3-1-2, can be modified if the players at his disposal demand something else. He spoke of general objectives but not specifics. He mainly steered away from commenting on players’ available or those who could become available.

The mercato itself has not been the fastest or most exciting. Rade Krunic was made official soon after the new coach officially arrived, Theo Hernandez a bit earlier. The latter is a useful player but there has been little of note of who he is replacing and as is common for Milan outgoing transfers are seemingly laboured. Rodriguez, Laxalt or Strinic plus Hernandez form a deep left side but one has to go, may be two. The central defense is bare with only three players in Romagnoli, Musacchio and Caldara on the squad. Zapata was let go – or didn’t re sign-  when the team knew Caldara is out injured for the early months of the season. Does this team now need two central defenders now? Or perhaps one if youth product Matteo Gabbia is ready for the bench.

The midfield is still bare with arrivals necessary, and not only for depth. The departures have been replaced with Krunic and possibly Ismael Bennacer arriving shortly. The on again, off again Jordan Veretout saga has made the French player look like he is in as much in demand as a super star, he is now unlikely to arrive, and perhaps for the best. His story, if rumours are to be true, point at a big problem for Milan. As was hinted at when defender Ozan Kabak was to sign with Milan the team has a strict requirement to reduce the wage bill. Players like Kabak and Veretout were apparently offered salaries as low as 1 million net. Nowhere near enough in today’s football. Kessie and Biglia are still Milan players, are they enough and will they even remain? If they don’t remain then the massive renewal after Bertolacci, Montolivo, Mauri and Bakayoko’s departures is multiplied to impossible levels.

There are rumours that a player like Cutrone could be available for sale at a reduced price. Why for sale and why reduced price is baffling. Center forward is perhaps even more important if Giampaolo sticks to his two forwards system. Cutrone along with Andre Silva and Piatek need help more than they need to be sold.

Back to the formation question, there is metnion that Suso is being tested and thought of as a triquestra or the 1 behind the two strikers. Previous evidence indicates that is not going to work and what of Paqueta if that does work.

The conclusion to all of the above is that few things are set or ready and with preseason starting soon the rebuild needs to accelerate so that the 2019-2010 season can hit the ground running. Is someone like Luka Modric possible to kick start the season? A few whispers say yes. Boban could use his name to attract such a player. For now though the mercato just needs movement. 2020-2021 Champions League football is a necessity for the team.

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