Dec 082019

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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Dec 012019

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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Nov 232019

The week 12 match at Juventus was a good performance, certainly by recent season standards it was a competitive encounter. Milan even had more shot on goal than the reigning champions. As the game went on a 0-0 tie was very possible, if not a win. Ultimately the game was lost because Juventus can count players of the quality of Douglas Costa and Paulo Dybala from the bench. The latter scored the winner and Milan lost again. In the end Milan went into the international break with an amount of optimism.

During the slow news days of the break most of the talk has concentrated on possible re-enforcements in January. Whether Elliott can spend or not is questionable but the need to generate revenue via Champions League participation remains crucial so a top 4 finish must remain the goal. Ibra may or may not return to Milan. A midfielder such as Luka Modric may too. Realism may ultimately win out and additions may be underwhelming. Time will tell.

Napoli are struggling as well. The players have had a disagreement with the president of the team over training and the team hasn’t won in over a month. Napoli sit in seventh place and need wins almost as much as Milan.

Bennacer and Calhanoglu will miss week 13 because of yellows they received at Juventus so the starting 11 will likely feature Biglia and Rebic or Bonventura. The rest of the 11 should remain the same with Suso and Piatek the other up from three. Piatek showed a few flashes at Juventus and needs to regain his touch quickly. He certainly claims to be ready for it. He was quoted as saying as much. Krunic and Paqueta may start again with Kessie continuing his exile on the bench. Conti and Hernandez look to continue being the full backs. The former actually had a surprisingly good game at Juventus. The middle of the defense will feature Romagnoli with Musacchio as Duarte is apparently carrying a small injury. The central defenders need to be more organized and close down the opposition better than they have done most of the recent weeks.

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Nov 102019
Milan Juventus

Amid the crisis and midtable position Milan visit Ronaldo and Juventus. Week 11 had a few bright spots but ultimately the loss to Lazio was a poor one and the only goal – which was credited as a Bastos own goal – was one of the very few useful touches by Piatek. The Polish striker was once again the lone center forward and was either isolated or unable to control the balls that came his way. Suso missed the week 11 match due to a knock and his replacement only lasted 35 minutes before leaving due to injury. Castillejo had looked bright and made energetic runs but Ciro Immobile opened the scoring for the visitors. The 2-1 loss was confirmed by a well finished Joaquin Correa shot. In both goals the defensive line was questionable and this included the disappointing Romagnoli and Donnarumma. The loss added more misery and questions and highlighted troubles in even more areas of the pitch.

Milan go into Turin without Kessie. The Ivorian is apparently excluded because of disciplinary issues during training. In any case the midfielder has underperformed and Krunic did better in his spot versus Lazio. Suso is set to return for this week 12 match but the 4-3-3 may be modified. The one centerforward and two wingers formation has failed more often than not and if the new 3-4-2-1 does the same, as it is likely, then Milan will continue having trouble getting Piatek involved and scoring. The three defenders will likely include Rodriguez as a left sided central defender. Closing the attacks in a more organized way is as important as any other versus Juventus. if the formation does change Theo Hernandez and Conti will be de facto wings backs with Krunic and Bennacer down the middle.

There has been talk of experienced transfers in the January transfer window and Ibra’s name has been mentioned. Getting the Swede will represent a change in Elliott’s plans for the team and certainly add a big focal point on the pitch. What such a transfer does to Piatek’s future is unknown. Boban and Maldini claim to want to return to winning ways sooner rather than later and if they manage it within UEFA’s restrictions they will add to their legend. All this while the stadium saga takes some turns and twists and it is far from clear when (and where) the Milan teams can start the new and much needed investment.

Ronaldo was questionable for this week 12 match but has made the Juventus squad and looks to play up front with Higuain.

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Nov 032019

The first win of Pioli’s era arrived versus SPAL. The coach had mostly resisted adjusting the criticized formation of the previous games but did leave Suso on the bench. For much of the game Milan retained control but barely threatened SPAL’s goal. The overall impression was one of nervousness and hesitancy. This could be seen very clearly in Paqueta’s performance. The Brazilian looks to have regressed and kept missing shots on goal and shooting well off ala Kessie. The so called Castillejo experiment ended early in the second and Suso returned to the pitch. His chance to save the game arrived, Piatek was fouled near the box and the Spaniard converted the freekick in excellent fashion. Milan hung on to win 1-0 without convincing many.

The game versus Lazio comes only three days after the aforementioned win. There is little time to gear up for the stronger opposition but with games against Juventus and Napoli coming up this might be the best chance to get three points before November ends. The CL qualification objective is a still a far off hope but it is all Milan has to play for.

The game winning goal might have earned Suso a few more (mostly undeserved) starts but he may miss this game due to a knock. Castillejo is set to get another if his compatriot is not ready. The midfield might look slightly differently as well with Krunic a possible beneficiary. Right back has become an urgent problem with both Calabria and Conti struggling, so much so that Borini’s name has been whispered again. In all cases a 4-3-3 seems a wrong formation but major deviations from it remain unlikely. Only Pioli can answer why the 4-3-3 keeps surviving despite evidence it is not suited form-wise and leaves the lone center forward isolated.

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Oct 312019

Milan failed to win at Roma, Pioli chose to use Suso for 90 minutes again. The feeling of deja vu resurfaces coach after coach. The fault for the loss at Roma starts with the coach, the new coach doing his own survival little favours. The referee failed to punish Edin Dzeko with even a simple foul when he pushed Musacchio on the neck and not long after the Bosnian opened the scoring for Roma when left fully unmarked on the right of Donnarumma’s goal. Milan equalized through Hernandez but Calabria gifted the hosts the winning goal later in the match.

The aforementioned right back is and was supposedly the better right back after Conti’s poor form baffled many in the previous week and weeks but the right back situation is suddenly so bad that Leo Duarte, the supposed back up central defender is now likely getting a start on the right of the defense. The main problem remains further up the pitch as Suso was again a flop, very ineffective and very much stuck on the right wing providing very little. Not that it is likely to cost him a start. He is set to get another start in what is basically a 4-3-3 but not always, in the Roma game Milan did play something resembling a 4-2-3-1 but the formation didn’t matter too much. Individual quality is not up to par and as many as 9 out of the 11 players on the pitch need to be doing better. At least Pioli gave time to both Leao and Piatek up front. The Polish striker came on for the last 23 minutes in place of Paqueta, instead of replacing the Portuguese forward. Very little changed though.

SPAL feature two Milan alumni up front in Alberto Paloschi and Andrea Petagna. After this week 10 match Milan have games versus Lazio, Juventus and Napoli, but the impression out of Milan is that the focus has already shifted to the January transfer window with the apparent aim of finding experienced players that can stabilize this young team. Desperate times…

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Oct 272019

Pioli’s debut started promisingly with a solid first half vs Lecce at home. The team showed more intensity and Leao in particular came close using skill and pace. The defacto 4-3-3 remained but Calhanoglu played with more mobility and freedom and was more lively. The team was more active, created more offensively and for some minutes it was a shooting festival on Lecce’s goal. The goal finally came. Calhanoglu surprised many with a hard shot and goal from a tight angle. The second half was less impressive and a half unlucky half poor Conti hand ball was given as a penalty after a dreaded VAR review. The penalty was saved but Khouma Babacar shot the rebound in. Pioli did the predictable instead of the brave by replacing Leao with Piatek. The Polish strike did finally score from open play assisted by none other than Calhanoglu. The team failed to keep the lead and several errors and missed passes on the right side opened the door for a highlight type goal by Lecce’s Marco Calderoni.

The 2-2 tie was disappointing and in the aftermath of the match the #SusoOut hashtag was trending around the globe. For a few days it seemed that Pioli might contemplate dropping the Spanish winger and perhaps play with both Leao and Piatek up front. Later in the week the hopeful signs had already dissipated and Suso looks to remain central to the coach’s plans. Calabria returns after serving a suspension and so the back line is returning to it’s now regular four with Musacchio, Romagnoli and Hernandez. Further up the pitch Biglia’s start vs Lecce was not a disaster by any means and he may retain his spot despite of calls for Bennacer’s return to the starting line up. Paqueta and Kessie will likely retain their spots as well. Up front Suso is pretty much sacred and Calhanoglu’s week 8 form will earn him another start. Will Pioli hand back Piatek’s starting spot or stick with Leao? That is likely the only question heading to Roma.

Roma are battling an injury crisis with all of Cristante, Zappacosta, Diawara, Pellegrini, Kalinic and Mkhitaryan out.

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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.

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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.

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