An inconsistent Milan remains decimated by absentees. Facing a Manchester United team somewhat in a similar situation in the English Premier League doesn’t really come at a good time.
All of Ibrahimovic, Mandzukic, Hernandez, Bennacer, Rebic and Calhanoglu are missing and remained in Milan. Add to that Romagnoli seems to have suffered a leg issue and may not start. A Donnarumma, Calabria, Tomori, Kjaer, Dalot back line is the likely line up as there is little other options available. Dalot is on loan from Manchester United and should be relishing the chance and Tomori has some familiarity with the Premier League being on loan from Chelsea.
Tonali is in the squad but could be rested for upcoming matches in favour of Meite. Meite did ok vs Verona. Perhaps Kessie needs the rest but the Ivorian has been the star and strong man of the team.
The biggest challenge remains up front as there are simply not many bodies available. There is talk of Saelemaekers, Diaz, Krunic and Leao as starters but Castillejo starting on the left and leaving Diaz on the bench is one other option for Pioli. Krunic was probably the star of the Verona match and if he can replicate the good play and the free kick goal he scored Milan stand a much better chance of winning this match up. A lot of Milan’s fate will rests with Leao too. The Portuguese has been poor and very poor at times and needs to get more involved and needs to find the space and execute.
This is the 11th time the two teams face each other in European competition and the teams have split the previous 10 matches with five wins each. The previous meetings feature memorable goals such as Kaka’s 2007 goal in Manchester in which he split the opposition’s defence in what is acknowledged as one of the best goals ever. As mentioned Manchester United miss several important players. Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani and Donny van de Beek are all likely out. Bruno Fernandes, one of the stars of the past year, is the danger man for the English version of the Red Devils.
A decimated squad missing Ibra, Mandzukic, Calhanoglu and Rebic plus Theo Hernandez, Hauge and Tonali faced a solid unbeaten in four Verona. Romagnoli made the starting 11 but it was Kjaer who sat on the bench with Tomori partnering the captain. The lineup was almost makeshift with both Castillejo and Saelemaekers. The early minutes were somewhat quiet and the best chance fell to Verona when a header back to him looped over him causing a heart stopping moment. Donnarumma looked to limping right after. Moments later a good Calabria cross was met with Leao just out the 6 yard box and he headed hard just over. Small fouls and whistles dominated the subsequent minutes. A surprise followed. Krunic was brought down at the top left of the box. The two players – Castillejo and Krunic – lining up to take the free kick were not the inspiring. Krunic took it and shot well and beat Marco Silvestri in the top far corner. The first half finished with little more of note. Milan came out much more determined early in the second and soon doubled the lead. Good movement and passing play down the left wing had Saelemaekers leaving it for Dalot who placed a shot into the near top corner and had many surprised. Verona made wholesale changes that included withdrawing Antonin Barak and Mattia Zaccagni. The desired effect did not arrive, at least not immediately. As the game dragged on without much drama Hauge came on for Castillejo. Verona got a few barely half chances but Milan defended well and made timely clearances and interceptions. Krunic, Meite, Kessie, Calabria, Romagnoli and Tomori all deserving credit. Goals from unexpected sources provided a solid 2-0 win, one many didn’t expect.
The response type win at Roma turned out to be false dawn, at least for its subsequent match. Milan struggled against a Udinese team that spent a long time parking the bus while remaining solid and compact. Milan did not threaten anywhere near enough and though without players like Ibra and Calhanoglu still missed a lot more quality. A sleep inducing first half produced little and any positive change after half time was limited. It was Udinese who threatened with better chances, one of which was saved off the line by the captain. Romagnoli made a return to the starting line up after sitting at Roma. In end the team got a point under the luckiest of circumatances with a very late Udinese hand ball.
Shortly after the midweek game versus Udinese it was thought that Romagnoli would keep his starting spot but that has now changed with Tomori looking to be back with Kjaer, Calabria and perhaps Hernandez. Late news has Hernandez as a big doubt. The same late news has Tonali as a doubt too. Further up the pitch it is an even deeper crisis. Ibra, Calhanoglu, Rebic and Manduzkic are all still out. The leaves Leao and Emil Roback as the only center forwards available to Pioli for this match at Verona. The former has been among the flops of the last match and indeed recent weeks and the latter is a teenager with zero experience who has been in questionable form for the primavera. This may be the chance for Hauge or perhaps he is not 100% either. The number of unavailable players has reached crisis levels and the starting 11 will make for a chaotic setup. All this likely means that both Castillejo and Saelemaekers get starts. In between them it is a choice between Diaz and Krunic and Pioli may continue baffle many by choosing Krunic.
Verona are in some ways a more solid version of Udinese with a solid defensive set up and a stingy back three. Verona acquired Kevin Lasagna from Udinese in the January window and have Antonin Barak on loan from the the same team. Both will present dangers for Milan.
Romagnoli made a return to the starting 11 along side Kjaer, the latter fell injured at an early Milan corner but was able to stay on. The team missing Ibra and Calhanoglu. Much of the early minutes had Udinese sitting back with compact lines and happy to have Molan probing. In the 20th minute Diaz tested Juan Musso in Udinese goal and more like his quick movement looked to be needed. It took until the 40th minute for the next notable chance, Castillejo beat the Udinese well and his low shot was saved. In between the action several niggling fouls and questionable calls were made. The 0-0 half tie score was very indicative of the half. Meite came on at the half for Tonali. Surely Tonali was injured otherwise there was little reason to withdraw him. Soon after Romagnoli saved a goal off the line after a Theo back pass had gone awry. The livelier minutes continued as both goalies were tested and saved well. Calabria and Hauge came on to try to change the game. The latter making a very rare appearance. It was Udinese who took the lead however. A cross into the box was headed in by Rodrigo Becao and eluded all including Donnarumma in somewhat bizarre fashion. The goalkeeper’s sight was at least partially blocked. Saelemaekers came on Castillejo as Milan searched for a goal. Udinese were reduced to 10 men as recent sub Samir went down injured and Udinese had used their 3 sub periods, not 3 subbed players, this being a pandemic era subs rule. The game was heading for a very poor loss when Jens Stryger Larsen raised hi hand way up and the cross hit his hand fro one of the clearest penalties. Kessie converted with his trademark cool way and salvaged a point. The last kick of the game did not hide the fact Milan were extremely disappointing. A 1-1 draw was flattering and poor.
The hoped for response did arrive at Roma for week 24. The players took a different approach to the game and pressured and shot more. The reaction to the game, the 2-1 final score and general attitude of the players was almost like a sigh of relief. The game did have a few injury negatives as Ibra and Calhanoglu left at half time. The former is set miss around 2 weeks and has travelled to the San Remo festival. A booking he apparently finalized last year before renewing his contract for this season. It is hope that Calhanoglu can return very soon.
Some eyebrows were raised when news came through that Tomori is likely returning to the bench for this midweek match. Romagnoli who sat the win at Roma out is set to come back to the pitch and, as much as any player, his form will have a bearing on the rest of the season. Kjaer would seem to need more minutes and games off but that doesn’t look to be coming on week 25. On the other hand Calabria may rest in favour of Kalulu. Hernandez has been ever present recently and his improved form is sorely needed. Tonali and Kessie will be double pivot while it is hoped that Bennacer can return next week ahead of the Europa League match at Manchester United. Rebic escaped injury at Roma and will be available to play alongside Diaz and Castillejo. Leao is to be the starter up front in Ibra’s spot.
Udinese are lying at midtable and are led by the Rodrigo De Paul. The Argentinian has been and will once again be the subject of transfer rumours this summer.
As the 2020-2021 season is teetering on the edges of a derailment – but showing signs of life with an important win at Roma – with flashbacks of the so called banter era having become visible on the pitch it is a good time to review the situation that has been developing with player contracts.
Whether due to a budget cap, which is certainly under stress due to the pandemic or whether it is the Financial Fair Play regulations Milan can not and has not spent a large amount on the transfer market. Some good moves have certainly been completed, of which Theo Hernandez for 20 million is a highlight, but recent transfer windows have been dominated by loans and thus commitments have been pushed back. For one comprehensive resource it is worth looking at the transfermarkt site and its Milan transfers page. There are many positives, top betting sites that cover the Serie A confirm the same positives too. Financially and qualitatively the moves are mostly a good mix for a rebuild but the net spent is telling. For the past two seasons Milan have only spent around 30 million more than they have sold and this includes loan fees. Thirty million is certainly not a large amount and for the current season the numbers are smaller.
Using the position in the table one can say the rebuild is ahead of schedule with a young core and sprinkles of leadership in the likes of Ibra and Kjaer. The loan commitments can make summer 2021 an expensive window by themselves so the rebuild needs an infusion of cash to move further ahead. If the five loaned players are redeemed their fees amount to a large number already. Of course not all are required and in two of the cases the option to redeem is not all in Milan’s hands but even if these players don’t stay others need to be found to fill their spots.
Tonali (€15 million to be paid to Brescia)
Dalot (Dry loan from Manchester United, would cost anywhere €10 to 25m)
Brahim Diaz (Dry loan from Real Madrid, could cost upwards of €25m)
Meite (Option from Torino €9m)
Tomori (Option from Chelsea €28m)
There are also two notable Bosmans that have not signed yet and became entitled to negotiate with other teams as of January 1. Donnarumma is a subject of what feels like perpetual bargaining. Mino Raiola is the agent of the young keeper who recently reached 200 league games with Milan. The agent is infamous for milking all the money and commissions he can from teams with Paul Pogba perhaps being his most widely publicized, expensive and controversial client. In regards to Donnarumma the talks have shifted from wanting a small raise to his current to €6 million salary up to amounts like €10 million. Perhaps more importantly are the rumoured lengths and release clauses that the agent wants tied to Champions League qualification. The agent is said to be looking at a short term and/or a relatively cheap exit if Milan fails to reach the European competition. Both conditions would be a disservice to a team which the player claims to admire and love. A lot has been made about how the agent is good for his players and delivering them riches. Another look at the transfermarkt site belies this notion (see image to the right). He certainly has negotiated expensive and high profile contracts but has he really done well for players whose quality wouldn’t get them paid regardless? He certainly pampers his clients – helicopter rides to Monaco and all – and works hard on their behalf but this writer would say Raiola’s reputation for enriching his players is over rated.
The other Bosman is Calhanoglu and his relatively low €2.5 million current salary. There was talk of him asking for €7 million a season but the actual number asked by his agent was likely closer to 5 with Milan offering around 4. He, as many others on the team, had a great 2020 but his form has recently dipped. There will be resistance in paying the attacking midfielder anything over 4 but it may need reminding that replacing him with a good player is not going to be easy nor is it likely to end up cheaper than paying him a big raise.
Two possible free transfers have been featured in the news in recent weeks and months. The first is Florian Thauvin from Marseille. The Frenchman is a good option for the much maligned right wing. His demands are likely to be manageable and somewhat affordable, he can improve the problem position. The other is Otavio from Porto. The Brazilian playmaker could come even cheaper to replace or perhaps back up Calhanoglu. It is almost certain that Maldini and the management are scouting deals like these two because even with a top 4 finish and Champions League qualification the aforementioned commitments and finances will limit the team’s options.
Date of Birth:
Feb 9, 1995
Jun 30, 2021
Sep 1, 2014
Date of Birth:
Jan 26, 1993
Jun 30, 2021
Jul 1, 2017
On the exit front few millions could be had by selling Castillejo but there are not many other obvious outgoing transfers and any exits would be difficult to replace. It is hoped that the team can generate some more euros by finalizing the loans of Caldara, Laxalt and Conti. However all three would be difficult. Caldara is not a regular at Atalanta, Laxalt is not exactly a regular at Celtic either and even if so won’t garner much cash from a disappointing Celtic or any other team for that matter. Conti’s deal includes a €7 million obligation if Parma survive the Serie A fight but based on recent form that is not a certainty.
As early as this summer another series of negotiations will come to the forefront for the next expiring contracts in 2022. A list that includes Romagnoli and Kessie with both asking for not so small raises too.
Running a football team is always going to be like navigating a maze of finances, agents and refereeing too.
Ultimately and to some surprise Romagnoli was benched and Tomori got the start. Roma’s defense was also in something of a changed state with Bryan Cristante a starter. Chris Smalling, Davide Santon, Edin Dzeko and others made up a big Roma injury list. A Roma half chance very early on threatened but it was Milan who had chances to score. First Tomori knocked the ball in from a corner scramble but he was offside then Ibra almost pounced on Pau Lopez mistake but backheeled the ball just wide. Within 9 minutes another goal was disallowed for offside too. This time on a counter Rebic ran and beat the Roma defenders, instead of shooting himself he passed to a just offside Ibra. The initial flurry settled but another good chance arrived and Kjaer ht the cross bar straight from a corner. Right after that Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored and it was Roma’s turn to have a disallowed goal, for an elbow on back of Theo’s head. The game remained 0-0 but could have been as much as 4-2. A goal finally came. VAR and pitch side monitor review awarded a penalty to Milan for a stamp on Calabria’s ankle just inside the box. Kessie convert as cool as he always has. The second half had Diaz coming on for Hakan and minutes later Leao for Ibra. The Swede had been uncomfortable for most of the game. It also featured an early missed chance, again. Theo shot wide when he could have at least tested Pau Lopez. It was roma who tied soon after, lacklustre marking and defending just out side of the box allowed Jordan Veretout to shoot hard and well to beat Donnarumma. But Milan answered, a poor Pau Lopez clearance was pounced upon and two quick passes found Rebic who made a good turn and beat the Roma goalkeeper. Rebic signalled that he had injured his left and came off for Krunic. The injuries were starting to pile on already. At the 70th minute Stephan El Shaarawy, back at his second spell at Roma, came on as a sub as Roma tried to create more. A bit later Roma had a penalty shout when Mkhitaryan and Theo tangled in the box but that would have been a weak call if given. Milan had one too when Karsdrop made contact with Leao running inside the box. The game ended with a few more yellows and an important 2-1 win. What this means about Romagnoli’s place in the starting 11? Time will tell but Tomori was one of the best players on the pitch.
Whether a full blown crisis or not the season is likely at a crossroads. Winless in four games in all competitions with zero goals from open play is not what many expected just weeks ago. There has been a downturn in form and points picked up in the last month or two but the regression has accelerated and Milan have ceded first place to an in form Inter.
Romagnoli’s sometimes shocking and often poor defending has led to questions not often asked about captains. The armband has of course made the issue more sensitive. His lack of pace and stand offish ‘marking’ has been deeply exposed and it is not only against physical and big attackers like Romelu Lukaku either. The rest of the defensive line have of course regressed as well as has the shape of the team when the opposition brings the ball to Milan. Kessie has been overused and while still standing tall can not be not tired. Bennacer’s injuries haven’t helped and without him something is lost in the good use of the ball when Milan regains possession. Leao and Rebic have been nominally useless versus recent opposition, opposition that has included beatable teams like Red Star Belgrade. Tonali is hard to make a judgement on, the young Italian seems to be progressing but doesn’t seem to be comfortable in a double pivot with sometimes dual offensive and defensive roles.
So what can be done besides motivation to get a much talked about response? Pioli claims the issue is tactical and not physical exhaustion but the coach hasn’t done enough to tweak or adjust. In fact a case can be made that Pioli is exhibiting a, common in coaches, stubborn trait. One such change would be dropping the captain the captain in favour of Tomori, these calls may or may not be heeded for this match at Roma but the other 10 players must step up as well. Leao more active on the pitch, Rebic better control of the ball, Hakan more intelligent ball choices are just three seemingly obvious other improvements that must occur.
Elsewhere on the pitch Ibra hasn’t had much to work with and hasn’t seen that much of the ball but his concentration must remain on the task at hand. Theo has been getting many minutes and has lost a step or two of his now famous electric pace. If the left back finds it again Milan’s chances of retaining a near top spot will be that much better.
Roma sit five points behind Milan and have an injury list that includes Edin Dzeko. The capital team have fared better than Milan recently but are not a model of consistency.
Somewhat unexpected start for Dalot but otherwise mostly predictable almost B team to start the game at the San Siro. Calabria and Calhanoglu started but Kjaer, Ibra and of course Hernandez did not. Before much action Milan opened the scoring. A Krunic shot hit the defender’s arm from relative close range and a penalty was given. Kessie calmly converted to make the aggregate score 3-2 for Milan. Red Star did possess more of the ball in the minutes after the goal and won several corners. In the 19th minute the ball went into Milan’s goal from one fo the corners but it had hit the arm of the player before, it was ruled out. in the 22nd minute a freekick grazed the bar and Milan had another escape. The escape didn’t last long. Once again Romagnoli stood off an attacker when the ball was lost in midfield and allowed the attacker to shoot and beat Donnarumma into the far side. A very good chance finally arrived in the 37th minute when a low cross found an open Dalot. The left back failed to beat Milan Borjan with a good amount of space and open goal. Ibra and Rebic came on out for the second half in Leao and Krunic’s place. Rebic had a good chance in the 53rd minute but the ball went wide. Little positive was created and Ibra was on the verge getting frustrated as wasd Pioli on the sideline. Saelemaekers and Hernandez came on for Castillejo and Calabria respectively in the 65th minute. Moments later it was Red Star who came close to taking the lead, off of a freekick as Donnarumma saved well from a close up Junior Sanogo shot and Marko Gobeljic missed the rebound. Moments later the latter provided an opening for Milan earning a second yellow. Somewhat harsh but Milan were up a man. Milan came close soon after when Saelemaekers shot the ball in but Ibra was offside in the cross. Ibra seemed to be strolling on the pitch and on few occasions didn’t attempt to move on side. Some expected a response in this game, nothing of the sort arrived, The 11 looked tired and incapable when one man up. The game finished 1-1 and Milan made it to the next round on away goals but the questions remained.
The first leg of this round of 32 matchup with Red Star wasn’t something to write home about. Red Star seemed very open and vulnerable at the back but Milan didn’t take full advantage of it for much of the 90. Attacking them down the middle always hinted at trouble for the hosts but as the match went Milan didn’t or wasn’t able to exploit it. Several starters were rested, as well as they should have, but the nominal superiority only resulted in a tie. Red Star’s very late equalizer was also a demostration of modern football’s march towards complexity and unnecessary complications of the offside rule.
Milan start the return in Milan by having added a couple of players to the injured list. Bennacer hurt his leg muscle during the first leg and won’t be available and Mandzukic is out as well. The idea will likely remain to rest as many possible for this match too. Ibra and Kjaer are likely to have another day off and possibly be joined by the likes of Rebic and Tonali on the bench.
The recent dip of form has made calls for a plan B including a change of formation louder but ideas featuring playing a 3 man defense are foreign to Milan and it remains likely that it will remain in the realm of online analysis and fan talk. A coach like Pioli will resist major changes and for better or worse stick to underperforming players such Romagnoli.
Tomori and Romagnoli will get another Europa League start but Calabria and Hernandez could be starters too. The latter’s continued use does not bode well for Dalot and the Manchester United loanee could be falling off of Pioli’s plans. In midfield Kessie could come in and Meite is another likely starter. Leao, Calhanoglu, Krunic, Castillejo may be preferred to Saelemaekers and the aforementioned Rebic and Ibra.
Red Star won again in the weekend and remain unbeaten in Serbia’s Super Liga.