A New Hope: Season Begins vs Bologna
The pandemic disrupted 2019-2020 season ended on an extremely positive note for Milan on the pitch. The team, inspired by Ibra, Rebic, Calhanoglu, and virtually all of the squad finished the season unbeaten and set the stage for optimism not seen by fans, Oly Bet website, predictors, the players, management and others in a decade or more. The re-confirmed management team headed by Maldini and Massara set about investing and rebuilding the team.
The task was and remains not easy. Funds are obviously not infinite and even with pandemic induced relaxation of the financial fair play rules the business of football is facing losses in the billions.
There have been obvious weaknesses in the team and they cover virtually every area of the pitch but Ibra’s eventual decision to stay for one more year has allowed Maldini to concentrate on building elsewhere and look to players that can grow with the team. Quality players are needed and while Milan are being smart by signing young players, like Pierre Kalulu and Emil Roback, on the cheap immediate help is desperately needed for this upcoming season. One name that had been circulating the rumour mill was Sandro Tonali. The young highly rated Italian midfielder had been deemed expensive and one step away from Inter. Fortune favoured Milan when the situation at Inter changed when Antonio Conte apparently pivoted to an arguably short sighted ‘experience is the answer’ strategy and withdrew his interest. Tonali, a documented Milan fan, jumped at the chance and Maldini’s diplomacy secured a surprisingly favorable loan with option to buy deal for the player. Another young player was added when Madrid shed another young player and agreed to a dry loan for Brahim Diaz. The young player could yet stay at Milan for a longer period but for now the skilled midfielder will hope to provide depth on the attacking side of play.
The short transfer window is open until October 5th and other areas need attention. The mediocre right back spot is calling out for an upgrade and the center back position is devoid of quality depth. A host of players have been linked with those positions though some of the names are not exactly exciting. It remains to be seen if any of Celtic’s Kristoffer Ajer, Fiorentina’s Nikola Milenkovic, Tottenham’s Serge Aurier or PSV’s Denzel Dumfries do arrive for reasonable amounts. Bakayoko has long asked for a Milan return and he would to shore up the midfield but Chelsea are not exactly willing to let him go on the cheap. Various other names have come up as alternatives, for example St Etienne’s Wesley Fofana. The right wing is yet another area that has many unconvinced. Is Castillejo the man to carry the load? Can Saelemaekers lend a helping hand on a regular basis? Many are looking forward to a possible Enrico Chiesa transfer but Fiorentina look to make big money on him and Milan may not be able to match their demand. All in all Maldini has gone a long way to convincing most fans but the team has a long way to go to get where it needs to be: Regular qualification for the Champions League.
The season starts with the team having already made a big gamble in retaining Pioli. The job of continuing where the team left off starts versus Mihajlovic’s Bologna. The former Milan coach is battling cancer and has recently beat COVID-19. The motivation for the visitors to do well for their coach is likely very strong.
Milan start the new Serie A season days after beating Shamrock Rovers 2-0 in Europa League qualifying. A meeting with Norway’s Bodo/Glimt awaits midweek but for now a Romagnoli-less Milan will open the season hoping for a rare opening day win. The captain is still rehabilitating from an injury he picked up at the end of last season and is unlikely to be available for at least another two weeks. The team should still look familiar with Donnarumma in goal. Calabria, Kjaer, Gabbia and Theo at the back, Bennacer and Kessie behind the in form Calhanoglu and Rebic, Castillejo and Ibra working hard and establishing a vertically quick and fluid game.
Late in the week news arrived that the Italian authorities will allow 1000 spectators in the stadium. Milan have allotted the space to medical workers as a thankful gesture. The team will therefore play in front of a crowd for the first time since March.
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