Being an AC Milan fan at the moment is very exciting. Ten new signings, a amaeturn to European football and widespread belief that things are on the up once again.
However, Milanisti should be excited for a number of reasons, not just the fact that the club’s spending has surpassed €200million. Instead, it is important to focus on the assets that the club has and how they can come together to catapult a sleeping giant back into Europe’s elite.
One of those assets in Vincenzo Montella. Now, some would say that the jury is still out on the former Fiorentina boss; while he did help the Rossoneri secure a return to Europe thanks to a sixth-placed finish in Serie A, there were question marks once again about the side’s ability to beat lesser opposition, while the same issues cropped up against the likes of Roma and Napoli.
Whether you rate him highly or not, Montella is an astute tactician. The 43-year-old is able to deploy a range of formations and systems, allowing his sides to adapt to different oppositions and circumstances.
At the moment, it looks like the Milan boss will primarily use a 4-3-3 formation heading into the new season, just like he did for the vast majority of 2016/17. One thing that Milan supporters around the globe can agree on is the fact that the most inconsistent part of that system was the midfield.
Montella used various combinations of Juraj Kucka, Manuel Locatelli, Jose Sosa, Giacomo Bonaventura, Mario Pasalic, Mati Fernandez, Riccardo Montolivo and Andrea Poli. There was simply a lack of consistency – partly due to poor form, partly due to injuries and suspensions.
Here we set just weeks away from the start of the 2017/18 season, and everything has changed. The midfield is no longer the weak part of the squad, thanks to some intelligent signings from the new Rossoneri ownership.
In Montella’s 4-3-3, the player roles are defined quite simply.
There is a deep-lying playmaker (or Regista, for those more up to speed with terminology) who acts as the springboard for attacks, while simultaneously providing distribution and contributing on the defensive end with tackles and interceptions.
Then, there is the box-to-box man, usually on the right side of the three, whose job it is to chip in at both ends of the pitch, very much like Juraj Kucka did before.
Finally, there is a more advanced playmaker on the left side of the three. This is a role we have seen taken up well by Giacomo Bonaventura, as he is allowed to roam into space almost like a Raumdeuter in order to generate offensive production.
Now, we can look at the current squad and see who will do what.
Firstly, the Regista role will obviously be occupied by Lucas Biglia. Acquiring the ex-Lazio man was not easy, however the player’s will got the deal across the line, and what Milan are getting with the Argentine is a born leader who has great composure and vision. His passing ability will help the players in front of him thrive, while his warrior nature will ensure the back four are suitably guarded. He could yet prove to be the Rossoneri’s best summer acquisition.
Franck Kessie meanwhile was brought in from Atalanta as a direct upgrade to Kucka; a young player who performs the box-to-box role like few players in the league. The Ivorian has a tremendous work rate and is not at all frightened to get stuck in, while on the offensive side the 20-year-old is also hugely valuable, as proven by the fact he notched a combined 10 goals and assists in Serie A last season.
Lastly, we have the role of a more advanced playmaker, which we will likely see taken up by Bonaventura again. On his day, the former Atalanta star is one of the league’s best creative forces; with an eye for goal and the ability to carve open opposition defences with pace, power and passing prowess. Hakan Calhanoglu is a man who could also occupy the position, but it is anticipated that Montella will keep the new man for the left-wing position.
The result of the aforementioned is that Milanisti no longer have to be worried or ashamed of the midfield. Rossoneri Lux have bought smartly by bringing in a comparatively cheap anchorman in Biglia, as well as a player for the future in Kessie.
While talks of a possible move for Renato Sanches rumble on at the time of writing, it would be naive not to consider how he may fit into the time. The Bayern man could perform either the box-to-box role or take up a more advanced position; that will be at Montella’s discretion, but a starting spot for the 19-year-old will be anything but guaranteed.
What Montella now has to work with is a midfield of perfect balance. Attacks will start with Biglia and could well be finished by one of Bonaventura or Kessie, such is the explosive nature of the trio.
So what happens to the likes of Montolivo, Sosa and Locatelli? Well, they will get their chance as the inevitable injuries and suspensions occur in a long season, and then we will really get an idea of just how influential the new additions are and how vital they are to Montella’s system.
Building a great team is like building a cake; all the layers must sit right and work in unison. Milan’s new back-line is a symbol of the resurrection we are witnessing, the front three is not yet complete but still looks an improvement on last season, and the midfield is now something to be celebrated rather than grimaced at.
At last, it seems, Milan once again have a midfield of perfect balance.