There has been a lot written in the past few days and weeks regarding AC Milan’s attacking department and in particular whether another striker is needed to bolster the options available.
Today’s edition of La Gazzetta dello Sport analysed Luka Jovic’s ‘perfect month’, in which the Serbian striker has radically changed his status within Stefano Pioli’s squad, scoring five goals in 15 games and above all averaging one goal every 115 minutes.
The brace scored against Cagliari in the Coppa Italia – his first for the Rossoneri – came after goals against Frosinone, Atalanta and Salernitana. With it, he has become the hottest striker in Italy, at least in one way.
From the beginning of December to today, nobody has done better than him domestically as Jovic is in fact the only Serie A player who has scored five goals across all competitions in the last thirty days.
Have Jovic’s exploits in the last month also changed the hierarchies in the first striker role? Not yet, given that Pioli still seems to consider Giroud Milan’s starting striker starting from the next match against Empoli.
The real question, however, is related to the mercato. With two reliable strikers already present in the squad, will Milan be better off looking for a new striker for January? Let’s analyse two possible scenarios by trying to read Geoffrey Moncada and Antonio D’Ottavio’s strategy in advance.
Why a striker is needed
Before finalising the last-minute signing of Jovic from Fiorentina on the final day of the summer window, Milan tried various options from Alvaro Morata to Gianluca Scamacca, passing through Armando Broja and Mehdi Taremi, then with late attempts for Rafa Mir and Jonathan David.
Arriving at Milanello with the label of ‘last choice’, Jovic took some time to get comfortable and above all to get himself back to a passable physical condition, given Fiorentina made it clear in preseason he was not a part of their plans.
Pioli used unusual methods with Luka and the more he struggled the more the coach offered him opportunities. A management style that worked, guaranteeing Jovic confidence that today the Serbian is repaying with interest.
However, these five goals – all scored in the last month – perhaps also show that consistency is not exactly a strong point for Jovic who risks suddenly falling into the abyss, especially when Giroud returns to play regularly in the league and Europa League.
Two strikers for three competitions also risk being too few, especially for an ambitious club like Milan who – at least in words – promises to try play a leading role on every different front they compete in.
Precisely for this reason, considering Jovic a reliable centre-forward only on the basis of the last thirty days could be a mistake, especially because doing so would not take into consideration the other four months in which there were zero returns.
This is why Milan could arguably be better off trying to invest immediately in the January market for the purchase of a new striker capable – thanks to the co-presence of Jovic and Giroud – of settling in without too much pressure.
Then, there would be a ‘passing of the baton’ type moment ahead of 2024-25 when this new (presumably younger) striker is fully adapted, with Giroud’s contract set to expire and a renewal far from a certainty.
Furthermore, the presence of another player in that position would guarantee Pioli an always useful third option, especially given the injury woes this season, which someone like Noah Okafor could have been.
However, the Swiss forward is seen more as a deputy to Rafael Leao or a second striker and he has struggled to stay fit for long stretches. Then, of course, there is the possibility Jovic gets injured too.
Jonathan David of Lille remains the name circled in red for June, as per that report from La Gazzetta, but if the January transfer window offers opportunities within the budget’s reach, the management will be ready to seize them.
That’s why Serhou Guirassy remains on the list. The 27-year-old from Stuttgart has scored 19 goals in 16 games and is used to playing in both 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1, the two formations adopted by Pioli this season.
The €17m release clause is affordable, but the €5m net salary requested by the player gives pause for thought, especially after the abolition of the Growth Decree which would leave the Rossoneri having to pay a gross of over €9m per season for him.
Given his age, form and his release clause, the Guinea international represents one of the classic ‘opportunities’ that the management might later regret not taking.
The case for Jovic
The penalty against Fiorentina at the end of November seems to have set off a sort of spark in Jovic’s head, who after difficult months has finally found confidence in his abilities. From then on, the Serbian striker actually changed his attitude on the pitch, producing the numbers of top-level players.
Jovic’s rebirth is therefore there for all to see and like any striker on such a hot streak he shouldn’t be taken off the pitch. The last 30 days suggest that the internal hierarchies at Milan could also change with Giroud, who hasn’t scored a home league goal since August.
The Frenchman is now 37 and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s final season with the club showed that time spares nobody. The feeling is his performances are slightly down compared to the beginning of the season, which is understandable given the amount of overtime he has worked.
The football season is in fact also made up of choices but above all of moments to manage: the current one suggests to Milan and Pioli that they need to continue giving faith to Jovic while he is hot, because changing a winning formula is risky.
Since the beginning of last month, Jovic has scored the most goals in all competitions of any Serie A player (5).
Counting his assist against Frosinone back on 2 December, he has 6 goal contributions in his last 215 minutes played, an average of one every 36 minutes. pic.twitter.com/SYnWcF1WzM
— MilanData📊 (@acmilandata) January 3, 2024
This is why the possible addition of a centre-forward in the January transfer market could represent a brake being slammed on Jovic’s growth, increasing the competition from a department that currently appears balanced.
There is the presence of a veteran like Giroud, who seems capable of putting the good of the team above his own especially with where he is at in his career, plus a still young and very hungry player like Jovic who is back to replicating his Eintracht Frankfurt numbers.
This is why inserting a destabilising agent during this season could represent a double-edged sword, because whoever comes in would need time to adapt and if they do not quickly give the same production as Jovic, it wouldn’t be long before the media labelled it a mistake.
Moreover, there is the economic issue to consider. For example, signing a striker would take away budget from other departments such as the defence and midfield, which arguably have more pressing needs.
Regarding the striker position itself, if Milan act too quickly to seize a financially accessible solution rather than waiting until the summer market – one easier to do business in – to invest in the centre-forward they really believe in, that could lead to the wrong profile arriving.
We do not envy the positions of Geoffrey Moncada and his team here. They are juggling multiple different decisions, each of which they must get right.
Firstly they must decide whether a striker is really needed, then they must establish how that would impact the spending power on other departments, and finally they must ensure that whoever comes in is a) affordable and b) can contribute quickly.
As Brutus says to Cassius in Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’, ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune’. Moncada and co. must determine whether the tide is right.