It seems like Saturday’s game against Genoa at the Marassi on Saturday night will represent a last-chance saloon for Marco Giampaolo.
It was yet another summer of major overhaul for the Rossoneri, with the appointment of Paolo Maldini as a director, as well as the arrivals of Zvonomir Boban and Ricky Massara to join the club’s leadership.
‘Year zero’ is a phrase that has commonly been associated with Milan for most of the current decade and with good reason; the reset button has been hit on multiple occasions and the winning formula has not yet been found.
Giampaolo’s arrival from Sampdoria as head coach was one which was greeted with a mixed reaction.
There was of course disappointment that Milan did not go out and get an elite-level, big name coach like Antonio Conte or Maurizio Sarri, but those who are avid watchers of Serie A knew what Giampaolo could bring to the table.
One criticism that certainly could not be aimed at the new boss was a lack of tactical identity; the 4-3-1-2 that the 52-year-old implemented at both Empoli and Sampdoria has been praised for its intricacy and levels of detail.
However, one thing that has become clear is that having spent all preseason preparing with that system, Giampaolo has thrown his own identity out of the window at the first sign of trouble.
Already, Milan have reverted back to the 4-3-3 which Gennaro Gattuso used last season, a move which has drawn both praise and criticism from supporters.
There seems to be a huge cloud of confusion hanging over the club at the moment. The comments from Maldini and Boban on Giampaolo seem to contradict each other, and all the speculation surrounding the future of the coach will do no good.
Saturday’s game has essentially become a ‘must win’ for Giampaolo’s future, and with him having shown willingness to sacrifice his philosophy already, he must do it one more time to save his job.
It starts by playing a 4-2-3-1 formation. This may seem like a foolish move on the face of things – changing formation again – but he must field a starting XI which has the best chance of winning the game.
Gianluigi Donnarumma of course has his spot nailed down, and Davide Calabria keeps his place at right-back by being marginally better than Andrea Conti.
Leo Duarte will come in for the suspended Mateo Musacchio, with Alessio Romagnoli and Theo Hernandez making up the remainder of the back four – though it is worth noting at this point that the latter has wrongly been referred to as some kind of ‘saviour’ for the club.
Looking at the midfield, a double pivot makes so much sense for this team. Ismael Bennacer – as we saw against Fiorentina – is still very raw and having another physical presence and able ball-carrier next to him like Franck Kessie can only help.
In addition to this, we know that Kessie’s decision making going forward is far from perfect, so this allows the Ivorian to play in a role which is much more suited to his skill set – which is a very valuable one.
Moving further up the field, although there are justified concerns over Suso’s form he still starts on the right side.
He has a record which speaks for itself: a combined 47 goals and assists in 109 appearances for Milan in Serie A since the start of the 2016-17 season. The Spaniard is the main creative force, and a more concrete shift back to the wing should help his form.
Alongside Suso should be Lucas Paqueta and Ante Rebic – provisionally with the Brazilian playing as a No.10 and the Croatian wide left.
Again, it’s a case of round pegs in round holes; these are roles which are much more familiar to the respective players and should help bring the best out of their individual qualities.
Up front, it’s time to drop Krzysztof Piatek. The problem is two fold for the former Genoa man; although it would be tempting to start him against his former club and at a familiar stadium, he is currently offering nothing on and off the ball.
One goal from open play in his last 12 competitive games is not a good enough return, and that’s why Rafael Leao should be deployed as a striker – a position that we have already seen he can play in.
That means the front four players are all goal threats, with the possibility to swap players about and adapt in the game (Rebic moving in behind or joining Leao up front, Paqueta drifting wide etc.) which should provide a nice change to an attack which currently looks sterile and static.
Of course, we all know that it will likely be a 4-3-3 again and another slow, laboured performance where the best case scenario would be a narrow 1-0 win.
That should not be enough to save Giampaolo: we need to see progress, ideas, a game plan and something to be excited about. It seems nobody is holding their breath though…