Devil’s Advocate: Milan’s fascinating midfield revolution – who they should sell and sign

By Oliver Fisher -

Of all the fascinating potential overhauls within the Milan squad that could be on the cards this summer, the midfield department is by far the most interesting.

There are a number of players that face uncertain futures with the club, starting with two whose contracts expire in June. Lucas Biglia and Giacomo Bonaventura are obviously the first suspects to leave the club at the end of the season, and for the Argentine there is virtually no chance of a renewal due to his age and salary, but for the latter it is a more complex discussion.

The running theme of this season for Milan has been a lack of experience, leadership and depth. The idea of letting a loyal club servant on a respectable salary leave for free and most likely to a rival team seems counter-intuitive.

Jack himself has never spoken out about a lack of game time and has always worked incredibly hard, and it is worth remembering this season has been plagued by injury problems that hopefully won’t re-emerge. Discussing his renewal, even to secure a solid rotation option for next season, only seems logical.

Another player who presents a dilemma is Lucas Paqueta. He arrived from Flamengo last January with great expectation on his shoulders, but the Brazilian has faded into the background amid rumours in the winter market that he is struggling with life off the field.

What happens with Paqueta rests firmly on whether there is a coaching change and just who the next head coach might be if there is one. If Stefano Pioli stays on, expect the 22-year-old to push for a move as he cannot get a game under the current boss.

However if Ralf Rangnick were to arrive, for example, he will be given a clean slate and he is exactly the kind of player that the German likes. Given that Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain were linked with him before he joined Milan suggests that giving up on Paqueta after just 30 Serie A appearances is dangerous, but it will be up to a new coach – and the player himself of course – to recover the situation.

The fate of Hakan Calhanoglu is another interesting knot to untie. He has been a constant in Pioli’s plans regardless of the changes in formation despite his inconsistencies, and he has been targeted by RB Leipzig in the past, whose recruitment is controlled by the potential next Milan boss in Rangnick.

However, his contract expires in 2021 and while it doesn’t seem like negotiating a renewal with the Turkey international would be as difficult as say Donnarumma or Romagnoli, there are growing calls for the management to try another solution and for him to move on.

After three years, gut feeling says it is time for the 26-year-old to move on. There are plenty of exciting targets for whom moves could be funded by Calhanoglu’s departure, some of which we will come onto.

Of all the midfielders it seems only Ismael Bennacer has a guaranteed spot in the club’s long-term future. The Algerian has been exceptional since his arrival from Empoli – albeit with room for improvement which should excite Milanisti – and that type of operation should give fans faith that buying players with potential can work.

In terms of other holding midfield options, the future of Franck Kessie is also yet to be determined. The Ivorian has not made the leap in quality that most hoped for, and there has been plenty of speculation regarding serious interest from England.

Again, instinct suggests that Kessie can provide good depth for Milan but hasn’t found the consistency yet to be able to be considered an option for years to come, and at 22 he is unlikely to accept a bench role.

Like Paqueta, so much depends on who the coach is for next season and what they see the role of the former Atalanta man as. If a decent proposal comes in (€25m+ in this market is fair), then better solutions can be found on the market.

Finally, Rade Krunic rounds off the current crop. He only arrived last summer and has looked a solid depth option based on what we have seen so far. He is 26 and an established international, and could easily fill a spot as the third or fourth spot in the CDM depth charts.

The verdict

Keep: Lucas Paqueta, Ismael Bennacer, Giacomo Bonaventura, Rade Krunic.

Sell: Lucas Biglia, Hakan Calhanoglu, Franck Kessie.

Replacements

In the current 4-2-3-1 system, the ideal is to have three holding midfield options and two attacking midfield options, with an extra player who can slot into either role. Here are four potential options to plug the gaps.

1. Sandro Tonali – Brescia

This seems an obvious suggestion given that half of Europe are seemingly after him, but if Milan have even a sniff of signing Sandro Tonali – a boyhood fan of the club – they have to jump at it.

The sales of a couple of players could help fund the move (Calhanoglu and Kessie perhaps), and the though of a Bennacer-Tonali holding midfield pairing makes us salivate. The battle and the finesse: the potential for a perfect combination.

2. Teun Koopmeiners – AZ Alkmaar

Teun Koopmeiners is almost certain to become a future star, regardless of the fact a lot of football fans won’t have heard of him. The 22-year-old is already the captain of the Eredivisie side and has 16 goals and three assists in 42 appearances across the league, cup and Europa League this season and as a holding midfielder.

This makes us think he could slot perfectly into the current side alongside Bennacer as the creative side of the double pivot – just as with Tonali. The only question is about his adaptability to Serie A, but we have seen plenty in European competitions which suggests he can play against any and all opponents.

3. Dominik Szoboszlai – Red Bull Salzburg

With four goals and seven assists in 29 games in all competitions this season, the 19-year-old Hungarian international is beginning to attract interest from a number of top European clubs and with good reason.

He looks quick, dynamic, powerful and exciting and is exactly the kind of player that the right project and system could be moulded around. In addition to this, he can play deeper, as a playmaker or even out wide. A no-brainer.

4. Jonathan David – Gent

Another name that isn’t mainstream, and the reason being that we don’t expect Elliott Management to go after high-profile players that will command a big transfer fee and sizeable wages. Jonathan David has a combined 33 goals and assists in 40 games across all competitions, playing mainly as a playmaker but also as a support striker.

He is quick, has a low centre of gravity, an eye for a pass and a wicked shot. There will absolutely be top clubs circling around him very soon, and he would represent a risk worth taking if Milan can cash in on Calhanoglu.

🗣 Who do you think we should target and who we should sell? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below! 🔴⚫👇


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Tags AC Milan Franck Kessie Giacomo Bonaventura Hakan Calhanoglu Ismaël Bennacer Lucas Biglia Lucas Paqueta