Marco Giampaolo is settling in as Milan’s new head coach, and as we see his plans start to take shape, what can we expect from his first season in charge?
Last season was a rollercoaster for the Rossoneri as they had high expectations after the change in hierarchy before the season, and those expectations were only fuelled by the arrival of both Gonzalo Higuain and Mattia Caldara.
The former was expected to finally be a solution for the striker position where Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s departure left a hole for quite a few years. However, in reality the team started somewhat in good fashion only to have a drastic decrease in performance with Higuain failing to live up to the expectations and Milan seeming to lose grip on the Champions League spots.
South of Milan, a new name in Italy was doing wonders with Genoa. Krzysztof Piatek, the Polish striker joined Serie A in the summer being bought for only €4.5million. However, netting 17 goal and providing four assists half way through the season made the big clubs in Italy take notice.
Eventually, Piatek ended up joining Milan for €35million while Higuain was sent to Chelsea, but above that the Rossoneri managed another magnificent signing in January, that of Lucas Paqueta. Both of the players played a key part in the second half of the season and at the end only one point was not enough for Milan to return to the top of the Champions League.
Another season passed and changes in Lombardy were made again. Gennaro Gattuso resigned from the post of manager as he felt that it was best for his beloved club, and along with that Leonardo also resigned from his position.
The Brazilian returned to PSG as there were rumours that the current Milan project is not as ambitious as he would want it to be. That seemed to be a hard pill to swallow for Milanisti, but further clarity was given after a short period of time with the announcement of Paolo Maldini having an even more important role.
He was essentially promoted to become a technical director and was apparently instrumental in Giampaolo being identified and eventually hired as the new Milan coach.
After the initial shock, many have begun to back Giampaolo and feel more optimistic, as the Italian did a great job at both Empoli and Sampdoria with his style of play and the attitude towards young players.
Another interesting name that joined the Milan hierarchy is that of Zvonimir Boban. The Croatian is well known by the Rossoneri fans and with his experience working with UEFA seemed like a very ambitious move for the club heading forward.
The final piece of the boardroom jigsaw was then put in place, as Ricky Massara was selected for the sporting director role, replacing Leonardo.
After sorting the technical area and bringing some positivity to everyone related with the club, Maldini and co. have now cast their eyes towards the mercato and allowing the new head coach to get to work with the best possible tools at his disposal.
Milan’s exclusion from the Europa League could reportedly be used to the club’s benefit, as it should in theory allow more funds for the transfer window.
Although a fixed figure for the budget is not known, reports have suggested it is around the €80-100million mark without departures. Meanwhile, the strategy seems to be a focus on a mix of young prospects with potential.
As of late we have some good news regarding Gianluigi Donnarumma as the goalkeeper expressed his desire to stay at the club for the foreseeable future, with Maldini confirming the team’s desire to keep the promising shotstopper for a long while yet.
Milan needed a centre back to partner with Alessio Romagnoli but have so far been frustrated in that area, as they first failed to sign Turkish youngster Ozan Kabak and are now finding difficulties around Dejan Lovren.
The Rossoneri may be willing to wait for Caldara’s return, but surely will be looking to add at least depth in that position.
One transfer that has been wrapped up though is that of Theo Hernandez, who arrived from Real Madrid in a €20million deal. This could mean that either Diego Laxalt or Ricardo Rodriguez may be sold, or even Ivan Strinic.
The defence was not the main focus of the management but the arrival of Theo is an exciting one as the youngster has shown his talent and at a young age has the experience of winning the Champions League with Madrid.
Thus far Milan’s back line looks solid with Donnarumma between sticks, Davide Calabria and Theo on the right and left flanks respectively, plus Caldara or a new signing partnered by captain Romagnoli in the heart of the defence. With all the players’ bellow 25, the Rossoneri’s defence should have a bright future.
Moving into the midfield – which is surely the most intriguing topic for the team this season – it is clear to see there are still slots to be filled.
The departures of Riccardo Montolivo, Jose Mauri and Andrea Bertolacci meant that Milan needs to find depth, but with Giampaolo’s 4-3-1-2 formation there is also the necessity for more players in the centre of the field matching the coach’s characteristics.
Analysing the tactics, the new Milan manager likes to have two midfielders that can provide width while attacking and be able to move the ball around quickly – similar to Sarri’s system.
Currently the Rossoneri have Lucas Paqueta, Franck Kessie, Hakan Calhanoglu, Lucas Biglia and are waiting for Giacomo Bonaventura to return from his injury. The team has signed Rade Krunic from Empoli but the Bosnian has likely been mainly bought to provide depth.
On the other hand, another Empoli player set to join Milan after the African Cup of Nations is Ismaël Bennacer. The 21-year-old has been doing great with his nation Algeria and while it is yet to be confirmed officially, Bennacer is already generating hype.
The former Arsenal youngster recorded the most recovered balls in Serie A last season combined with the highest percentage of successful dribbles. While it was thought that the Algerian is bought for depth, Giampaolo may consider starting him because of the lack of a defensive midfielder and the attempts of Maldini to offload Biglia in a deal including Fiorentina’s Jordan Veretout.
💪 Ismael Bennacer was the outfield player with the most recoveries in Serie A during the 2018/19 season, with 312.
— MilanData📊 (@acmilandata) July 5, 2019
Comparisons with Lucas Torreira are prevalent, meaning Bennacer could turn out to be another Giampaolo-inspired gem, however the search for more midfielders still continues.
The hottest name at the time of writing is that of Veretout, and whilst he is valued at €25million he would likely have to battle it out with Kessie for the starting XI spot as the Cote d’Ivoire international has had that locked down since his arrival.
Another hot topic is the Trequartista role, as Giampaolo seems keen on trying Suso there with Hakan and Paqueta being candidates as well.
Bearing in mind Paqueta and Calhanoglu have the ability to contribute defensively and provide width, it is possible that they could be considered as central midfielders, however it appears more likely that there will be an intense battle for the CAM slot.
All of that can change depending on arrivals and departures, and with the pre-season starting the new coach will evaluate the existing players which could trigger late movement on the transfer market.
In the case of no big signings, Milan will probably line up Bennacer in front of the defence with Paqueta on the left of the midfield, Suso behind the strikers and Kessie in the RCM slot, unless he has lost the battle to a new addition.
Finally we take a look at the attack. Piatek is no doubt the focal point, as the Polish striker is considered irreplaceable in the starting XI.
Moving into the 4-3-1-2 formation means that Giampaolo will have to pick between the returning Andre Silva and youngster Patrick Cutrone to partner Piatek up top, with both likely to play the role of support striker.
Despite rumours suggesting that Milan will evaluate offers for Cutrone, it is highly unlikely that he will leave as the two-striker formation suggests the team will need at least four strikers while the current number stands at three.
Cutrone has already been fielded with Piatek and the partnership looked promising, but the young prospect will have to prove his qualities to his new coach.
Silva on the other hand had a wonderful start to his loan spell with Sevilla, but his form dropped significantly around Christmas as he fell out of favour in the second half of the season, and the La Liga side decided not to exercise their €38m option on the Portugal international.
While the former Porto man is understandably not happy with the idea of being a second choice, he has a lot of work to do and after the start of the pre-season he might end up leaving if Giampaolo is not satisfied.
Recent rumours did suggest that Milan are after Gremio’s Everton again and the player himself is pushing for a move, though that was quickly denied.
The Brazilian was fantastic in the Copa America over the last month, and he is capable of playing as a second striker or as an attacking midfielder. it will be interesting to see if a fresh bid is launched after the player season the Diavolo with his recent comments.
While no blockbuster names have arrived at Milanello yet, with the eventual return of Bonaventura and Caldara and the signing of Theo Hernandez and the talented Bennacer, Milan look to have a young and talented core.
Add to that a manger who is known to work well with young players and one who is keen on implementing his position-based tactical approach, and the club’s vision is clear.
Giampalo focuses on the midfield a lot as he wants a regista capable of moving the ball fast and defenders than can make sure the ball gets to him.
Romagnoli and Caldara are both perfect for that role with the later expected to be ready in October. With Hernandez/Rodriguez and Calabria on the wings, the Rossoneri have enough energy so both players can participate in both the attack and defense.
With Paqueta and hopefully a fully fit Bonaventura we have two players that possess great technical skills moving forward but are capable of helping the back four and providing width when needed.
However, while Piatek and Cutrone have played together and showed promising signs, it is yet to be seen what the front two will look like and how they gel with the midfield behind.
Speaking of which, that is where the main dilemma appears to be. While Suso’s main strength is on the wing, he does have the vision and creative ability to play behind the strikers, but adapting to that would take some time.
Considering his lack of speed and one-footedness, Giampaolo will also no doubt be watching the Spaniard with a close eye to determine if he is really the man to form the tip of the midfield diamond.
Milan for once appear to have a stable management, and one that is determined to keep their top players and build around the young core that is already in place.
By the sounds of it, the project is ambitious and having a coach that is known for his work developing players and his attractive style is hopefully a good sign of what is coming.
There may yet be a big surprise in the mercato to even further boost optimism, though with a firm plan in place there is enough to arouse excitement from even the most dismissive of fans.