AC Milan were looking to push for back-to-back Scudetti in 2022-23 as the iconic club aims to cement itself back at the top table of European football, where many of us know it should be.
It’s therefore something of a head-scratcher to find Milan as many as 18 points adrift of league leaders Napoli. Stefano Pioli’s men are still in third place and remain in good shape for Champions League qualification again, but five defeats in 24 Serie A games has not been good enough as the pressure rises on Pioli.
From a neutral perspective, it’s positive to see many of Italy’s most historic clubs finally restoring themselves. Napoli’s rise to the Serie A summit, coupled with the resurgence of both Milan clubs and Mourinho’s magic at Roma, has seen the Italian top-flight once again established one of Europe’s most popular football betting markets; spoken about in the same breath as the German Bundesliga and Spain’s LaLiga.
Nevertheless, from a partisan perspective, many fans of the Rossoneri have been left scratching their heads for some time. Looking at the personnel of the Milan squad this season, very little has changed between now and 12 months ago, when the Rossoneri were wiping the floor with teams week in, week out.
So, what’s happened to affect the on-field chemistry so much at the San Siro? Below, we look at the data and the facts to determine which players are falling below the team’s newfound high standards.
The fact that Ciprian Tătărușanu has had to play so many minutes this season is one of the biggest reasons Milan have struggled to reach the same heights of last season. It’s impossible to overplay the importance of Mike Maignan’s injury.
The Frenchman was the rock behind the Rossoneri’s title-winning defence last term, keeping 17 clean sheets and letting in a mere 21 goals in 32 league games. Maignan’s performances made it all the easier for Milan fans to swallow Donnarumma’s departure to PSG.
However, this troublesome calf problem, sustained in early autumn, has kept Maignan out of action for too long. Veteran Romanian stopper, Tătărușanu, is not in the same league as Maignan when it comes to authority between the sticks or indeed distribution from the back.
Maignan was instrumental in building attacks but the 37-year-old simply doesn’t have the same attributes to lean on. Maignan is inching closer to contention for a regular start, with Pioli describing him recently as a “lion in a cage” waiting to be unleashed.
Charles De Ketelaere
Some might say it’s harsh to call out De Ketelaere, but the 21-year-old has looked like a rabbit in the headlights all too often for his €32m price tag.
After 90 senior appearances for Club Brugge, including a string of games in the Champions League, it seems madness to say that De Ketelaere looks like he cannot handle the big occasion. However, all too often Milan’s marquee summer signing has gone missing.
He’s failed to get on the scoresheet in 20 senior appearances for the Rossoneri and has only one assist to his name too. A simply dreadful return for an attacking midfielder, who is rapidly becoming an unsolvable enigma.
Paolo Maldini handed De Ketelaere a five-year contract, which looks like dreadful business with hindsight. Will he last the summer, let alone the next four seasons?
The 22-year-old defender Pierre Kalulu was a virtual ever-present in Milan’s title-winning season last term. It was his first full season for the Rossoneri, but he looked entirely at home in the heart of the defence alongside Fikayo Tomori.
How much of that was due to the presence of his compatriot Maignan between the sticks? Given his indecisive and inconsistent displays in front of Tătărușanu, it would appear Maignan had a great deal to do with Kalulu’s form.
Pioli has been forced to rotate Kalulu out of the team on occasion, with veteran Simon Kjaer and youngster Malick Thiaw used considerably more this campaign.
There’s no doubt that midfield maestro Sandro Tonali was at the heart of everything right about Milan’s title-winning season in 2021/22. It had been a childhood ambition of Tonali’s to play for the Rossoneri and to play such an influential role in landing a Scudetto would have meant an awful lot to him.
He closed last season with five goals and three assists to his name. This time around, Tonali has managed one more assist but has only got on the scoresheet twice. This underlines the general lack of firepower shown, with even star forward Rafael Leão yet to reach double figures for the season.
It might sound like unnecessarily picking holes in a favourite like Tonali, but it’s these fine margins that can make all the difference between a great season and an average one.