New staff, extra sessions and the mercato: Inside Fonseca’s attempts to fix Milan’s injury issues

By Oliver Fisher -

There were various factors blamed for AC Milan having a sub-par 2023-24 season across the board, but one of the ones that was repeated more than most was the injury crises that again reared their ugly heads.

It has been a familiar story for Milan over the past few seasons, with several key players going down for prolonged stints and often at the same time, thus making it hard to manage workloads and rotate effectively.

With the change in head coach from Stefano Pioli to Paulo Fonseca, there will also be a change in approach to athletic preparation and micro-management, among other things that go into trying to keep a squad healthy. What exactly are they?

Depressing numbers

Milan conceded 49 goals in the league last season and 69 goals across all competitions, which has led to a rather predictable inquest into the defensive department.

The data shows that it is usually the team with the best defensive record that wins the Serie A title, as was seen in 2021-22 when the Rossoneri conceded just 38 goals in 38 games.

Naturally, the finger was pointed at a lack of balance in transition and declines in the performance levels of certain individuals. However, Pioli would also be right to point to the sheer volume of selection issues.

By December 20, Milan had suffered 29 injuries in the season, with 70% of them being muscular. Broken down further, 15 were actual injuries (strains/tears), 5 were fatigue, 8 were traumatic problems, and 1 was inflammation. The total was 89 games missed: 62 with injuries, 13 with fatigue, 13 with trauma, and 1 with inflammation.

By the end of March, Milan’s central defenders had missed a combined 74 games due to injury. Pierre Kalulu (29), Malick Thiaw (14), Fikayo Tomori (13), and Simon Kjaer (10) had all missed over 10 out of the 41 games across all competitions at that point, though things did improve a bit for the run-in.

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The final major issue of the season came in mid-May with Samuel Chukwueze’s injury against Cagliari. That meant that Milan had suffered 45 injuries during the season in total, and it was the 32nd of a muscular nature, with 24 different players involved.

What was, perhaps, the most worrying sign was the sheer number of muscle problems, particularly in the hamstring, flexor and femoral bicep areas. Having a few issues through a gruelling seven-month season with over 50 games is natural, but the treatment room had a queue outside.

What injuries produce is a vicious cycle: a player goes down in a particular position, which means that the other player in that role has to work overtime until they get back, which then increases their risk of picking up a problem from working harder and so on.

Internal acknowledgement

Fonseca was presented to the media on Monday as the new head coach of Milan, and he spoke alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic at a press conference. It was obvious that he would be asked about the injury issues of previous seasons, and his response was diplomatic.

“I don’t know in depth the reasons for having had these injuries. Since yesterday, we started talking with Milan Lab, and we are all talking together to not have them anymore,” he said.

“Injuries are more with so many competitions and so many matches, but I am confident we won’t have big problems.”

The spotlight then turned onto Ibrahimovic, who should be someone with a good understanding of the inner workings at Milanello and how various things operate.

“It’s not just a matter for the coach and the staff. We’ve changed a lot in the medical area,” the Swede responded.

“When we had so many injuries, we weren’t satisfied. There have also been changes in the medical area, we think we’ve found the right path.”

Zlatan was, of course, a player for Milan across two spells (2010-2012, then 2020-2023), and since last December, he has been back around the training ground as a Senior Advisor to the club and the management.

A bold plan

So, how exactly will the new staff go about tackling such a sore point? The answer – at least early in the preseason preparations – seems to be with more work.

According to what is being reported by MilanNews, among other sources, this week, the squad will be subjected to double training sessions to try and get them back to 100% after some time off.

That means they will train in the morning and afternoon. They did so on Wednesday and will again on Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday, they did single sessions, as they will on Saturday, while on Sunday, they will rest.

For next week, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday will be double session days, while Wednesday and Saturday will be training only in the morning. There will not be, as was usual in past seasons, friendlies at Milanello against local teams from lower leagues either.

One of the additional benefits is that this extra time on the training ground will also give Fonseca more time to explain his tactical ideas and the playing style he wants for the Rossoneri.

However, there will almost certainly be a strength and conditioning aspect to the work too. Working hard during the summer heat will push the players to limits that they will also experience during a testing and long season.

A balancing act

Fonseca does not have the whole squad at his disposal currently due to the number of players who have been away on international duty at the European Championship and the Copa America. Nonetheless, they will soon rejoin, and preparations will dial up further.

The friendly against Rapid Vienna on July 20 at 17:30 CEST will be the first game Fonseca takes charge of, even if it is not a competitive fixture. Then, Milan’s preseason tour is once again to the United States, where some high-profile games await.

The Rossoneri will play Manchester City in New York on Saturday, July 27, Barcelona in Chicago three days later and then Real Madrid in Baltimore on Tuesday, August 6. Having such demanding preseason tours have actually been blamed by some for the injury problems that followed.

Last season, Milan played 52 games across all competitions, with 38 coming in the league, six in the Champions League, six in the Europa League and two in the Coppa Italia. The nature of football is such that breaks are rare, and there are therefore other variables to try and control.

We have written at length before about Pioli’s battle with effective rotation – one which most seem to agree he lost – and that will be a big challenge Fonseca faces. Thus, some help in the mercato is key to ensuring functional depth is available to the Portuguese.

The main 12-13 players in the squad cannot play 100% of the games, but then when they are replaced, the performance level cannot dip too drastically. Sadly, a look across the Navigli at Inter might provide some clues regarding how to run things better.

To conclude, it seems that the plan is this: new ideas from new staff to help players reach their athletic peak, double sessions to reach that peak faster, the onus on the management to deliver signings quickly and boost depth, then efficient handling of player workloads during the season itself.

Tags AC Milan

9 Comments

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  1. So… The “old, slow and injury-prone” Florenzi missed mere two matches last season. TWO! He should be a starter this season. Even if we bought the royal Royal.

    1. Flo was a peripheral figure though. He hadn’t played as much as Calabria so he wasn’t injured as much with cameos. But its impressive that he stayed fit seeing as to how he’s no spring chicken.

    2. You are right, Florenzi should be a starter this season.
      As long it isn’t for Milan, he can be as starter at any other club he wants.
      Milan needs an upgrade at the RB position and no one in the current squad is worthy to be a starter this season.

      1. From what I can gather, the coach is looking for a balance, so he does not want two Theo profiles as wing backs. So long as we have Theo, I think he’s looking to have a more defensive ride back.

        But at the same time, according to his system, he wants wing backs to help in attack with wingers. That was from his master class video.

        So I’m a little lost that’s to how he’s gonna put the right back position together. One would hope that we can get somebody better than Florenzi into the squad to compete with Calabria. Whether that’s Emerson remains to be seen.

        1. Emerson isn’t my top choice. I rather have Dedic or Geertruida, but Emerson was very good at Betis before he moved to Tottenham. He is still better than both Florenzi and Calabria defensively, but his offensive game has fallen off at Tottenham. I don’t know if that’s what he was asked to do at Tottenham or not, but at betis he could take on players, go past them, send crosses and even score.. At Tottenham he looks a little slower too.
          Maybe just like Pulisic he can regain his old form from Betis in serie A, before he got lost in the shuffle of the EPL.
          Time will tell.

        2. I actually think he’s looking for some similar characteristics. Fb playing high pull back wingers to defend. In the press, they will be expected to stay with the winger while the back 3 stay narrow…it’s about pace to recover as well as ball winning and creating turnovers high up the pitch which he does well…

        3. Tho Flo is likely out due to previous conflict I will try to make a case.

          He plays on the right with Puli. Puli covers for him. (Chuk had started to as well). The addition of a DM will also help in this area. So we can mitigate his pace.

          He brings solid crossing and set piece takes. He’s a leader on the field and I presume in the locker room. He is clearly well liked and represents the badge well. He can play both sides in a pinch (like when Theo inevitably loses his mind a coulpe times a year).

          Now you framed this as competition for Calabira. I cannot make that case and thus I think a need for someone who can get up and down the field like Theo, Puli etc.

          What I don’t get is why that is not Kalulu? He also is versatile and aggressive in the offenisve phase. I don’t see how Emerson is an upgrade but I do see the need to displace one of them if he comes in.

          Now we seem pretty deep if you factor in Jimenez for rotation in the early Copa, UCL, and games against bottom teams. I don’t see Emerson giving us anything more than the these players.

          I’m not arguing Flo b/c OMG he is all that and a bag of chips. Just trying to see through their eyes if he is kept.

          So maybe not Flo, but defn not Emerson.

          1. “He brings solid crossing and set piece takes. He’s a leader on the field and I presume in the locker room. He is clearly well liked and represents the badge well. He can play both sides in a pinch (like when Theo inevitably loses his mind a coulpe times a year). ”

            Exactly! 7 assists with very limited minutes and playing a lot “on the wrong side of the pitch” proves he can still contribute a lot. A lot more than all the rest RBs combined. And more. I’d rather save the Royal money and spend it on a CB, DM and/or the striker.

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