Valuable minutes to evaluate the future: Stefano Pioli’s final duty to Milan

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan are heading into their final three games of the 2023-24 season, and in truth all sense of spectacle evaporated towards the end of April.

Milan had built up some nice momentum going into the decisive part of the season, and yet when the important games came they folded like a deck of cards.

The straw that seemed to break the camel’s back for the management – the final straw that matters the most – is the Europe League defeat against Roma, a tie in which the Rossoneri lost both legs are were thoroughly outplayed.

Stefano Pioli was outthought by someone who is a rookie coach in comparison. Everything that Milan did was predictable and had a counter-plan from Daniele De Rossi, who in turn deployed certain schemes that the Rossoneri had no answer for.

The derby defeat against Inter – the sixth in a row in that particular fixture – added further salt to the wound and as the Nerazzurri celebrated the title, it became apparent that Pioli had taken charge of his last derby.

So, as we come to the Cagliari, Torino and Salernitana games to close out 2023-24 there is a big sense of anti-climax. In addition to second place though, there is another parting gift that Pioli can provide.

A crucial component of planning for the future is knowing exactly what you have in the present moment, and thus it has made no sense to keep starting players who are very much known quantities at this point.

For example, constantly turning to players like Olivier Giroud and Simon Kjaer – both of whom will leave in the summer – has been frustrating to say the least when there are other options waiting.

There are a number of players Pioli should field so the management can take a look at them in view of the summer, even if that kind of planning will no longer involve him.

Noah Raveyre/Lapo Nava

Given that Mike Maignan is currently out future to muscle problem, it would make sense to give a young goalkeeper some minutes that will stand them in good stead for the future.

The obvious rebuttal to some of the suggestions in this list will be that there are well-established and well-paid back-up – in this case Marco Sportiello, who has been a good deputy – that Pioli will rightly trust more.

However, with the U23 project to potentially be inaugurated next season, why not give either Raveyre or Nava a game to see just how far along they are?

The former has been a protagonist of the UEFA Youth League run for the Primavera, while the latter is 20 now so is reaching the time to make a call on his future at Milan.

To put it more simply: there is no better time that will arrive in the short term to give the Frenchman or the Italian some valuable senior team experience, potentially putting them in the shop window for a beneficial loan spell in the process.

Jan-Carlo Simic

We have already seen Simic in action for the senior team this season at a time when there was a crisis in the rearguard, and it would be fair to say that he did well given the circumstances.

Simic has four Serie A appearances and one goal to his name and he has come across like a very mature defender when given minutes, something that seems to have transitioned into his leader status with Ignazio Abate’s side.

For various reasons, Milan are not going to drastically transform into a defensive juggernaut in the final 270+ minutes of the campaign. However, what they can do is give the Serbian some playing time to evaluate if he could be a rotation option next season, or if a loan is needed.

One could also make a very strong argument that Simic should have remained with the senior side and got minutes over Kjaer, given he is more athletic and conducive to playing the high line that was exposed in games like the Sassuolo draw.

Pierre Kalulu

Now that Kalulu has returned following a second spell on the sidelines due to injury, this really is the moment to try an evaluate him at haste in view of an important summer.

Coming back from the latest knee setback is a big boost because it helps replenish the defensive department, but above all the former Lyon man is eager to regain a leading role and regular playing time.

As mentioned Milan will say goodbye to Kjaer and they are expected to sign a central defender during the summer window. If Kalulu can return to the levels seen in the Scudetto run-in of 2021-22, they would have an added certainty.

The doubts surrounding Kalulu concern his position more than anything and whether he can be a back-up in a particular role, based on what the management have planned for the summer mercato.

There is the desire both to aim for a right-back capable of challenging for Davide Calabria’s starting spot (Tiago Santos of Lille, as we reported) and a left-footed central defender like Alessandro Buongiorno of Torino or Lilian Brassier of Brest.

Where does Kalulu fit into the plans? Only by seeing what level he is at after his most recent spell on the sidelines can help us understand.

Malick Thiaw

A lot of the same points apply to Thiaw as they do to Kalulu. He is a player who has shown some brilliant signs but has been impacted quite heavily by injuries this season.

Above all with the German it seems that there was a mental and physical hangover from spending so many weeks out, and this was reflection in his error-laden performances after coming back.

The only way that he will get over these is by playing more and more games, otherwise Milan might as well give up on Thiaw as a lost cause and put him on the market.

He excelled in the new-look three-man defence last season, and there have been enough positives that he has even drawn links with sides like Real Madrid.

Milan’s defensive department looks a lot stronger with Thiaw and Kalulu as reliable options and it reduces the task at hand for the summer. That is why giving them opportunities should be of paramount importance.

Filippo Terracciano

Terracciano was Milan’s only signing of the January transfer window as he arrived from Hellas Verona for around €4.5m, but not much has been seen from him recently.

The 20-year-old is considered above all as a wild card. He can play on the right, it is his natural role, but he is not yet first or second choice given his young age.

The Italian has so far amassed 21 minutes in the Europa League, 10 in the league and 28 in the Coppa Italia, against Atalanta. His last appearance dates back to 6 April against Lecce when he got seven minutes on the pitch.

He is essentially competing with Alessandro Florenzi for the position of back-up left-back and right-back, yet because he has barely played it is not yet known if he can realistically challenge.

Of course Pioli is within his rights to pick the more experienced players in the big games because of they assurances they (should) give, but now is the time to see if Terracciano can do a job next season or if he needs a loan.

Yunus Musah

Musah was one of the later additions in a busy summer transfer window as Milan finally got a deal over the line with Valencia after weeks of talks.

After some encouraging signs up until Christmas, it feels as though the American has fallen by the wayside a bit and it is not yet known what his actual best role is.

A large part of the responsibility for this falls in the shoulders of Pioli who has used him at right-back, wing-back and even as a right winger, which certainly are not his natural positions.

If Musah were to get three starts in a double pivot to see out the campaign we might start to see if he has the capabilities to be that defensive shield that a summer investment is planned for.

It might well also become obvious that the former England youth international is definitely a player with box-to-box characteristics, something that is also useful in making assessments on the midfield.

Yacine Adli

Adli is a similar discussion to Musah in the sense that he has been on the fringes for large parts of the season and has been asked to perform some difficult tasks towards the business end.

The French midfielder has waited for his chance in recent years, even transitioning from being a playmaker to a mezzala and then to a regista, rising to every task Pioli has put forward.

There have been a number of reports suggesting his future at Milan is not certain and that bids would be evaluated, but also that the club could offer him a new contract.

At the moment the overwhelming feeling is that we don’t know what Adli is currently nor what he can be. How can that be fixed? You know the theme by now.

Tommaso Pobega

Pobega has been unlucky more than anything. It was in late December that he got a rare start at left centre-back during the win over Monza, but was brought off after less than 30 minutes.

The club announced that he had undergone an operation – carried out by Surgeon Lasse Lempainen and observed by AC Milan Club doctor Dario Donato – to repair a tendon issue in his hip, with a long recovery process foreseen.

He is now back and available for selection, having returned to the bench for the 3-3 draw against Genoa on Sunday as an unused substitute.

Having a player like Pobega in the squad is useful for the composition of UEFA squad lists due to his status as an academy graduate, yet at 24 there is also the impression that he deserves the best for his career.

It would certainly serve both Milan and Pobega to take a detailed look between now and full-time in the Salernitana game to evaluate where he is at. After all, the Rossoneri stand to make a capital gain if a departure were deemed best.

Noah Okafor

A report from Sky this week was actually what lit the spark to write this particular article, more specifically the revelation that Okafor has started just 14% of games this season.

The Swiss forward arrives from Red Bull Salzburg last summer and although he has had to make do with largely opportunities off the bench he has taken those, with six Serie A goals to his name.

In the most recent game against Genoa, Okafor came off the bench and seemed to provide something that was missing. He is a dynamic, energetic and versatile player that should have seen the field more.

There are still doubts about whether he is seen as a back-up centre-forward or left winger, or if he might only work in a two-striker formation, but the circumstances have presented themselves to experiment a bit.

Unlike some of the other names in this list there is no real talk of a potential sale for Okafor, though he too must be wondering and thinking about if he will ever get a set role nailed down.

Samuel Chukwueze

Chukwueze would be the first to admit (and he was) that his debut season at Milan has had more negative periods than positive, but thankfully he seems to have got stronger as time has gone on.

The 24-year-old arrived after a season in which he amassed 13 goals and 11 assists in 52 appearances for Villarreal, earning him links with teams like Arsenal and Real Madrid, but Milan pushed hard and got their man in late July.

He had the ball in the net twice at the Mapei Stadium during the recent 3-3 draw and then he set up Florenzi for the first equaliser on Sunday. It feels like something is going to happen when the Nigerian gets on the ball, and yet he has started just 28.5% of games this season.

Chukwueze has had more opportunities of late and there is no need to interrupt this run of games while he is in such a confident mood. The temptation will be there for Pioli to revert to playing a more natural attacking midfielder and putting Pulisic back on the right, but he must resist.

Luka Jovic

Finally we come to Jovic, who might just have returned from injury at the perfect time. Milan’s decision on his future is approaching given that his contract expires at the end of the season.

He has not been on the pitch since 18 April, the second leg of the Europa League quarter-final defeat against Roma. Jovic came on at the Olimpico when they had 1- men but was unable to perform any miracles.

However, the Serb did score four days earlier, in the 3-3 draw away to Sassuolo, when he played as a starter. After remaining on the bench in the derby, he suffered muscle fatigue just before the Juventus trip.

Jovic will compete for the place at the centre of the attack with Oliver Giroud, and he hopes for minutes to show that he deserves to stay, as opposed to the Frenchman who is known to be departing the club.

It is known that Milan will invest in a new striker but they must figure out which path to take on Jovic, with three options open: to offer a multi-year renewal, trigger the one-year extension or let him depart for new pastures.

What will impact that decision the most is goals – something he can’t score while sat on the bench – and Jovic is one away from double figures. He has three games to get it and earn his stay.

Tags AC Milan Filippo Terracciano Jan-Carlo Simic Lapo Nava Luka Jovic Malick Thiaw Noah Okafor Noah Raveyre Pierre Kalulu Samuel Chukwueze Tommaso Pobega Yacine Adli Yunus Musah

27 Comments

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  1. For the lasts games: sportiello, jimenez, simic, pobega and theo; terracciano, musah and pulisic; okafor, jovic and chukuweze

    1. Well as much as i love ancelotti i really dont want them to further increase the europa cup/cl gap in between us. I would have preferred bayern in the final against dortmund even though that could have meant that they would equal our amount of wins.
      My hope is that dortmund wins the tournament and also a team we have played against this season. Will it happen ? probably not but ill hope for it nevertheless.

      1. Why would you prefer bayern to go through?
        Bayern is Milan’s rival when it comes to UCL titles, Real Madrid is not.
        Real Madrid are in their own class. No club is ever catching them.

        1. Maybe not but who knows in 50 years but i simply doesnt want themto keep increasing the gap any further,
          Before the 2010s they was at 9 cl wins and we at 7 cl wins that gap can at least be minimized at some point.

          1. I prefer we kept the second spot. We no longer have the best team in the world, at least not yet. I just hope Bayern and Liverpool doesn’t surpass us soon

          2. Well i get that and its not like i want bayern to equalize us but instead to lose against dortmund in the final which i think would be a better opportunity for them to lift the trophy than against real madrid.

      2. I admit I have a soft spot for Real and would be happy for Carlo but wouldn’t cry either if Dortmund did it – being the underdogs who’ve never won it.

        1. Thats fair enough and I’ll generally support the underdogs if not against AC Milan or Denmark but they did actually win it 1996/97 season against Juventus 🙂 they are neverthless underdogs and will have to do something extraordinary to win against the spaniards,

          1. My bad – I forgot completely about that win over Juve. I think Real will win but it’d be incredible for Dortmund if they did it. Especially after missing out on the league at the death last season.

    2. I love Carletto but Bayern got robbed… There was NO offside on the second goal and the whistle was blown too fast… not sure what VAR was showing but that goal should have stood.

      1. The problem with the ref blowing his whistle is that then the var room isnt allowed to interfere according to the commentators and you could also see that the real madrid players basically stopped defending when he blew it, but yeah seemed like they got robbed because from my judgement there was no offside but not 100% sure.

      2. Yep, that was a mess. I know I always go on about Milan getting done over with situations like these but overall Real were by far the better team and “deserved” to go through imo. No idea what the heck Tuchel was thinking bringing Muller on. His subs reminded me of Pioli.

  2. Let’s hope Pioli gives this guys a chance.
    On the side note.
    I’m watching Real Madrid going to another UCL final after they just won the Spanish league title.
    They lost Benzema and never replaced him. It doesn’t stop them from changing the formation and still winning by playing with 2 wingers in their 2 men forward line.
    That’s what happens when you have a coach who adjusts his tactics based on the players he has instead of trying to stick to the only one tactic.
    Carlo can do that also because his best player isn’t a one trick pony, but he can actually play a winger and a striker.
    Vini Jr is the best player in the world currently. Not only attacking but he is tracking back a lot.
    Meanwhile Milan so called best player is 4th on the lowest defensive work index among all forwards in the top 5 leagues. The only forwards that do less defensively than him are Greenwood, Lukaku and Mbappe.

  3. “There are a number of players Pioli should field so the management can take a look at them in view of the summer, even if that kind of planning will no longer involve him.”

    Why would he do anything except field the best team available if he knows he’s leaving in 3 games time and needs to impress his next employer?

    Don’t see him doing anything conducive to the good of Milan’s future at this point.

    1. Exactly what I was thinking. I can see him using some of the younger bench players but in what world would anyone in his position start youth team players?

  4. As a dane I have a somewhat colored view om this but i will hope that kjær at least get a couple of halfs if he is soon free of injury because he will play the european championship in the summer and also deserves a good send off with giroud as well. The latter can probably do with less minutes but nevertheless deserves a good farewell at San Siro.

    When that is said i do hope that we will see some of the youngsters getting more than a few minutes here and there,

    Hopefully in the coming matches we will give some minutes to simic, sia and zeroli and maybe terraciano as well.

  5. Well done. And when he fields them and we lose all games we resume calling Pioli tactless and brainless.
    Please, let him feed the best team to play all the games. The others can try to impress during summer break. No excuses. Let’s win all games mercilessly.

  6. That’s a lot of players that need to be given chances in meaningless matches.

    Do you think our squad might be a bit too big?

    Last time I counted I think we need to sell/loan/release something like 30 players this summer to get the first team squad down to a manageable size of about 25 with a few on targeted loans.

  7. Well, at least with all these jobbers we won’t feel as bad about conceding three or more goals from serie a bottom level teams

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