Decreasing injuries, increasing options: Pioli has no excuses with rotation key for Milan’s run-in

By Christian Montegan -

After experiencing a bump in the road with two wins in eight matches during October and November, it was once again viewed as a ‘crisis point’ for Milan and raised doubts about Stefano Pioli being fit enough to fill the void on the bench.

Fast forward to the beginning of April, the Rossoneri find themselves comfortably in the driver’s seat for Champions League qualification – six points clear of third place Juventus and 15 points ahead of sixth place Atalanta (who have a game in hand).

As a result, rumours concerning Pioli remaining at the helm are gathering steam as each day passes, an outcome that would be nothing short of well-deserved given his ability to overcome adversity on the pitch as well as fan criticism off it.

So, now what?

With eight rounds left in Serie A, it’s fair to say that the top five is secured and Inter – who have had an almost unbelievable season in terms of results – will not be caught with a 14-point buffer.

Attention should now be lasered toward a deep run at the Europa League and providing Milan with the best chance of claiming their first European trophy in 17 years and their first-ever UEL/UEFA Cup title.

One of the biggest talking points from the Milanello camp in the first part of the season was the huge injury toll sustained, as some went as far as to blame the fitness staff and Pioli for being the root of the problem by not managing their players accordingly. This has been a regular issue since the Silvio Berlusconi era.

The central defensive trio of Fikayo Tomori, Malik Thiaw, and Pierre Kalulu slotting back into the fold after long injury lay-offs has finally given Pioli the rare opportunity to rotate his squad more frequently and effectively, something that must be done if they hope to be crowned Europa League champions.

Jan-Carlo Simić, 18, is a bright prospect who is more than ready to fill in for a handful of the remaining domestic fixtures and be exposed to more first-team minutes, whilst Matteo Gabbia has already demonstrated that he can be relied upon since his return from a short loan at Villarreal where he can lead the back four with confidence.

Exciting 18-year-old Spanish full-back Álex Jiménez should be given more minutes to allow Theo Hernández to gain a much-needed rest whether it be the teenager starting or coming off the bench.

Everyone is aware of Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s unfortunate history with injuries, having suffered from a niggling groin injury earlier in the campaign. Undisputedly Milan’s best midfield performer this season, the Englishman can be afforded a breather thanks to the return of Ismaël Bennacer and the depth of options with Yacine Adli (1,486 minutes in 26 games) and Yunus Musah (1,763 minutes in 33 games) in particular not having played consistently in all competitions.

Up top, Olivier Giroud isn’t getting any younger at 37 – and although he deserves to bow out on a high amidst the recent speculation of a departure to the United States, Noah Okafor and Luka Jović are more than capable of filling in the Frenchman’s boots.

The availability of Samuel Chukwueze, who arguably played his best match in a Milan shirt against Fiorentina on the weekend, is a viable option to maintain his place on the right wing and perhaps experiment with Christian Pulisic being deployed on the left.

With two crunch games against Roma and a potential tie with Bayer Leverkusen (or West Ham) awaiting, Rafael Leão will need his minutes managed as carefully as possible, especially due to finding a new spring in his step.

This is the moment when Milan can choose to reap the rewards of their new signings in the summer and prove once and for all that their talent depth has improved significantly since 2022-23.

The 14 goals scored by Milan in the league with substitutes are the highest this season not only in Italy, but in the ‘top five’ leagues in Europe. It is also a record for the Rossoneri in the era of three points for a win.

Obviously it a number that can easily be increased with nine games still available too, but in short the bench has produced surprises for Pioli and Milan even when it has seemed sparse. Now it is replenished, the game-changing options are finally there.

This isn’t to suggest that Pioli must completely ignore his starters for the rest of the Serie A competition. His key contributors will need to stay fresh and remain match-sharp.

However, they currently have a massive advantage compared to the likes of Liverpool and Leverkusen (to a lesser extent) in challenging for their respective league titles. Team cohesion and chemistry will also be at the forefront of Pioli’s thoughts given Milan’s high-flying form.

Yes, the derby against nemesis Inter in under three weeks will be seen as a must-win considering the humiliating 5-1 defeat late last year, with the dreaded nightmare of the Nerazzurri claiming the coveted second star against their main rivals on every Rossoneri fans’ mind. According to reports, that fixture could have a big say on Pioli’s future.

Ultimately though, Milan is in the box seat to rotate heavily and primarily focus on at the very least, reaching back-to-back European semi-finals – a feat which would’ve been laughed at as a possibility when Pioli took charge of the club.

If the cards are played correctly, Milan may well be booking their ticket to Dublin.


Tags AC Milan


  1. Milan looked great vs. Fiorentina at the weekend; a tough away fixture on paper, but they might have won by 4 or 5. OK, they haven’t pushed Inter in the title race, and the European campaign has been mediocre (NB – no worse than mediocre!) – but I think they should try and hang on to as many of the current squad – and the manager – as possible during the summer. They’re a decent side.

  2. What kills me about Pioli is that Milan signed Okafor who is a CF and has always played as a CF but yet Pioli for some bizarre reason mostly uses Okafor as a LW. I don’t get why he is doing this especially given that Okafor is actually more mobile than Giroud and Jovic which creates more space for the wingers. Sigh.

    I hope to see Okafor starting at CF with Leao and Chukwueze on the wings. Pulisic needs a rest. Midfield should be Bennacer, Adli and Musah.

    Back 4 Tomori, Gabbia, Theo and Florenzi.

    1. People like to criticize Pioli for nothing. Of his last 50 matches, Okafor played as CF 41 times. He has appeared 28 times for us, so even if all the other 9 times of these 50 he played for us as LW he’d still be playing more for us as CF. And it wasn’t so (I mean, not all 9 as LW); he also played of these 50 games 3 times on the right and one as CAM, so at most he played 5 times as LW (consequently 23 as CF) for us. Apparently Pioli has been bringing him in more frequently as CF than as LW. Which is good because his average rating as CF is 6.5 while his average rating as LW is 5.7.

      (Disclosure – I do find these numbers surprising as I seem to record early games as LW coming in for Rafa, but that’s what I got from Transfermarkt and Football Critic. Lately though, we’ve definitely seen him more as CF).

      I personally do prefer to see him as a substitute for Giroud and as a CF. If we need to rest Rafa, we can have Pulisic play as LW and a surging Chuk as RW.

    2. There’s nothing wrong with rotating player’s position if he’s versatile for. Okafor said himself he’s comfortable playing out wide on the left.

      Pulisic also said he’s more comfortable playing on the left where he can cut inside but he’s used on the right. And he’s doing great. Best season of his by now.

  3. EL is not as easy as people think, otherwise we might end up like Napoli last year in CL.

    Leverkusen is unbeaten and has a 13 point gap with 7 games to go. How are we having a “massive advantage” against them?

    If we face Liverpool in the final, no sane team would put anything other than their best 11, even if they have 1 game to play after this. Our main hope is that Liverpool gets eliminated before the final.

    Let’s not forget Roma, our defense is not solid, we won’t have Tomori for first leg and if Dybala is not injured he can make us pay it big time. This without taking into account Pellegrini and Lukaku

    In other words, rotation is good but we need to secure 2nd place (supercup money). Skip Simic and Jimenez unless we’re ahead by 3 goals, focus on subbing Theo, Leao, Giroud, Pulisic, RLC, Reijnders and Tomori. These are the players that should not get injured and be in peak shape for the big games.

  4. We are third favorites. Bookies give Liverpool >50% of winning the hole thing, and Leverkusen’s odds are twice as good as ours.

    Not winning the EL is expected for us, its not an “excuse” as the title misleads, even with a full squad. But as fans we can always dream that the unlikely materializes in our favor.

    1. Really? Or you just don’t like the guy?

      “La Gazzetta dello Sport report, Milan have an official first team squad of 26 players but Pioli has fielded 33 different men so far.”

      “The key figure is that the 14 goals scored by Milan in the league with substitutes are the highest this season not only in Italy, but in the ‘top five’ leagues in Europe. It is also a record for the Rossoneri in the era of three points for a win.”

      It was an article published here from GdS. So stats speak different.

      1. Come on. He HAD to do that because of the sheer number of injuries he caused because he DIDN’T rotate.

        This isn’t the first season this has happened to him.

  5. Milan n’est plus Milan, vous parlez comme si l’équipe joue bien, ou elle développe un beau jeu avec un plan de jeu bien défini, depuis 2019, plutôt avant cette date l’équipe est méconnaissable. Milan d’aujourd’huit est à comparer avec les petits club de la série A, à savoir Monza et Genova. soyons honnêtes les gars !.

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