Previewing AC Milan’s 2018/19 season

By Madison Derian-Toth -

As the new season is approaching fast for Milan, take a look at our season preview to make sure you get the information you need. 

The 2017/18 Season – Review

Last summer under the ownership of Yonghong Li, Milan spent upwards of €200m on the likes of Andre Silva, Leonardo Bonucci, Nikola Kalinic, Frank Kessié, Ricardo Rodriguez, Lucas Biglia, Andrea Conti, Hakan Calhanoglu, Fabio Borini, and Mateo Musacchio.

Under former manager Vincenzo Montella, the team lost six of their first 14 games. The last time that had happened was in 1941-1942 when the team lost seven of its first 14 matches.

Therefore, after the results didn’t get any better, Montella was replaced by Milan legend and Primavera coach Rino Gattuso. The former midfielder quickly made some changes to the team, starting with the formation. 

Under Montella, the team was playing with an unfamiliar 3-4-2-1, with many speculating that it was more or less because of Leonardo Bonucci, who had enjoyed a great spell with Juve in a back three. 

Gattuso changed that to the classic 4-3-3 that had worked at Milan in the past. The switch of the formation was one of the best things that happened to the team that season, as Gattuso helped lead the team to a sixth-place finish, qualifying for the Europa league, and finishing second in the Coppa Italia.

In fact, the Rossoneri were the third best team in the league during the second half of the season, which really shows how significant Gattuso’s impact was. 

Summer 2018

This summer has been nothing less than intense for the club. It started with AC Milan being banned from European competition for the 2018-19 season, after supposedly violating FFP rules. The reasoning behind the decision was that UEFA didn’t have faith that owner Yonghong Li would be able to pay back the loans that he had been given through Elliott Management. 

Li had to repay Elliot €32million by July 6 to remain in control of the club. Unfortunately for him, and in hindsight fortunately for Milan, the Chinese entrepreneur missed the payment, This allowed the hedge fund to take control of the club by July 10. 

Just ten days later, the club appeared in front of the CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) to appeal the UEFA ban on European competitions for the 2018-19 season. After an entire day in front of the court, the appeal was granted by CAS and Milan were allowed to participate in the Europa League competition for the upcoming season. 

This was granted because Elliott had cleared all of the club’s debt to third-party lenders, as the hedge fund itself was the one who had loaned money to the club. Therefore, once the took over, the debts were cleared. 

Following the European overturn, Elliott shook up the boardroom by releasing Marco Fassone from his role as CEO, while all of the board members were removed and replaced. Sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli was also relieved of his duties, being replaced by Rossoneri legend Leonardo. 

Shortly after that, Elliott also brought Paolo Maldini back to the club, who now is the club’s Strategic Development Director of the sports area. 

The Mercato

Before the arrival of the new ownership, Fassone and Mirabelli brought in three signings; Pepe Reina, Alen Halilovic and Ivan Strinic. Unfortunately, the latter is suffering from heart issues, and will, therefore, have to suspend his activity ahead of further tests.

Once Leonardo took charge of the transfer market, he didn’t hesitate for one second as time was generally against him. In just 20 days, alongside Paolo Maldini, Leonardo managed to secure five more players to fulfil the needs of Gennaro Gattuso. The most significant one was Gonzalo Higuain, who is exactly what the Rossoneri have been lacking as of late.

Former captain Leonardo Bonucci was shipped to Juventus as part of the Higuain deal, while Milan also got Mattia Caldara in return. Down below is a summary of the arrivals, departures and total costs (also including obligations paid and received).

Arrivals: Bakayoko, Caldara, Castillejo, Halilovic, Higuain, Laxalt, Reina, Strinic.
Departures: Antonelli, Bacca, Bonucci, Gabriel, Kalinic, Locatelli, Vergara.

Total expenses: €122.5m (potentially rising to €197.5m next summer)
Total sales: €98.7m (Potentially rising to €139.2m next summer)

The Team

As previously mentioned, Leonardo and Maldini have certainly strengthened the squad. However, they have also got rid off a lot of players, decreasing the size of the squad. Down below is a list of all the players, along with their position and number.

GK: Pepe Reina – 25
GK: Alessandro Plizzari – 35
GK: Antonio Donnarumma – 90
Gianluigi Donnarumma – 99

DF: Davide Calabria – 2
DF: Andrea Conti – 12
DF: Alessio Romagnoli – 13
DF: Cristian Zapata – 17
DF: Ignazio Abate – 20
DF: Mateo Musacchio – 22
DF: Ivan Strinic – 23
DF: Mattia Caldara – 33
DF: Stefan Simic – 56
DF: Ricardo Rodriguez – 68
DF: Diego Laxalt – 93

MF: Jose Mauri – 4
MF: Giacomo Bonaventura – 5
MF: Tiémoué Bakayoko – 14
MF: Riccardo Montolivo – 18
MF: Lucas Biglia – 21
MF: Matteo Gabbia – 46
MF: Emanuele Torrasi – 57
MF: Alen Halilovic – 77
MF: Franck Kessie 79
MF: Andrea Bertolacci – 91

FW: Samu Castillejo – 7
FW: Suso – 8
FW: Gonzalo Higuain – 9
FW: Hakan Calhanoglu – 10
FW: Fabio Borini – 11
FW: Patrick Cutrone – 63

Breakout Player

Gianluigi Donnarumma has been Milan’s undisputed number one goalie for the last three seasons. In these, he has helped Milan qualify for Europa league and reach the final of the Coppa Italia, twice.

For the upcoming season, Donnarumma will have the help of experienced goalkeeper Pepe Reina, who will hopefully be splitting some of the time with the youngster. It would make sense to have Reina play in Coppa Italia and Europa league games, so Donnarumma can stay alert and mentally prepared for the Serie A campaign ahead.

Even though he has technically already had his breakthrough for Milan, last season was a bit of a struggle for him from time to time. Therefore, we believe that this season could be the one in which he really proves his worth, tweaking some of the minor difficulties he’s had since the start; mainly the technique with his feet. 

Serie A 

Last season we saw eleven new players coming into the club, from three different leagues. That was not a good way to start a push for a Champions League spot, as it turned out. This season, we have added eight players from three different leagues, and the ones coming from outside of Serie A are Tiémoué Bakayoko, Samu Castillejo and Alen Halilovic. 

With the offseason signings of Caldara and Higuain, the Rossoneri have a serious shot at pushing for a top-four finish, which would guarantee a spot in the Champions League. In his five seasons in Serie A (three for Napoli and two at Juventus), Higuain has scored at least 15 goals per season, bagging a total of 111 goals. 

As long as our wingers and midfielders can feed Higuain with the correct service, he will be able to get 20+ goals this season. As argued by many fans, understandably so, Higuain is the best striker the San Siro side has had since Ibrahimovic in 2013. 

You can take a look at the Rossoneri schedule here. 

Top Five

  1. Juventus
  2. Inter
  3. Milan
  4. Napoli
  5. Roma

Given how the other teams have reinforced their squads this summer (bar Lazio and Napoli), this season looks set to be the most difficult for top teams in a long while. Therefore, predicting Milan to get top three is certainly a bit bold, but at the same time, the Rossoneri will be heading into the season as underdogs.

In the second half of last season, Milan finished third, behind Napoli and Juventus. Hopefully, Gattuso and his men will be able to replicate something similar this season, with top four being the special dream for Rossoneri fans.

Europa League

Since Milan had their European ban lifted, this season they will enter the group stage directly, which is different from last summer when they had to go through a playoff to enter the group stage.

Last season the Rossoneri made it to the quarter finals where they lost to Arsenal. During the quarter finals the team looked like they were in over their head because most of the team had never been in a European competition.

This season should believe will be different, with Pepe Reina hopefully playing the Europa League games. With the chemistry within the squad better than last season and this team having a full season under their belt, Milan could make a run to the semi-finals and maybe even stretch to make it to the final.

Coppa Italia

Milan’s third and final competition this term. historically, and especially as of late, the Rossoneri have done really well in the Coppa, reaching the final twice in the last three years.

Considering the reinforcements brought in this summer, Milan will certainly be better off in terms of quality depth. However, it remains to be seen how much energy will be put into the competition. The main target has to be the Champions League, and winning the Coppa only guarantees Europa League, Should they decide to go for it, then reaching the final is a realistic prediction.

In terms of their knockout tree, it will be tricky. They will start off with either Sampdoria or SPAL in the round of 16, while they could then face Napoli in the quarters.

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