Quality and quantity in question: Milan’s squad limitations exposed early

By Christian Montegan -

Only 18 months ago, AC Milan fans packed the Piazza del Duomo celebrating with flares, chants, and greeting their heroes on the bus as the players showed off their first Scudetto in 11 years.

Many defined it as an unexpected title triumph that was conquered through tremendous team camaraderie, a willingness to fight, and a clear project on the pitch where a real sense of identity was formed for the first time since the Silvio Berlusconi era.

Most would agree that Inter were the team more built to win the league that season with the strength in their squad, only unstuck by some poor managerial decisions from Simone Inzaghi, including their 2-1 loss to Stefano Pioli’s men in the derby which ultimately turned the tide.

There is no doubt Milan’s title was fully deserved and was not ‘handed’ to them by Ionut Radu’s comical error against Bologna. In saying that, perhaps it covered some long-term cracks which are now slowly coming to the forefront.

Arriving into the new 2022-23 season as defending champions, Milan’s struggles in Serie A outlined that they were not ready to juggle multiple competitions.

Despite what some might suggest as an easier route to the Champions League semi-finals, albeit well-earned, the humiliating manner in which they were eliminated by Inter summed up the vast discrepancy between the two squads in terms of both quality and depth.

For all of the criticism that has come Pioli’s way over the past weeks and in spurts last season, what he has achieved so far with both current and past players is simply quite remarkable given that his roster has never been boasted with the necessary talent pool across the board.

It was only a few months ago that the 58-year-old was forced to choose between Alexis Saelemaekers, Junior Messias, and also Samu Castillejo the season prior down the right wing.

During the recent summer transfer market, all hope that was lost after Paolo Maldini’s departure was soon transformed into immense scepticism as Sandro Tonali was sold to Newcastle United for a club-record €70m fee.

Right from minute one, owner Gerry Cardinale has stayed firm regarding his vision involving a sustainable financial approach whilst also building a strong competitive squad for the long haul. As a result, that Tonali cash would end up being spread out across the board to help strengthen the squad compared to the position it found itself in last season.

Christian Pulisic and Samuel Chukwueze are a massive upgrade to what Pioli had previously on the right flank, as the American in particular has demonstrated a positive start. For the fact that Giroud isn’t getting any younger, Noah Okafor has played his part off the bench as a back-up option in the centre-forward position, as well as a back-up to Rafael Leao.

The midfield was another major concern leading in, and Milan supporters were adamant that at least two new signings were required. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Tiijani Reijnders, and Yunus Musah have settled in like they’ve been at the club for years, displaying maturity combined with technical quality coupled with much-welcomed energy and intensity.

To add to their depth, Milan opted for Luka Jović and Luka Romero as well as centre-back Marco Pellegrino intending to rotate the squad throughout the season as a result of multiple competition commitments.

Although those new arrivals have made the squad better on paper, the 2-2 draw to Lecce over the weekend underlined the harsh reality that Milan yet again is in a position where they lack the appropriate depth to last the circa 50 games that each season contains.

A common trend is occurring in the sense that whenever Pioli decides to chop and change the team – as evident with the midfield inclusion of Tommaso Pobega and Rade Krunić – meaning Milan’s consistency frustratingly fluctuates. There are no signs to suggest that the role players understand the system as opposed to the usual regular starters.

Further examples stress the over-reliance of players in key positions. How many times has the storyline revolved around Rafael Leão needing to be in top form for Milan to look threatening in the final third and stand any sort of chance? Without him, does Milan really have a suitable replacement who can at least put in a consistent shift?

Limping off with a hamstring injury less than 10 minutes on the clock at the Stadio Via del Mare, the two goals scored by his team-mates should not be enough to fool you. Without him, where does that world-class spark emerge?

Eye-opening statistics involving the Portuguese star support a worrying trend. Out of the seven games that Leão did not start last season, Milan picked up seven points out of a possible 21.

Englishman Fikayo Tomori has acted as a stonewall for the backline, especially since the season recommenced. After the heavy 5-1 derby defeat to Inter recently, Tomori had contributed to a 66.7% win percentage as opposed to a 26.7% win percentage when the former Chelsea defender was out of action. If you put it this way; a reckless Thiaw, an out-of-favour/unit Kalulu and the unknown in the form of Pellegrino shouldn’t fill anyone with any real ounce of assurance.

Loftus-Cheek arguably played the game of his career against Paris Saint-Germain at the San Siro, yet without his presence a few days later against Lecce, Milan seemed lost for answers which was more obvious in the second half.

People will point to some ridiculously bad fortune with the injury toll piling up as every day passes. A total of 24 injuries would be a headache even for Pep Guardiola to manage, but Milan has faced the same adversity for as long as memory serves, including the Scudetto win back in 2022.

From September 2020 to December 2021, Radio Rossonera uncovered that Milan’s squad had missed over 100 more Serie A matches than any other Italian club. Those same problems haven’t vanished, but it cannot be an excuse to deflect away from the clubs’ depth concerns.

Putting that all to one side, the quality that was on the bench against Lecce is simply not enough to be vying for trophies and making a deep run in Europe, despite the fact they went 2-0 up in the first half.

Jović and Alessandro Florenzi’s best days seem to be behind them. As stated before, Okafor has not been terrible, but there’s a reason why Pioli decides to stick with a 37-year-old striker who is a proven goal scorer consistently.

Yes, it’s great to see some youth on the bench with the likes of Lapo Nava and Davide Bartesaghi gaining experience within the first-team environment. However, surely this is proof that when Milan are hit with injuries and suspensions, the limited depth becomes more noticeable.

All of the hype surrounding the new acquaintances seems to have slowly drifted away. Let’s remember, this team finished in fifth place just outside the Champions League places last campaign, but because they qualified for Europe’s premier competition at Juventus’ expense, perhaps more action needed to be taken during the transfer window.

A lack of depth equates to inconsistent results and performances; something that Milan fans are used to by now. The situation at present in November should be a worry: there is no reliable centre-forward for Giroud to alternate with, there is no deputy left-back and there is a shortage of centre-backs, while some would argue a natural No.6 was not acquired.

That begs the following question: without serious investment, and investment that does not follow the sale of a core team member, will Milan ever be able to go toe-toe with the world’s very best? The answers might just come sooner rather than later.

Tags AC Milan


  1. When Leao doesn’t play the team is 40% weaker. Pulisic is ok, but he can’t get past one player, literally. Same for other wingers as well. Okafor looked much better a few years ago, after his injury he seems slower in running and dribbling. Chukwueze is like another player to what I saw in Villareal, not sure what is happening with him but I hope he adapts by the end of season and shows something. They are better than Messias and Rebic last year, but they are not decisive players. Milan still has only Leao and Giroud can have 3-4 matches a season where he does something special. That is it.

    1. Christian Montegan, the answer is simple, we won’t be able to compete with the world’s best with 40 million per summer spent. Especially after letting our best assets leave for nothing over a couple of million in disparities between the players demands and these Americans idiotic self imposed wage caps. Any business knows, it costs less to keep than replace your best assets. Especially when you require the very best to have a chance to be competitive. Games are won on the pitch, not in banker circles and profit margins. Maldini knew better than all those idiots combined where this team was really at and we skimped by, with one last year out of Ibra, teams not knowing what to expect against playing Theo and Leao who had jist found his feet. They see us coming now and we didn’t improve enough to not be easily neutralized by better clubs.

      Trophies get you sponsorships and more paying fans. Not Mediocre investment.

      Moneyball ball can work to take 2nd division teams in France to a midlevel club in Ligue 1. Which is the equivalent of Championship sides in England, a spot the fluctuates yearly that requires 40 million spent on wages for a whole year. You can punch above your weight to attain that threshold. NOT TO BE THE BEST IN ITALY. People saying what we are doing isn’t money, yiu are a 1st class idiot, go study it, it is literally what they are doing minus a draft system that favours losers.

      We can’t even compete with the best in Italy with the management’s approach. We needed 30 million on Berardi this summer. His goals when Leao falters, or Pulisic has a bad start, would be the difference between number 1 spot in Italy, a qualiffication so far in our group and where we find ourselves now.

      If anyone thinks Empoli’s best will keep striking gold for us, Austrian league injury and PL injury prone rejects, with players that get 10 points at 23 years of age in Netherlands, where teams can’t defend, will bring you to a level to compete at the top domestically or in the top 16 in Europe, you are delusional. Don’t point to Benfica, etc, They compete in a three team league and can afford to give lesser players opportunities to develop since mid level investments put yhem miles ahead of their domestic competition.

      We have to gamble by spending more than we can according the FFP, then recoup by selling one player with his replacement already integrated in the team than gamble with injured and bellow par players with no recent track records of success.

  2. Sorting out our annual injury crisis should be #1 on management’s to-do list. Without all these injuries we’d have probably beaten Lecce Napoli Udinese and no one would be complaining. (Or would they? 🤔)

  3. @ Chrisp, I totally agreed with you. I have said it over time that we need bigger budget. Looking for Chelsea outcast players every season won’t take us anywhere.

    Pulisic, RLC and Chukwueze had never play 7 consecutive games in their last three season. We invite on players that can’t keep fit. Beradi is always better option that Chukwueze that stats is there but mgt keep emphasising on youth. Just $0.5m was the different between keeping Kessie and Hakan and letting them go for free.
    There are better deputy striker to Giroud we can go for instead of Jovic even in that dying moment of the transfer window.

  4. @ Chrisp, I totally agreed with you. I have said it over time that we need bigger budget. Looking for Chelsea outcast players every season won’t take us anywhere.

    Pulisic, RLC and Chukwueze had never play 7 consecutive games in their last three season. We invested on players that can’t keep fit. Beradi is always better option than Chukwueze the stats is there but mgt keep emphasising on youth. Just $0.5m was the different between keeping Kessie and Hakan and letting them go for free.
    There are better deputy striker to Giroud we can go for instead of Jovic even in that dying moment of the transfer window.

  5. How tables have turned for media who started our summer campaign writing sensationalistic reports on Milan’s transfer market, hyping that platonic minded herd of fans who already thought we pocketed Scudetto at least. Insulted us who were sceptical all the way because we saw the pattern one too many times before.

    130 millions spent and we have nothing new to show. We’re way worse than last season. People will say it’s Maldini’s fault for not investing properly in reinforcements, while he had only 40 millions to spend.

    Pioli has his limits but this is not entirely his fault. Summer transfer campaing and 130 millions spent but we still lack key figures to be complete.

  6. But if not because of injure and pioli bad decision where are the best team in Italy but we have to have a player that know Italian league well someone like berardi

  7. I for one have stoped looking at goals or assists as the most important stat of a player. In Milan the most important thing is how long can you stay healthy.

  8. @Chrisp – you mean like Chelsea who spent about a billion on new players and aren’t even in the top 5?

    And what does this mean: “They see us coming now and we didn’t improve enough to not be easily neutralized by better clubs.”

    What “better” clubs? We rolled Juventus Napoli and PSG and would’ve won all three if it hadn’t been for bad game management and forced subs.

  9. We are not worse then last year. Pulisic, Reijnders, Loftus & Musah have improved the team and Okafor & Chukwueze still have time to prove they can be relied upon.
    The main problem for me was planning the season with Krunic as a starter at the base of midfield, I think he is good to have in the team as a utility player but we desperately needed a physical DM who would galvanize the midfield and protect the back four in counters.
    We also needed at least a one new fullback as Florenzi(in the twilight of his career) and Bartesaghi( a novice) were never going to be enough. The team is not solid , that’s why we are leaking goals.
    Finally it must be said that the injuries situation has resulted in a loss of points that can’t be blamed on Pioli unlike some wrong decisions he has made this season.
    We leak to many goals and can’t keep a lead.

  10. Well said @Crisp

    “That begs the following question: without serious investment, and investment that does not follow the sale of a core team member, will Milan ever be able to go toe-toe with the world’s very best?”

    Isn’t this what Maldini was saying?????? LOLOLOLOLO. And he got fired for it. I – just like Maldini And some others on this chat lol @Crips – have been saying the same thing over and over. You cannot expect UCL or league titles when your NET spend on transfers is 35-40M. Period. It’s just the sad reality of football in todays market. True test will be if we spend in January and/or summer WITHOUT selling a core player. Time will tell.

  11. This is a ridiculous take. The bench is not enough to beat Lecce? Is this a write meant to cover the obvious flaw which is the coach? I have always maintained even through all the facade of our scudetto win that we have an over reliance of Leao and when he fails to perform nothing happens. We also struggle a lot against low block teams cos our style of play is so easy to decipher. Any normal coach can defeat Milan with the simplest of tactics which is putting 2 players on Leao and that’s it.

    Pioli obviously is limited tactically and OMG his crime to play Krunic at every opportunity and even going as far as calling him his most important player is enough to get him out of this club. Why didn’t this post do same stats on Krunic’s stats when he plays and when he doesn’t? Everyone can clearly see Adli when he plays and how he influences game with his forward passing and long range passing except Mr Pioli.

    I don’t even want to delve into his handling of up and coming talents. That would be a waste of my energy. The scudetto we won could be attributed to Zlatan being around and that’s the major reason the management is trying to bring him back. Pioli doesn’t even have the dressing room on his side at the moment which is quite obvious.

    My take is, give Pioli Messi, Ronaldo, Maldini, Nesta and all the best players in their prime and he would make them look so bang average.

  12. @Ted and I’m laughing all the way to the bank on that one. The vile they spewed on Maldini just to make the new owners and their summer campaign look good were some of the worst journalism I’ve seen in years. Lapped up everything the new owners gave them while true vets knew what was up. All of this to be worse off than last year

  13. @Jerry “We are not worse then last year”….really? At the same round last year we were better off by 1 win, 1 draw. This year’s players we brought in made us worse off.

  14. milanista here since i was 7 yrs old. during games i am biased and emotional, but stepping back i try to analyze objectively.
    1/ we lost 3 games and only the udinese game was BAD (w/ caps). losing to juve in 10 men and playing better and the recurring loss to inter are not blown out of proportion by fans. we drew w/ napoli (reigning champs) and lecce, both games away, w/ good teams. i think the fanbase is blowing out of the proportion the results because it connects to inter i.e. inter and first place and they beat us soundly. re: inter, realistically, they can be napoli last year and no one catches them or they can be a simone inzaghi team and lose steam.
    2/ this team is still in progress. we got good players but not worldbeaters. they all come from different leagues, they need time to adapt. looks like chukwueze, okafor need more time than others.
    3/ somtimes pioli is the issue (stubborn tactically for longer than he should he and questionable moves – musah at right-back 2/ lecce? really? lol); however, i think mgmt need to take a look at the physio and fitness dept. clearly something’s off there. we’re hit w/ a laundry list of issues early or mid season.

  15. That is what you get when you decided to buy player from other league. Yes, They are way cheaper than serie A player. But they need more time to settle to a new league, to a new club. And playing in big club put more pressure and it makes a lot of player fail to live to their expectation. I understand why marotta decided to buy frattesi, it is quite expensive for club with financial difficulty like inter. But it worth..

Comments are closed

Serie A Standings

Live football scores . Current table, fixtures & results.