Why Milan’s new-look defence is the perfect symbol of a bright new era

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan’s summer transfer window has been anything but quiet, so much so that it has almost become hard to take stock of everything.

The club’s new ownership has set about their overhaul of the inherited squad in pure Blitzkrieg fashion; getting business done early and effectively and addressing key needs in the squad.

The Rossoneri have invested in what can only be described as a transformed squad; the recent trend of finishing between sixth and eighth deemed completely unacceptable by Yonghong Li, Massimiliano Mirabelli, Marco Fassone et al.

Despite securing a return to European football thanks to a sixth-placed finish, the signs are there that last season wasn’t all that impressive from a statistical point of view. For example, the team scored the least goals of any team in the top nine, while conceding the most of any in the top six aside from Lazio.

Perhaps this is the reason that the Milan hierarchy decided to act so swiftly in the transfer market, focusing on all areas of the squad that were deficient and deemed cause for concern. One of these areas was no doubt the back four.

Vincenzo Montella’s side did concede the fifth-least amount of goals in Serie A in 2016/17, however the problems were plain to see. For starters, both full-back positions swapped and changed between the likes of Ignazio Abate (who had his season ended early due to injury), the inconsistent Mattia De Sciglio, the inexperienced Davide Calabria and the similarly raw Leonel Vangioni.

Meanwhile, in the centre of defence, Alessio Romagnoli tried his best to anchor the backline but had his injury problems. He and Gabriel Paletta had formed a seemingly solid partnership, until the latter made a habit of getting sent off, in the end amassing five red cards.

Cristian Zapata and Gustavo Gomez were called upon on numerous occasions, with neither really impressing as Milan were plunged into a defensive crisis towards the end of the campaign; Montella being forced into playing a makeshift 3-5-2.

However, we can now look back on that with a touch of relief, as the transfer activity to this point has completely transformed the Rossoneri rearguard. Mateo Musacchio and Leonardo Bonucci have arrived to strengthen the centre of defence, while Ricardo Rodriguez and Andrea Conti provide the answer to all the problems at full-back for hopefully the foreseeable future.

Chronologically, the new era under Rossoneri Investment Lux began with the long-awaited signing of Musacchio from Villarreal for a fee believed to be in the region of €18million. Not a bad price considering his European experience and the fact he is still only 26 years of age.

What he brings is a skill set that should in theory be perfectly suited to Montella’s style of 4-3-3 – that is with a solid pairing who can sit deep and recycle possession, but with the anticipation and awareness to push up and suss out danger.

Then, Ricardo Rodriguez arrived from Bundesliga outfit VfL Wolfsburg. The Swiss international was heavily linked with a move to Inter, but Mirabelli and Fassone swooped quickly to snatch the left-back from under our Madonnina rivals’ noses.

The 24-year-old earned a reputation as one of the most potent threats in the Bundesliga from the full-back position, contributing to 10 goals in the 2015/16 season, the fourth most of any defender.

Then came the statement signing of the entire summer, one that sent shockwaves through the footballing world. Leonardo Bonucci – whom Juventus turned down a €60m Manchester City bid for – left Turin in favour of a move to San Siro amid talks of a breakdown in relationship with coach Max Allegri.

This is the one that Milanisti are really excited about and rightly so; after all this is a player that the club could have only dreamed of signing six months ago. We all know what he brings – he’s one of the best defenders in the world and has been for years thanks to his awareness, aerial ability, composure and leadership skills.

Finally, the Andrea Conti saga drew to a close after many weeks of deliberation between Atalanta and AC Milan. From a Milan supporter’s point of view, this may be the most pleasing signing, not only because it fills a major need but also because the Italy U21 international made no secret of his desire to join the Rossoneri.

The right-back was a major part of Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta side which surpassed all expectations on their way to a fourth-placed finish, with Conti scoring eight goals and establishing himself as one of the brightest young defensive talents in Serie A.

While the four aforementioned players are set to give Milan’s defence an entirely new look next season, one player who should not be left out of the discussion is Alessio Romagnoli. The former Roma man – as mentioned earlier – has struggled to find a consistent partner at the back since his arrival.

First there was Alex, with whom he did have some chemistry until the Brazilian was allowed to leave, and then there was Paletta, who struggled to string together more than a handful of matches due to disciplinary issues. 

Essentially, Romagnoli has found himself surrounded by quality where before there was very little, and he is now the glue that holds a new-look back four (or possibly back three) together.

This sounds like a lot of responsibility, but the main point is that the days of stringing together a back three of Zapata-Gomez-Romagnoli with Kucka and De Sciglio as wing-backs (as happened at Atalanta in matchday 36) is long gone.

So what will we see next season? Will it be a back four of Rodriguez-Romagnoli-Bonucci-Conti? Could Montella deploy a 3-5-2 in order to accommodate Musacchio as well? It presents an interesting dilemma, but any combination combines solidity in the middle with attacking flair and threat at the other end.

Vincenzo Montella all of a sudden has one of Europe’s best defences to work with, and that in itself is a symbol of the fantastic work that has been done in bringing Milan’s squad back up to speed.

Tags AC Milan Alessio Romagnoli Andrea Conti Italy Leonardo Bonucci Milan News Ricardo Rodriguez Rossoneri Serie A
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