AC Milan: 2018/19 Serie A Preview
After another season of turmoil on and off the pitch, can Milan finally get it right?
Milan are no strangers to high drama and the last 12 months have been no exception.
A year after a much-expected takeover prompted a summer spending spree, hedge funders Elliott Management took control of the club from owner Yonghong Li who could not fulfil his funding commitments.
The club must now turn itself off and back on again and hope that the next reboot runs smoothly.
The early signs are good with ex-player and Coach Leonardo impressing in his early days as technical director, while the return of Paolo Maldini as director of strategic development and the retention of Coach Gennaro Gattuso suggests the new steering group are looking to keep things in the Rossoneri family.
2017/18 Season Review
The club began last season full of hope with a new-look squad and former Fiorentina and Sampdoria boss Vincenzo Montella at the helm. However, despite a £160m overhaul which included the purchases of Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus and Andre Silva from Porto, the campaign faltered from the start. By November, they had sent Montella packing.
Milan brought in Gattuso to steady the ship but he could only lead the club to a sixth-place finish, eight points adrift of fifth-ranked Lazio.
However, Gattuso showed enough to earn an extended contract and will lead the club into the coming season despite talk of a move for Antonio Conte.
Away from the field of play, it became clear all was not well. After repossessing the club, the new owners had to persuade the Tribunal of Arbitration for Sport they were worthy of a place in Europe after an initial ban for breach of Financial Fair Play regulations. The club was reinstated into the Europa League on appeal.
Last summer, the club brought in Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus in a move that turned sour for all concerned. Bonucci has now headed back to Turin with Gonzalo Higuain (loan) and Mattia Caldara coming the other way in a deal seen as a coup for Leonardo.
The move for Higuain comes in response to the gambles taken on Andre Silva and Nikola Kalinic last year. Neither lived up to expectations, so the club has plumped for a safer bet in the Argentine who has netted 111 times in 177 top-flight appearances in Italy.
The departure of Bonucci leaves Milan with a young backline although new signing Ivan Strinic will provide experienced cover for the full-backs.
Croatian Alen Halilovic has arrived on a free transfer from Hamburg after spending last season on loan at La Liga side Las Palmas. Still only 22-years-old, the attacking midfielder has yet to live up the potential shown during his time in the Barcelona B. However, he showed enough last term to prompt Milan to make a move.
Chelsea midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko has passed a medical and will join on loan this week.
Amongst those to follow Bonucci out the door were Kalinic, who moved to Atletico Madrid; Andre Silva, who secured a loan move to Sevilla; and M’Baye Niang, who made the permanent move to Torino.
Another player released was the young prodigy Hachim Mastour. The trajectory of the former Juventus, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester City target has nosedived spectacularly since he arrived in Milan amid much hype four years ago.
Now without a club, the 20-year-old Moroccan international faces a challenge to get his career back on track.
Gattuso looks intent on implementing a flexible 4-3-3 system built on the youthful backline of Gianluigi Donnarumma, Davide Calabria, Alessio Romagnoli, Mattia Caldara, and Andrea Conti (once he returns from injury).
With Manuel Locatelli heading out on loan to Sassuolo, Lucas Biglia should sit in the middle of a midfield three with Calhanoglu and Kessie either side. Tiemoue Bakayoko would provide further options here.
Suso is likely to continue on the right of a front three while Higuain’s presence could see Cutrone discarded or pushed out to the left with Borini dropping to the bench.
The Key Question: Is Gattuso the right man for the job?
Gattuso may be a club legend but there are still those who doubt his credentials as a top-class coach. He has brought grit and determination to the role and instilled a work ethic that saw the club grind out results last term. But is that enough?
He may prove himself as an astute tactician and he showed glimpses of that in the last campaign, switching formations after taking over from Montella. And the owners seem keen on maintaining strong club links throughout the staff.
The next step for Milan will be the break back into the top four. If Rino can keep them on track to achieve that, there will be no reason to look elsewhere, even with Antonio Conte’s shadow looming.
Another sixth place finish just won’t cut it.
The summer transfer market in Serie A has been one of the most talked about in years. And not just because of Cristiano Ronaldo.
The top four looks set to be a tight battle with Milan, Inter, Roma and Napoli all set to battle it out for the three spot behind Juventus. Lazio could also get in on the act if their own new recruits make an impact.
Of those teams, Milan have the most ground to make up and they might still lack the strength in depth required to juggle a domestic league and European campaign. However, their smart recruitment should cause significant improvements and fourth place is an achievable target.
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