October 7, 2017

AC Milan and their stuttering revival

Why the revolution is taking a little longer than perhaps expected at the San Siro


To say that Serie A has become predictable over the past few seasons would be an understatement. Juventus have been rampant now and have won the title for the past 6 seasons basically unchallenged. This summer, however, there was a buoyancy about AC Milan and a real belief that with their new investment Serie A may finally have one of its fallen giants back and challenging again.

10 years ago AC Milan were crowned champions of Europe in Athens after gaining revenge on Liverpool. How times have changed. AC Milan have been in the wilderness for several years now and in dire need of investment. In August 2016 the club found its investors. The takeover of the club itself was delayed and delayed and eventually completed in mid-April of this year. Vincenzo Montella wasted no time this summer is rebuilding the squad. Seasoned pros such as Honda, Poli, Diego López and De Sciglio among plenty of others left the bloated squad.

Montella was very active during the summer window bringing in some very highly rated players from across Europe. Calhanoglu, Andre Silva and Ricardo Rodriguez to name but a few that have arrived at Casa Milan this summer. The real masterstroke was securing the services of Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus even though he was seemingly due to join Oil-rich Manchester City.

Milan had pulled off a real coup. What helped the deal go through was the fact Bonucci had a rocky relationship with Max Allegri and was looking for a new challenge; AC Milan with fresh investment and a bright new project allowed him to take up the new challenge and not uproot his family too far. Expectations were high from fans and pundits alike, despite pre-season not being the most impressive. The only notable win in pre-season was a 4-0 thrashing of Bayern Munich. The reality of the situation is very very different to the expectations.

After cruising through the Europa League qualifying rounds, as you would have expected, Milan started the League campaign with two wins from two before the international break, but their first real test would arrive in Rome against Lazio.

Milan was picked apart by a rejuvenated Lazio side under the stewardship of Simone Inzaghi and Ciro Immobile scored a hat-trick to bring Milan back down to earth. Since then, AC have labored in the league campaign with narrow wins over Udinese and Spal before another defeat away at Sampdoria and a home defeat at the weekend to Roma.

The reality for the Rossoneri is that the gap between not just them and Juventus has been so big for so long that there is never going to be a quick fix to the problem. The next 4 weeks don’t get any easier for Milan either with the Derby Della Madonnina next up and then Juventus coming to town combined with Thursday nights in the Europa League could see it be a very long October.

Vincenzo Montella has already come under some pressure with the money spent and two losses against rivals and with the newly available Carlo Ancelotti waiting in the wings, the new owners may be tempted to wield the axe this early on in the season just as Bayern Have done in Germany.

Montella has yet to settle on his best eleven or even a preferred formation which is hindering the clubs performances. Bonucci has been brought in to marshall the backline and is being played with a partner of either Zapata, Romagnolli or Musacchio. Never with two of those. Bonucci has always flourished in a back 3 both at Juventus and with the Azzurri.

AC Milan play with attacking wingbacks in Rodriguez and Conti (now out injured) who like to play high up the pitch and if the play breaks down as it did against Lazio, on the counter they are effectively left 2v2 or at times overloaded in a 2v3 situation. Immobile didn’t waste his opportunities and put Milan to the sword.

There have also been questions about some of the signings at the top end of the pitch. Andre Silva has been brought in for a hefty fee from cash-strapped FC Porto but has seen his playing time shared with Patrick Cutrone who has been in very good form in front of goal, he is a real find from the youth system and one of the major positives so far.

Fabio Borini, who must have the best agent in football, has managed to get himself a move to the Rossoneri and has seen him start ahead of many of the new arrivals this summer. His goal scoring record, however, is woeful. 31 league goals in 9 seasons is not the kind of longterm firepower required to bring home the Scudetto.

Tha gap between the Juventus and the rest of Serie A is closing, thanks to the new investment but it’s not just clubs that have had big investors that are improving. Roma and Napoli have been Juventus’ closest title challengers for the past 3 seasons with no major foreign investment.

Napoli are a breath of fresh air. Maurizio Sarri’s free-scoring team are a joy to watch and deservedly find themselves on top of Serie A by two points and the feeling in Naples is that they are quietly confident of toppling Juventus this season and claiming their first Scudetto since 89-90 when Diego Maradona fired them to victory.

AC Milan shouldn’t panic, not just yet, The scudetto may be a step too far this season but a more realistic return for the investment would be a return to the Champions League and the additional revenue and exposure that brings, and with Italian clubs performing well in European competitions in the previous few years Serie A now has 4 qualifiers for Europe’s premier club competition.

Money spent is all well and good but one heavy spending window will not restore Milan to former glories and there is much work ahead. In relatable terms, the result that the investors were looking for was probably instant, similar to Chelsea when Roman Abramovic took over, in reality, it will be more like Manchester City, a slow burner that may take a few years to bear any fruit.

The Red and Black revolution may take a little longer than anticipated but early signs suggest things are, slowly, heading in the right direction.

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