With every new Serie A campaign comes great excitement. New signings arrive, last season’s key performers return with another year of experience under their belt, and hopes are high your club has what it takes to lift the scudetto in May. But for fans of AC Milan, things didn’t exactly follow the script previously written.
The Rossoneri endured what can only be described as a horrendous transfer window, which has left the squad devoid of its greatest talents and fans up in arms. Such was the anger of the supporters this summer that the club was forced to refund unhappy season-ticket holders, after the highly publicized sales of star duo Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to free-spending French giants Paris Saint-Germains.
While the loss of the Brazilian international was the first domino to fall and ultimately seems to have set everything in motion, the departure of the Swedish striker may arguably have the bigger impact on the pitch.
The Rossoneri will no longer be able to rely on the individual brilliance of Ibrahimovic in order to secure victories from the jaws of defeat. A concerning prospect given that the big Swede accounted for 38 per cent of goals last season. Ibrahimovic’s 28 league goals last year was far and away the most by any Milan player, as midfielder Antonio Nocerino netted ten times to claim a distant second on the team.
The powerful striker was undoubtedly the focal point of the attack, which means that the likes of Alexandre Pato, Robinho and the newly acquired Giampaolo Pazzini (who arrived in a surprising deal with Inter for Antonio Cassano) will need to be in top form to make up for the loss of the reigning Capocannoniere.
If Milan are to challenge defending champions and scudetto favourites Juventus for the title this season, they need to rely on a group of players up front who simply haven’t done enough to show that they can replace a star of Ibrahimovic’s quality.
Brazilian striker Alexandre Pato needs to stay healthy for a majority of the season, a seemingly impossible task given his torrid injury history. The 22-year-old made only 11 appearances for club last season, having already been ruled out for this Sunday’s season opener with a left thigh strain.
When healthy the young Brazilian can be absolutely brilliant, but those times have been few and far between since he arrived at the San Siro. As for his compatriot Robinho, he too has shown flashes of inspiration in the famous red and black kit, but too often he has seemed disinterested while on the pitch; something that needs to change this year.
The most recent signing for the club this summer, Pazzini seems to be the wildcard of the bunch. He has proven in the past that given the proper service, he can be deadly in front of goal and lead the line as a classic centre forward – as he did when he recorded 19 goals during a brilliant campaign that saw Sampdoria qualify for the Champions League qualification stage back in 2009-10.
At the other end of the pitch, the sale of Thiago Silva has significantly weakened what was already an area of concern for manager Massimiliano Allegri. In fact, the only reason Milan looked anywhere near convincing at the back was due to the presence of the Brazilian, who often made up for the errors of his teammates during his time at the San Siro (the veteran leadership of Alessandro Nesta, who has also moved on, helped as well).
Not only did his sale weaken the back-four significantly, but it also seems to have set the tempo for the remainder of the transfer window.
Prior to Silva’s move to France, both Ibrahimovic and Cassano spoke out about the importance of keeping the defender at the club, with the Swedish star particularly vocal.
“Milan are a club that wants to win and invest, it’s a club that’s at the top and wants to be there. They want to continue winning and they will continue to win, if you want to do that, you keep Thiago Silva,” he said.
Unfortunately, the need to balance the books was simply to great an obstacle to overcome for Milan, and PSG jumped at the chance to splash approximately €42 million on the Brazilian international. Ibra followed in his teammate’s footsteps shortly after.
With Silva’s departure, Milan will now need to rely on new signings Cristian Zapata and Francesco Acerbi, who arrived from Villarreal and Chievo, respectively. In addition to the two new boys, experienced Frenchman Philippe Mexes is still with the club, and he should provide adequate cover should either the versatile Colombian or 24-year-old Italian be unavailable.
As for Daniele Bonera and Mario Yepes, well, Milan fans are hopeful that they see the pitch only during training sessions.
With the squad in its current state, much will be learned about Massimiliano Allegri this season, as the bench boss faces a difficult task if he is to guide Milan side to a 19th scudetto victory.
Make no mistake, there is still quality on the red half of Milan, not the least of which can be found in the midfield. With the likes of marquee signing Riccardo Montolivo, Kevin-Prince Boateng and last season’s breakout performer Nocerino, Milan should be able to rely on its midfielders to have a strong season. With the likes of Clarence Seedorf, Gennaro Gattuso and Mark van Bommel having moved on, the Rossoneri midfield should be significantly more mobile.
Add to that an ever-improving Ignazio Abate and a strikeforce that remains more than capable despite the departure of its talisman, Milan are not exactly going to be throwing the season away.
There are still pieces in place for this to be a successful campaign, and it is up to Allegri to find the right formula and make it happen.
Looking for Positives?
Milan’s fixture list to open the campaign is just that. While it will be difficult for the former Cagliari manager this year, he does have the benefit of time to figure out his best eleven.
Milan open the season at home this Sunday against newly promoted Sampdoria, who are back in the top flight after spending only one season in Serie B. That match is followed by a trip to Bologna, before they come up against Atalanta, Udinese, Cagliari and Parma, respectively.
With these opening six fixtures all very winnable, Allegri’s side will have time to gel and define itself without having to take on one of the bigger sides on the peninsula – that comes the following week, when the first installment of the Derby Della Madonnina takes place against bitter rivals Inter.
If they get off to a quick start ahead of that highly-anticipated match with the Nerazzurri, then perhaps they can build momentum for the long season ahead, and surprise many who have all but written them off as serious contenders.
The celebration that would ensue should the Diavolo capture the scudetto would ensure that Milan fans would finish the season just as they are starting it: up in arms.
SerieAWeekly welcomes back another regular contributor to our pages in writer Gianluca Nesci. If you are a AC Milan or simply a fan of Italian football in general make sure to return to the pages of SerieAWeekly for additional thoughts on the beautiful game