AC Milan began 2014 with a 3-0 win over Atalanta, with two goals from Kaka – his 100 and 101st for the club – and a first goal for 18-year-old Bryan Cristante, making his full professional debut. Under-fire manager Massimiliano Allegri called the game a relegation dogfight – something Milan fans would have never dreamed they would be a part of, but the fact was that before the game, they were only 1 point ahead of their Lombardy rivals, and were in the bottom half of the table. The win lifts them up to 10th, but they are still a million miles away from where one of Italy’s greatest clubs should be. The first half of this season was simply a disaster for Milan, amassing only 4 wins in 17 games, although they somehow managed to scrape into the knockout stages of the Champions League. So what was going so wrong for them, and can they fix it in the coming year?
Poor Transfer Window
Milan were criticised in the summer of 2012 for selling star players Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and for releasing several experienced players. This summer wasn’t much better, as they failed to address the problem areas, overspent on flop Alessandro Matri, and brought in players far below the calibre they are used to, like Valter Birsa and Matias Silvestre. The players they needed were a centre-back, and a creative midfielder – and they have already addressed these two areas in the very early days of the January window, sigining Keisuke Honda on a free transfer from CSKA Moscow, and Adil Rami on loan from Valencia. This suggests that whoever is in charge of transfers has learnt a harsh lesson from and moved quickly to fix things.
Towards the end of last season when Milan had turned their form around, thanks to the young talents of Mattia De Sciglio, Stephan El Shaarawy, Mario Balotelli and M’baye Niang, Milan were hailed for putting their trust in youth. The latter three were expected to spearhead Milan’s attack for the next decade, but the so-called youth revolution failed to continue this season. El Shaarawy had many niggling injury problems, and even when fit was rarely selected to start. De Sciglio also missed several months injured, but is now back in the team. M’baye Niang also struggled to get into the team, making only one start before being sent on loan to Montpellier this January. Balotelli failed to continue his prolific form he had shown since he left Manchester City. Milan also had several new young talents expecting to break into the first team this season, namely Bryan Cristante, the creative midfielder they desperately needed, Andrea Petagna and Riccardo Saponara. Cristante made his first start of the season against Atalanta and managed to score, so perhaps he will be given more chances in the second half of the season.
Puzzling Team Selections and Substitutions
‘Count Max’ as some Milan fans have taken to calling their manager, has repeatedly perplexed them by selecting out-of-form or simply not good enough players. The likes of Constant, Zaccardo, Nocerino, Muntari, Birsa, Matri and Robinho have been out of form for a long time, or should never have been signed in the first place. It is even more aggravating when they are being selected over promising youngsters like Niang and Cristante. The general consensus is that Allegri is on borrowed time, and he seems certain to be gone by the end of the season at the latest, if not sooner. Should he go, Andre Villas-Boas has been suggested as a replacement.
Milan’s problems are great, but if they can put their trust in youth, get rid of the poor players in their squad and bring in a few more quality players, there is no reason why they cannot make a late charge up the table like last season, although the Champions League is likely beyond them. It may require the replacement of their much-maligned manager, but if that is what it takes then the Milan hierarchy should waste no time.
Best Milan XI:
Abate – Mexes – Rami – De Sciglio
Montolivo – De Jong/Cristante
Honda – Kaka – El Shaarawy