Comment:: The Rossoneri failed to perform well in the Champions League semi-final Milan derby and are deservedly out of the competition. The matches against Inter showed not only the fans but also the AC Milan management a lot. And unfortunately in a negative sense. Why are the Rossoneri in such a crisis?
It’s no secret that AC Milan’s footballers have not been delivering the performances that fans of the Italian big club are used to lately, especially since the beginning of April.
The raised index finger for the Rossoneri should have already been the period after the start of the new calendar year, when AC dropped out of the Coppa Italia with Torino, failed to win the Super Cup with Inter and received beatings from Lazio or Sassuolo in the league.
Then, at the beginning of February, the Milanese lost another Derby della Madonnina. After that, coach Stefano Pioli adjusted his tactics, leaving three defenders at the back for a few games and AC’s play improved dramatically. The oxygenation was successful, the red and black seemed to get a second wind.
Relegation to the Champions League semi-finals, unnecessary draws in Serie A
This resulted in a progression to the Champions League quarter-finals, where AC Milan beat Tottenham, and three more wins in domestic competition. But in mid-March, this machine, which incidentally also knocked Napoli out of the Champions League and blasted them clear 4-0 in the league, started to gradually grind to a halt.
The exception to this is the combative performance in the Champions League in April. But as far as league games are concerned, AC fans witnessed unnecessary draws with Salernitana (March, 1::1), Empoli (April, 0::0), Bologna (April, 1::1) or with Cremonese at the beginning of May (home, 1::1).
It should be noted, after the losses to Fiorentina and Udinese in March and the aforementioned draw with Salernitana, coach Pioli returned to the four defenders system. However, apart from a few league games and the Champions League, it hasn’t borne much fruit.
Despite a good performance, the Rossoneri recorded another draw at AS Roma. Only two wins at home against Lecce and Lazio, by the way, after a great game, in the chase for the rungs that ensure participation in the Champions League for next season is simply not enough.
There is a lack of quality player alternatives
But why did AC suffer so many losses, especially at the stroke of the new calendar year? Well, for almost the entire second half of the season, or rather for more than half of the games, there is no surprise moment in the game. The game is more or less static and there is no momentum heading into the final stages of the game.
Part of the blame certainly goes to the coach, as his vision of the need to interfere in the game in the form of late substitutions is a chapter in itself.
But on the other hand, who is he actually supposed to put in there. With whom to oxygenate a starting eleven that, for example, failed to score for 70 minutes against Empoli? And this is where we come to the quality of the players and the very narrow squad, which was beautifully demonstrated in the Champions League double against Inter.
If AC have absolute security anywhere, it’s in the space between the three posts. Mike Maignan has shown on several occasions that he is a world-class goalkeeper and personally I wouldn’t be afraid to put him in the elite five of the current best goalkeepers in the world.
If there’s anywhere AC needs to strengthen, it’s probably the left side of defence. Davide Calabria, as the captain of the Milan giant, certainly has the commitment, but the quality in his case is often lacking. On the other hand, the Rossoneri can rely on their stoppers.
Simon Kjaer did not give a good performance in the first game against Inter, but for example Harry Kane defended with precision in the double against Tottenham. Personally, I like the style of Fikayo Tomori. Malick Thiaw is showing that he can grow into a truly great stopper, Pierre Kalulu is also still young and a prospect for the future.
The right side of the defence is manned by Theo Hernández, who is quite simply one of AC’s best players. Fodé Ballo-Touré may not be an ideal replacement, but Alessandro Florenzi has already made up for his absence with his experience.
In short, AC have not had the same problems defensively as in other positions. In fact, there are enough players who are able to rotate and also substitute for each other throughout the season. It’s worse with the more offensive part of the lineup.
Backup and attack
If the club management plans to invest somewhere, it has to be here. AC has some semblance of their ideal starting eleven, it’s just that there is virtually no alternative for the players in it on the substitutes’ bench. And now, in the games against Inter, it showed in full force.
While Simone Inzaghi has oxygenated his team with Lukaku, Brozovic, Correa and others, Pioli simply had nowhere to go. Rafael Leão on the left wing is a future superstar, it’s just that if he doesn’t play, AC is half-assed. Ante Rebic has often filled the role of a substitute for the Almada native, but he is completely out of form and ripe for departure.
Then there is no one on the right wing who can be used in the starting lineup. Already during the second half of last season, the fans complained vehemently about Junior Messias, who was given an incomprehensible amount of time against Inter. Alexis Saelemaekers is a journeyman and a solid prospect for the future, but at a big club like AC Milan he’s simply still not for the starting lineup.
The back nine on the pitch itself needs strengthening significantly as well. For there is no replacement for Olivier Giroud. The Rossoneri probably can’t count on Zlatan Ibrahimovic much anymore due to injury and age, and Divock Origi is a huge disappointment.
AC Milan have also been missing a playmaker for a long time. The arrival of a creative midfielder would also mean another available alternative for the running Brahim Díaz, who might return from a loan spell back at Real in the summer. But AC need and will need a similar type of player.
Bottom line – at least five new players would certainly find work at the San Siro. And why all this? Because in the new year, it turns out that Pioli doesn’t really have anywhere to go if needed. When he was saving his mainstays for Champions League games, AC were toothless in the attacking direction.
Moreover, due to the heavy workload, the fatigue of the players was evident. As I wrote above, there is simply no one to send in the starting line-up. Tommaso Pobega, with all due respect, is not a player for AC Milan, and the promising Charles De Ketelaere, who arrived in the summer for €32 million from Bruges, is also a big disappointment.
It begs the question, why did it work last year and not this year when the squad is almost the same? For one thing, because Milan didn’t make it that far in the Champions League last season, or rather finished in the group stage and didn’t play European cups in the spring.
A narrow squad simply does a lot, in the negative sense of the word. It was obvious that the battles with Tottenham and Napoli cost the players a lot of strength. And you can’t keep it that way in the long term.
The question remains who will potentially head to AC if they don’t actually qualify for the Champions League for next season. Moreover, we can assume that the club’s management won’t be willing to release any large amount of money for summer transfers in this case either.
Personally, I believe that in the case of AC, for example, this April is not just an example of the players not wanting to be on the pitch or perhaps coach Pioli is to blame for everything.
Everything has its consequences. One big mistake, in my opinion, already occurred before the season, when the 2021/22 Serie A champion, a club with big ambitions to prove itself in Europe, was given roughly €45-50 million to spend on transfers despite the obvious need for reinforcements in some positions. In the long run, AC’s situation can also be described as largely due to a succession of several situations that were not handled correctly.
Sources: AC Milan, UEFA Champions League
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