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The summer of 2019 was supposed to be the dawn of a new era for Milan yet it might have set them back more than they realise.
The Serie A giants, accepted by the masses as European royalty, looked to revamp their squad in an attempt to challenge Juventus’ monopoly in the Italian top-flight.
Marco Giampaolo replaced Gennaro Gattuso in the hot seat at San Siro. The hope was the former Sampdoria boss could bring an identity to the team’s playing style. Milan went about giving the Swiss-born tactician the best chance of succeeding with an overhaul of the first-team.
Theo Hernández, Rade Krunić, Rafael Leão, Ismaël Bennacer, Léo Duarte and Ante Rebić all arrived in the summer and the club managed to keep hold of Alessio Romagnoli and Gigi Donnarruma despite interest from some of Europe’s elite.
On paper, Milan had one of the most intriguing and exciting squads in Serie A, with Lucas Paquetá and Krzysztof Piątek two of the most in-demand players in Europe last season. The problem, however, was Giampaolo appeared to be out of his depth.
Initially claiming he wanted to use a 4-4-2 diamond with Suso operating at the tip, the former Sampdoria boss soon switched to a 4-3-3 shape with the Milan No.8 back on the right side of the attack.
Giampaolo left Paquetá, Leão, Bennacer, Krunić and Rebić on the bench in favour of Hakan Çalhanoğlu and Lucas Biglia. What seemed like an ideal fast-paced squad was instead playing slow football based around long balls forward which left Piątek isolated in attack. It made no sense and after just 111 days in charge, the powers at be at Milan made the decision to replace their hand-picked coach.
With the Rossoneri failing to play attractive football, results ultimately mattered more than they might have. Under Giampaolo, they lost four of their seven matches. For context, Milan only suffered eight defeats in Serie A last season.
Change was needed if the seven-time champions of Europe wanted to get their season back on track. But for this to be a success, there needed to be a clear plan in place. Change for the sake of change isn’t beneficial to anybody. Milan panicked, though, and got rid of Giampaolo only to replace him with Stefano Pioli.
The 54-year-old Italian manager was sacked by neighbours Inter in 2017. He resigned as Fiorentina coach in April with a 32 per cent win rate after close to two years in Florence. Pioli is fine as a manager for mid-table sides. But Milan aren’t a mid-table side and they needed more than just fine.
Pioli has overseen four matches and his side have picked up just four points. They claimed a 1-0 win over bottom of the table SPAL, drew 2-2 with Leece and lost to Roma and Lazio. Performances have improved a little, and the summer signings are now being given opportunities in the first team.
Leao started Pioli’s first two matches in charge while Piątek led the line in the next two. The midfield has gradually changed and in their last outing against Lazio it was made up of Bennacer, Krunić and Paquetá, with the former catching the eye with his four tackles and four dribbles.
But Milan aren’t out of their transitional period yet. Franck Kessie is believed to be surplus to requirements with Sport Mediaset claiming the Serie A side will attempt to sell the 22-year-old in January.
Ivan Rakitic is the man tipped to replace him in the middle third in what would be one of the strangest swaps in a long time, with the Barcelona man turning 32 before the current season comes to an end.
Then there’s the conundrum to solve in the attack. Piątek relies on service while Leao is much more creative. He’ll drop deep, he’ll run the channels and he’ll linger on the shoulder of the last man looking to get in behind. With Pioli looking to use just one striker, one may have to be sacrificed.
All that without taking into account the task at hand to somehow get Rebić, Paquetá and Suso into a single starting XI, too. Milan spent a lot of money on players who might not fit the plans of the current manager.
Shoehorning them in will only hinder the progress of the club and impact the players in a negative way. There’s no quick fix to the predicament they find themselves in but pushing on with a bad idea will do more damage than good.