As Stefano Pioli continues to prepare for his first game as Milan coach, he’ll be busy formulating his own ideas and plans as to how to get the best from this squad.
Many key individuals are currently missing this week as they’re on international duty, but as they begin to filter back to Milanello next week, the 53-year-old will gain a better idea of who fits into his plans and who will win specific battles for a starting place.
SEE MORE: Five Milan players who Pioli must integrate to add key elements to core of XI
In his presentation press conference last week, the former Lazio and Fiorentina coach revealed that he has been watching Milan this season, despite only getting the call about the job to replace Marco Giampaolo just days before he was appointed.
That will hopefully give him an idea of which individuals haven’t been performing thus far, and it remains to be seen whether he sees that as a personal challenge to get the best out of them or if he will make changes immediately and freshen things up.
In the lead up to his first game though, there are a group of players who he will hopefully avoid pinning his hopes on to ensure that his tenure is a successful one, as he could be heading down a path that several of our previous coaches have gone down with an ending that usually involves a departure.
While the Argentine centre-half brings experience, composure and technical quality to the backline, he has shown over and over again a vulnerability to make costly mistakes.
In turn, he can’t be considered the ideal partner for Alessio Romagnoli this season, and while it will take some time and patience, Mattia Caldara is now training with the rest of the group and is closing in on a return to full fitness and being in contention to feature for the first-team.
Pioli must look to bring him in when ready, and that would mean Musacchio eventually drops out and takes up a more suitable role as a quality back-up option.
There will be bumps in the road with Theo Hernandez, as although he’s an exciting and raw talent even at 22 years of age, there will be positives and some drawbacks that he brings to the side given his lack of experience and playing time.
Nevertheless, his intensity, urgency and attacking threat to go with his defensive capabilities is everything needed in a modern-day full-back, and so Pioli must avoid any temptation to play the safe card and go back to Rodriguez.
The Swiss international is once again the more experienced option, but his lack of conviction and defensive weaknesses make him another name who shouldn’t be starting and so it’s hoped that Hernandez keeps his place moving forward.
This is arguably the biggest concern as given their previous stint together at Lazio, it would be easy for Pioli to see Biglia as a stalwart that he can trust in the heart of his XI.
Similarly to Hernandez, Ismael Bennacer brings attributes to the table that we need more of with his pressing off the ball and classy play in possession, whereas with Biglia it’s the usual methodical and slow play that is simple but rarely effective while he’s at danger at his age with his lack of mobility of being by-passed in midfield battles.
The 33-year-old has his strengths which make him useful in certain situations and games, but he’s not a long-term solution and Pioli should be looking at Bennacer to be the engine in his side.
If you simply look at his statistics since joining Milan, the Turkish international has 13 goals and 24 assists in 98 appearances for the club.
For an individual who has played on the left of an attacking trident or as our playmaking mezzala for the most part, those figures are arguably nowhere near good enough.
Combine that with his sloppy, lacklustre play in possession at times and his lack of influence on games to help us dominate and dictate the tempo, there is surely a weak argument as to why he should remain in the XI especially when considering Lucas Paqueta and Giacomo Bonaventura are available.
Similarly to Calhanoglu, his numbers aren’t impressive when put into context as he has long been our creative hub and the man we give possession to in order to make something happen.
Despite that absolutely fundamental role, he has contributed 23 goals and 35 assists in 143 appearances, and while those are respectable numbers to a degree, we’re talking about a player who is expected to make us tick and is our primary weapon to unlock defences.
Coupled with his lack of defensive work and tracking back, if he’s anonymous in attack then he’s a liability for the team. Again, Pioli has options with Rafael Leao, Ante Rebic or others able to play either on the right flank in a 4-3-3 or on the right of a trio behind Krzysztof Piatek in a 4-2-3-1.
Ultimately, the expectation is that Pioli will give these players another shot under his stewardship to show their worth as they are all experienced and are safe options. However, if they underperform and don’t deliver for him, he must avoid being either stubborn or naive and make the necessary changes as they could risk being culpable for another failure.
Pioli's Milan with the potential 4-3-3 formation [Sky via @FMCROfficial] pic.twitter.com/0FF6OpHpQ1
— Milan Eye (@MilanEye) October 10, 2019