After the despair of missing out on Champions League football on the last day of the season back in May, there was still optimism this summer that Milan were on the right path.
Gennaro Gattuso and Leonardo departed, in came Marco Giampaolo and a new-look management team led by Paolo Maldini and Zvonimir Boban promising a fresh desire and commitment to restoring our past glories.
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However, as the weeks and months have gone on, we’ve regressed to a point where Champions League qualification looks to be slipping away just 11 games into the campaign as we sit in 11th place in the Serie A table and eight points adrift of fourth-placed Lazio.
While that isn’t an insurmountable deficit to make up with so much of the campaign still to go, the way in which we’ve struggled to convince and pick up positive results to date would suggest that we have it all to do if we’re to break back into the top four this time round.
So, what must Milan do between now and the end of the season to salvage something from the campaign and avoid it being a complete disaster?
Sort out defensive problems, solve scoring issues
While we struggled to score goals last season too, what we did well was to remain organised and difficult to break down defensively, conceding just 36 goals which gave us the joint-third best defensive record in Serie A.
However, we’re not even anywhere near halfway in the current campaign and we’ve already conceded 15 goals and combine that with the ongoing struggles in front of goal, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Whether it’s sloppy individual mistakes or switching off and simply not being good enough collectively, if we don’t form a solid base on which to build and win games, we’re going to come unstuck against teams on a consistent basis and we’ll go nowhere fast.
It might seem crazy to suggest that it has to be the priority given we’ve only scored 11 goals in 11 games, but it has to be the starting point on which to improve as we’ve shown thus far we’re not capable of being a prolific outfit.
Players must take responsibility and step up
We’ve now arguably shown improvement since Stefano Pioli replaced Giampaolo, as we appear to play with more direction, tempo and have an identity about us while Lucas Paqueta recently noted that there is a better understanding between the coach and players under the current boss, as per Football Italia.
However, whether it’s Krzysztof Piatek’s struggles in front of goal, not getting enough service or support from midfield and the defence making costly mistakes, the players need to step up and be better as it can’t always be the coach who gets the blame.
That’s easier said than done, but there is quality in this squad and we’re not seeing it yet on a consistent basis over 90 minutes in a game. If Pioli can figure out the puzzle behind getting the best out of this current group of players, we can surely show that we’re better than being a mid-table outfit.
Looking back at our business over the summer, we only really lost Patrick Cutrone and Tiemoue Bakayoko while adding six talented individuals to help fill those voids. This squad hasn’t fallen off that far in a few months and so the players need to stand up and show more.
Bring in experience in January
As reflected in our transfer business since Elliott took control, the focus and priority has been to sign younger players with talent and higher resale value to build for a long-term future.
While that strategy has its benefits, it also has plenty of drawbacks as we’re experiencing now as we’ve simply not got the right balance and haven’t got enough leaders and experienced heads in the dressing room to make the difference when needed.
Marca suggest that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is closing in on a return to San Siro, while the Daily Mail claim that the likes of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic are on our radar to bolster the midfield.
Those are just a few of the names that speculation has linked us with, but the general idea is the same in that we could target experienced, proven winners with a track record to find a balance with the younger players in the squad.
While it isn’t ideal and represents more of a short-term vision, it’s getting to a stage with recent results where Milan simply might not have any other choice as the likes of Ibrahimovic and Modric have shown they’ve still got plenty left in the tank and can perform at a high level.
Perhaps by bringing that experience and winning mentality to the dressing room alone it would provide a much-needed morale boost for all concerned at Milan to give us all a renewed sense of belief, as we’re ultimately not getting the required answers from the current group.
It could even be argued that it’s unfair to rest so much pressure, responsibility and expectation on the shoulders of players who simply don’t have the experience of dealing with it yet without a guiding figurehead or two, and that goes back to the likes of Maldini and Boban getting it wrong this past summer perhaps with the pressure from the powers above dictating what they could do.
Through history, the top teams have always relied on a mix of experience and youth. If Milan, Elliott and all concerned want to move forward, January is going to be crucial in making sure we have that required balance.
Out of interest, who’s in favour of flipping the script and going for experience and ‘big names’ in Jan to salvage something from this season? I’m thinking Ibra, Rakitic and other names that have been linked for more of a short-term boost.#ForzaMilan
— Milan Talk (@MilanTalk1) November 4, 2019