Are Milan weaker than last season?

by | Jul 29, 2021 17:19

Despite being the biggest spenders of the summer transfer window in Serie A so far, Oli Coates asks whether Milan are actually worse off than they were last season.

They say second is nowhere. But in finishing as runners-up in Serie A last season, Milan produced their best showing in the league since winning the Scudetto in 2011. The Rossoneri finished second the season after that, but it’s been a tough decade for the red half of Milan.

Therefore, the fact that they were able to mount a serious title challenge for the first time in years ought to be hugely encouraging for Il Diavolo. It was a tough second half of the campaign for Stefano Pioli’s side, though, winning only 11 of their final 20 Serie A fixtures, losing six.

Injuries to the talismanic Zlatan Ibrahimovic knocked confidence and impacted results, with the Swede only managing to score five times after getting injured towards the end of November. Given the mercurial striker had begun the season with 10 goals in his first six Serie A appearances, it was a key factor behind Milan’s drop in form.

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The Rossoneri would end up 12 points behind local rivals Inter. There ought to be real positivity surrounding Pioli and his players ahead of the new campaign, especially after their significant summer outlay, but that isn’t really the case with the opening round of fixtures just a few weeks away.

For starters, there’s the feeling that last season represented a huge missed opportunity for Milan, thanks to the troubles at Juventus. The Old Lady have Max Allegri back in charge now, and they will be better than last term. As it was, both Juve and Atalanta only ended up one point behind the Rossoneri in the final standings, with Napoli just another point back.

There’s going to be a step up in competition both at home and abroad, although Milan’s return to the Champions League after an eight-year absence should be celebrated rather than feared. Even so, Pioli is unlikely to be able to rotate in European matches, and his squad will be stretched.

The squad has seen some solid investment, which at present is higher than any other club in Serie A so far this summer. Fikayo Tomori’s loan spell has been turned into a permanent transfer for €28m, while Sandro Tonali has also signed a permanent deal for a reported fee of €7m plus another €3m in add-ons. Olivier Giroud provides cover and competition up front, while Brahim Diaz returns on a fresh two-year loan.

Milan: Calabria explains Donnrumma exit

Perhaps most significantly, though, is the arrival of goalkeeper Mike Maignan from Ligue 1 champions Lille for a reported fee of €15m. The French stopper is charged with replacing Gianluigi Donnarumma, who has joined Paris Saint-Germain on a free after his contract at San Siro expired at the end of June.

Defender Davide Calabria has bemoaned his former teammate’s departure, saying: “There are things nobody knows. Everybody made their decision and took their responsibilities. Time will tell if Gigio made the right choice…I am sorry he is not at Milan anymore.”

Having starred for Italy at the Euros and being named Player of the Tournament, Donnarumma is one of the very best ‘keepers in the world and Milan are undoubtedly weaker without him between the sticks. Maignan has a big job on his hands, while the Rossoneri have several other issues further up the pitch.

Maignan and Giroud ready to play against Nice

Diogo Dalot has returned to Manchester United following a loan spell in which he made 33 appearances for Milan in all competitions, with 21 of those in Serie A. Milan are in talks to take him back to San Siro, but the Red Devils are unwilling to sell him on loan again. Soualiho Meite made 16 league appearances after arriving on loan in January, but Milan chose not to make that deal permanent.

Even more significant is the departure of Turkey international Hakan Calhanoglu, another key player who’s left on a free at the end of his contract. Calhanoglu has crossed the Milan divide to join Inter, strengthening a key rival while weakening the Rossoneri. After making 172 appearances over four years, with 135 Serie A, he will be missed.

However, there’s still plenty to be positive about for Milan. Pioli is building something on the red side of the city, and if players such as Franck Kessie perform as they did last term, and Ibrahimovic, Giroud and Rafael Leao can share the goalscoring burden, they could challenge for the Scudetto once again.

The problem is that Juventus will be stronger, Atalanta are growing as a club all the time, and Inter will have the confidence and experience of champions. It’s tough to escape the feeling that Milan are weaker than they were at the start of last season, but one more key signing over the next few weeks could make all the difference.

@OliCoates

12 Comments

  1. Rosario

    Losing Gigio impacts Milan, like it would any club losing a player of such ability. Keeping goal for a top club requires more than ability, skill and fitness. You need aura, presence and personality. Maignan certainly arrives at the highest stage of his career, and one would expect him to continue to grow. But that is certainly one area that could worryingly become a weakness.
    Getting rid of Hakan will liberate that midfield and allow Milan to take the next step up. Hakan was not and is not a champion. He spent the majority of his time at Milan coasting through matches, without there being a genuine alternative to dump him out of the starting 11. We need an attacking midfield who doesn’t cower to pressure, doesn’t disappear when backs are against the wall and can be more decisive with decision making. Diaz will hopefully grow and stay injury free. Depth is required when it comes to supporting Kessie, Bennacer and Tonali off the bench, and the team definitely requires a good right winger. I would’ve most definitely kept Meite, as he got better the more he played. Giroud and Ibra are obviously not long term solutions, so the team requires a reliable and mobile striker / forward. The goals were passed around the team last season, and I expect that to be the case this coming season. A top 4 finish complemented by the bonus of getting out of the champions league group would constitute progress. This is a young squad after all.

  2. Nors

    @ Rosario,
    I agree with your assessment of Hakan. He is an undeniable talent, but he does disappear in big games. . . not always, but often. While losing Gigio is a massive setback, Milan just can’t contend with state money as PSG has. I can’t really blame Gigio, but it is sad. That being said, I think Maignan is as good a replacement as could have been acquired–especially when you consider $$. He’s long been scouted by Milan (it has been reported) as an ideal replacement for Gigio–and that Milan got him for what they did–I think bodes well. I’m less impressed with the pairing of Giroud and Ibra as our strikers. While they are both still talented I just don’t see them as the dynamic game-breakers they both were earlier in their careers. While Leao hasn’t been hugely impressed, I still think he is young and a good developing talent that could have a breakout season if given more minutes. I’d hate to see him get moved right at the time when players of his physical profile often blossom. Looking forward to Matchday 1. . .

  3. Rosario

    @Nors. Not doubting Maignan’s qualities whilst with Lille. Just that making the step up to Milan is a whole other reality. History, we haven’t had great luck with French players. Theo is probably the best performing Frenchman in Milan history. Bigger goalkeepers have come from abroad to Milan, and couldn’t handle it. Lehman for one. He will need to show personality in addition to the ability to quickly cement his place.
    I completely agree on Giroud. I still can’t really find constructive reasoning. Soon to be 35, hasn’t scored more than 8 league goals since the 16/17 season. He can’t run, doesn’t really fit our style of play, and I just struggle to see him playing unless Ibra is injured/needs a rest.
    I also agree on Leao. The kid was a huge investment. More faith has to be shown. He has never really had a proper run of games to cement his place and spent a lot of last season having to fill into positions that he doesn’t feel comfortable in. He has a lot to learn. Cutting loose a player with so much potential and with such a price tag would feel like a real waste. For me, Leao has everything to be a great centre forward. The only really critical attribute he lacks is aggresivity. I would like him to be a bit more ruthless, a bit stronger in the air and be a bit more of a bully. Too often he loses headers, and I just find him too laid back

  4. Anthony

    Do not cry over losing Donnarumma even though he’s a top goalkeeper. Don’t be overwhelmed by the fact that Donnarumma just won the best player at Euro Championship, either. Here’s why. First, Donnarumma won the award because this Euro Championship did not have outstanding stars players like in the past. Second, we all know that Donnarumma mans well between the two oal posts with his big frame and reflex ability but he is NOT a vocal leader in the box. He does not have that characteristics of a strong leader like Gigi Buffon. He does not have the fire in his spirit expression but rather he’s a calm guy. He does not have footing skills and he does not know how to start an attack quickly from the back. His ball distribution skill is average. If Mike Maignan could do what he did in Ligue 1 last season, we’ll be fine!

    Milan needs to get rid of Castillejo, Krunic, and Leao. Castillejo has more tatoos on his body than the strength in his legs, he seems to easily fell on the ground everytime he got touched by a feather. Krunic should go to make room for Maldini and Pobega to grow. And finally Leao, despite his skills and talent potential, seems not knowing where he is on the field. One great run and he follows up by a lackluster figure of himself. Leao does not know how to keep his head on his neck and shoulders. His mind at time is in the sky during the game. His body language is lazy and uncommitted that only gives his opponents more courage to fight against him.

    What Milan needs and can do in this summer market is to get a second right winger, a third striker, a fourth midfielder, and a real trequatista. If Milan do these things, we’ll be challeging for Serie A champion.

  5. Rosario

    @Anthony.
    An absolute load of tripe and nonsense you’ve written regarding Donnarumma. You sound like a bitter English fan.

  6. Roso Nieri

    I think Milan signing Brahim Diaz was a great signing…. for Real Madrid. Milan has almost no Italian talent. I think Maldini is doing a great job of continuing the same mess that his predecessors have started.

    Milan needs to sign and develop young Italian players… permanent deals, not load with buybacks for the owners.

  7. Rosario

    @Roso Nieri.

    ‘almost no Italian talent…’ Calabria, Gabbia, Tonali, Pobega who is sought after, and Romagnoli who Milan bought and developed whilst he was barely 20. We are a football club. Not the national team.

  8. Manuel

    @Rosario, I agree with most of your point but i think Maignan will be fine. First because we are a young team and with all that happened with the Donnarumma saga, they will cut him some slack even though i think he is a very good Goalkeeper and would cover the loss of Gigio quickly. I think at one point it was reported Ibra was recommending him as well. The other reason being is like you said, a lot of Goalkeepers came from abroad and couldn’t handle the pressure, that’s true But that was when the Milans name could still hold it’s own. with us being absent from the big scene for some time, i think the expectations have eased on what we are and we have bought into the idea of building slowly(Though come matchday, we still will be cursing!) and i won’t say we always had a world class keepers even when we were dominating in Europe.

    For Giroud, i can perfectly understand it. We need a presence to hold up play and also in the box . I don’t know if you watched most of Milans games last season, but there were a lot of occasions where a ball is in the box and there was nobody to gamble on it because Rebic and Leao where caught flat footed and always at the edge of the 18yrd box or wouldn’t anticipate that something could happen. which is why for all his misgivings, Castillego at least gambles and arrives from the right hand side into box. Giroud would get on a lot of those chances and i think he would reach double figures considering he won’t be the starter.

    I think a few more addition in midfield and a young striker would be fine. I think we will have a great season and achieve our objectives.

    By the way, Can they please keep Pobega!! What’s the point of always loaning all our primavera and they shine and then we look like idiots!

  9. Rosario

    @Manuel.

    Naturally, I hope you’re right about Giroud. But the last time Giroud scored more than 8 leagues in a season, it was the 16/17 season and he was playing for Arsenal. But here’s hoping!

    I agree on Pobega, especially when you see the likes of Locatelli and Pessina scoring and doing well in the Euro’s. Both former Milan youth players. The problem with a player at that age is that he needs to play. With Kessie, Bennacer and Tonali, would it be right for him to sit there warming the bench all season? A loan move might work out best, but we need to get to a stage where we have the first option to buy back on players who are sold.

  10. who me ?

    id like to see either Berardi or Belotti go to milan as up front reinforcements. losing Donnarumma is tough as hes a big name player born in red & black, but carried a heavy pricetag for club, and something went down where he no longer wanted to stay. they need to perform well in CL…or it could turn into a self destruction season.
    i could see Gattuso coming back if Pioli gets thee ax midseason.

  11. El cid

    PSG sign Donnarrumma (the best player on Euro 2020) on FREE TRANSFER, I repeat on FREE TRANSFER. It is definitely embarrassing.

  12. EL CID

    PSG sign Donnarrumma (the best player on Euro 2020) on FREE TRANSFER, I repeat on FREE TRANSFER. It is definitely embarrassing.

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