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.
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.
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.
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.