Milan must prove transfer strategy was correct in derby against Inter

by | Feb 4, 2022 16:42

A quiet January window came and went for Stefano Pioli and his Milan, who must navigate treacherous waters to beat Inter and keep their title hopes alive, writes Matt Santangelo.

While Juventus sent shockwaves around Europe with their expensive coup of prized striker Dušan Vlahović from Fiorentina and Inter upgrading on the wing with the surprising acquisition of Robin Gosens from Atalanta, Milan remained quiet as the window came to an abrupt close this week.

Aside from the signing of teenager Marko Lazetić from Red Star, who is more a piece for the future, Milan essentially used the month to scale back on the wage bill, selling Andrea Conti to Sampdoria and loaning Alessandro Plizzari to Lecce.

Unlike last winter, when the arrival of Fikayo Tomori proved highly impactful en-route to booking a return to the Champions League, this underwhelming finish to the market has left plenty of questions unanswered with the project.

Does Milan have any financial clout? Will Elliott stay the course they are currently on as calculated, risk-assessing owners and force Paolo Maldini into low-budget moves? More importantly, at the moment, is Stefano Pioli armed with enough to stave off stiff competition for another top-four finish?

Pioli explains Milan choices in January transfer window

The coach justified the club’s choices in January during a press conference on the eve of the derby: “I know my players’ qualities. They must feel strong,” he said. “We didn’t have a chance to sign a player who could improve the level of our team and we believe in our players.”

If nothing else, the shared belief amongst fans and observers of Milan was that a central defensive reinforcement was the bare minimum for January once Simon Kjaer succumbed to a season-ending injury; as we all know, that addition did not walk through the doors of Milanello. Instead, it was more buzz and chatter from the media over a hypothetical swoop for Lille’s Sven Botman and Renato Sanches.

The two would be welcomed signings to fill the voids soon to be left by impending free agents Alessio Romagnoli and Franck Kessie. However, they do nothing to strengthen the immediate squad in the short term, which is a significant concern.

Pioli is a fine coach, a respected sheriff in the dugout who has brought stability unfamiliar to the role since Massimiliano Allegri roamed the touchline. The Italian has a good dynamic squad, with several emerging stars in Rafael Leão, Sandro Tonali, Ismaël Bennacer and Tomori, to name a few. But some holes appear more glaring by the week as more players find themselves on the medical table. 

Milan relying on Giroud’s Arsenal and Chelsea experience after Ibrahimovic injury

When fully fit, this squad can compete with the best Serie A has to offer; it has proven that on many occasions over the last few years. But with the keyword being “when,” it feels like a lot is being left to chance and a roll of the dice is taken on the campaign.

Despite a steadily growing project with an exciting core that is set to be locked up for the foreseeable future, the leisurely manner by which league rivals wrote checks to bolster their respective squads while Milan stood idly by is another indication of Elliott’s status quo approach as owners.

For the time being, Pioli and company face an actual test of will, fight and determination to evade the prolonged slump that nearly proved detrimental last season. Tomorrow’s derby could be a turning point in the Rossoneri’s campaign. Although many Milan fans do not seem optimistic about the game, a win would allow Pioli’s men to narrow Inter at the top of the table, giving a strong signal to the rest of the league and boosting their title and Champions League hopes.

On the other hand, a loss would see Milan slip seven points behind the Nerazzurri, ending their Scudetto expectations just like one year ago when their title ambitions vanished after a defeat against Antonio Conte’s Inter. The transfer window didn’t help Pioli and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s absence makes Milan’s task even more arduous. However, a derby is always a derby and probably Il Diavolo won’t have a better chance than this to turn its fortune around. Pioli said that he and directors have complete trust in their players. Tomorrow, they have the perfect opportunity to show that the club used the right strategy in January.


  1. Chris2

    I think it was the right thing to do. It’s a bit hypocritical if we refuse to give Gigio 9m, refuse to give Hakan 7m and refuse to give Kessie 8.5m to make a stand against greed, but we then go and spend 20-30m on an alternative player. There is not a quick fix to situations like this. We have paid the price as a club for trying to get a quick fix to long standing problems. Trust the youth, trust the process and weed out the greed.

  2. MaldiniS heir

    Is that some sort of threat?

    How dare Milan not sign any players in January! If they lose this one game (even by 1:0’ with a defected goal) it will prove the importance of MERCATO.

    Never question MERCATO. Thousands of players moving around mostly in the wrong direction. What’s not to like?

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