Caught up in the hype surrounding Milan’s massive summer spending spree which has seen nearly a dozen fresh faces enter the fray, there was one question to be asked of Coach Vincenzo Montella with his expensive new squad: Could he manage it to expectations?
In early June, CEO Marco Fassone and sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli confronted the difficult task of not only acquiring the proper personnel to contend for a Champions League spot, but do it quick enough so that Montella was given an ample amount of time to cohesively shape his starting XI for the upcoming season.
Throughout the pre-season, the former Fiorentina boss had structured his formations to build chemistry and ensure a fluent, attractive ‘calcio’ would yield positive results from the jump, and so far, it has.
After comfortably working their way past Craiova in the first wave of Europa League qualifying, and trouncing Macedonian club KF Shkendija 6-0 last week, a Group Stage berth is merely a formality.
Along with handling their opponents on the European front, Montella’s Rossoneri approached last weekend’s 2017-18 Serie A season opener on the road versus Crotone with conviction, playing ruthless attacking football to kill off the tie in the opening 30 minutes with a 3-0 lead.
Teenager Patrick Cutrone, who has turned heads with one impressive performance after another, shone in his first Serie A start, scoring a goal and assisting another. His movement in the build-up and tenacity in the final third exhibits a certain grade of confidence not commonly found in most his age, which is why Montella will refrain from sending him on loan.
Franck Kessie’s second half struggles last year post-Africa Cup of Nations without Roberto Gagliardini, nor the step up to a big stage in Milan, have affected the Ivorian in the slightest, as he already looks to be in mid-season form in late August. Hakan Calhanoglu has performed with poise as the Number 10, swinging in crosses with sharpness and making the transition over from Germany to Italy look rather simple.
Mateo Musacchio’s technical ability and swift manoeuvring in the back could not be understated in the absence of Alessio Romagnoli, and it’s likely due in part to the presence of big signing Leonardo Bonucci. As the new captain, the 30-year-old has slid right in as Milan’s fearless leader, rallying his men with pre-match speeches and barking out orders on the pitch. We can praise his astuteness and unrivalled ball-playing ability from the back all day long, but there is something about having an authority figure like Bonucci to take charge and assist Montella with an entirely new unit. It resonates in changing room and with the entire fan-base around the world.
With the second leg against Shkendija, Montella will test out a 3-5-2 system, which has been on the cards ever since Bonucci put pen to paper. It remains to be seen whether this will replace the 4-3-3 used so far or represent a valid alternative, but it certainly suits the former Atalanta players Kessie and Andrea Conti too. It might seem a little late in the day to be experimenting a whole new tactical structure, but with an entire XI of new signings, Montella is arguably ahead of schedule.
Players are still settling in, on the pitch and off, but initial rendering of the revamped Milan is quite encouraging. Steady progress is being made, and though we sit in phase one of the current campaign, it’s clear Montella’s already left a footprint on the Peninsula with his new-look red and black.