It is a transformational time for Milan with huge changes throughout the club, although new Coach Marco Giampaolo might find himself repurposing existing players for the most part. The former Sampdoria boss steps in for Gennaro Gattuso, while Paolo Maldini, Zvonimir Boban and Ricky Massara take control of the directorial roles.
The Rossoneri haven’t qualified for the Champions League since 2013 and find themselves up against profoundly reinforced opponents. Antonio Conte has come to Inter, Maurizio Sarri to Juventus and exciting Paulo Fonseca at Roma, while Carlo Ancelotti and even Gian Piero Gasperini are getting into their strides for Napoli and Atalanta.
There is a common denominator and that is the focus on attacking, possession-based football. Milan joined the trend by appointing Giampaolo from Sampdoria. In a way, this was also a return to the past, as ex-President Silvio Berlusconi gleefully pointed out he’d always wanted two upfront and a trequartista.
Giampaolo’s trademark formation at Samp and before that Empoli was his 4-3-1-2, a system that really allowed the modest sides to flourish. His attractive brand of football allowed veteran striker Fabio Quagliarella to eclipse even the likes of Ciro Immobile and Cristiano Ronaldo to claim the Capocannoniere title at the age of 36.
Giampaolo’s tactics with Sampdoria mainly revolved around the middle of the pitch being a core part of the team’s success. With Quagliarella and another forward leading the line, typically Gregoire Defrel, it is likely that Polish striker Krzysztof Piatek will fill the Quagliarella role whilst Patrick Cutrone will occupy the other half of the front two.
Both Piatek and Cutrone will suit the Giampaolo style of attack, pressing the opposition back line and forcing the defenders into giving up possession.
Arguably the most important part of Giampaolo’s set-up in Milan will be the central attacking midfielder role, known in Italy as the trequartista. It was occupied by Gaston Ramirez or Riccardo Saponara for Sampdoria. Milan have several players who can fill this role and it will be down to Hakan Calhanoglu, Samu Castillejo, Lucas Paqueta and Suso to try and impress the new Coach in training to earn their place in the starting XI.
Considering their various characteristics, it seems as if Paqueta is the first choice for that spot in the hole behind the two strikers. He already attempted it a couple of times under Gattuso, while bringing Suso to a more central role also has potential, even if it’d rob Milan of his undoubted crossing abilities from the right.
It’s true that options are limited on the transfer market due to their Financial Fair Play situation, but snapping up Rade Krunic from Empoli for under €10m is an absolute steal. The Bosnia international midfielder contributed five goals and six assists in 33 Serie A games this season, but was sorely missed in the final round against Inter due to injury.
Milan’s wide array of attacking options will give Giampaolo a fluid and flexible approach to the squad. Additionally, if the Rossoneri sign another strong forward, Giampaolo will be spoilt for choice and the rotation options available could give the club the extra stamina they need coming into the final stretch of games next season. After all, that was the pivotal point where things fell apart for Gattuso.