Despite securing their highest Serie A finish in six years, Milan were expecting more. Anything less than a top four finish would be considered a failure, so missing out to Atalanta felt even worse.
Gennaro Gattuso is gone and Marco Giampaolo has been drafted in to create a new-look Diavolo, one in the image of its Coach. Gone is the focus on determination, grit and grinding out results, in comes an eye for quality, style and practiced passing channels.
Known for his 4-3-1-2 formation, the 51-year-old likes a quick but efficient counter style of play. This stems from his team adapting to a diamond 4-4-2 formation whilst defending. There are always three players who remain high up the field by the half-way mark, but thanks to the three holding defensive midfielders that stay compressed, they can win the ball back and get players forward. This catches their opposition off-guard as they easily break through the lines by being in open space and having at least two options at all times.
In his time at Sampdoria, Giampaolo has seen the success of his work arrive as a result of establishing a hard-working and interconnected squad. Starting with a strong defensive core, he utilises vigorous midfielders - as capable of setting up an attack as defending their goal - to dominate the middle of the park, while deploying an attacking trio who can all work off each other and find the back of the net. This is why Giampaolo’s arrival at Milan is one to look forward to – he has the ideal foundations waiting for him.
Trimming the squad by removing several players deemed surplus for their future project, the club has acquired Theo Hernandez (21) for the left flank, Rade Krunic (25) to reinforce the middle of the park and recent Africa Cup of Nations winner (and best young player and overall player of the tournament) Ismael Bennacer (21).
Although an overhaul of the squad has had a detrimental impact on the club in the past, they are investing in experienced youth who have already proven their worth. It makes it even more justifiable to sign these three players when you consider why they are being acquired: it is for the departments that actually need to be reinforced to make Giampaolo’s tactics come to life. This is why Milanisti should be feeling even more positive about their team’s off-season endeavours to date.
In a best-case scenario, we will see Milan line up with Gianluigi Donnarumma in goal, Andrea Conti, Mateo Musacchio (or his replacement), Alessio Romagnoli and Theo Hernandez making up the back-line. The middle three comprises Franck Kessie, Bennacer and Lucas Paqueta, with Suso in a trequartista role; and finally, Correa and Krzysztof Piatek as the two strikers.
Looking to the bench, they’ll have Mattia Caldara as depth for the centre-back roles, Ivan Strinic, Ricardo Rodriguez and Diego Laxalt for the left flank, Davide Calabria for the right. Giampaolo can choose from Jack Bonaventura, Hakan Calhanoglu, Krunic and even the versatile Fabio Borini for the midfield, with Samu Castillejo and Patrick Cutrone for the attacking unit.
What would be a creative yet stable side, as they continue to try and reach the highs of their past, Milan can only hope that this group will be suitable for Giampaolo as the players challenge each other to thrive and take their chances in this fresh start.