BLOG ITALIA
Friday November 13 2020
Milan must keep heads down

Despite fatigue and sluggish play in recent weeks, Milan are well-positioned to meet seasonal goals, but must not take it for granted as a difficult road lies ahead, writes Matthew Santangelo.

Sitting atop the Serie A table after seven rounds and projected to advance out of Group H in the UEFA Europa League, Stefano Pioli and his Milan have to feel good about the current state of affairs at theclub.

However, recent performances for the Rossoneri suggest they will come back down to earth after a 24-match unbeaten run lasting 242 days was snapped and players appear not as sharp as they were to begin the campaign.

Zlatan Ibrahimović, whose penalty attempt went awry for the third time in as many tries, is beginning to look a bit worn out, though he would never publicly express it. Despite this, the Swede assumes the responsibility as the club’s talisman and guiding light, leading the league with 8 goals.

By virtue of being rather slim up top to relieve the former Barcelona star, it is of paramount importance that Pioli finds a way to recharge the batteries of his main man as we enter the international break.

Beyond the exploits of Ibrahimović though, fans are hopeful key defensive figures like Theo Hernandez, Simon Kjaer and Alessio Romagnoli will return to their peak.

For the most part, the Dane has been Milan’s staunchest central defender, releasing pivotal  long balls and ensuring organization at the back. But despite this, Romagnoli’s recent return from injury has unveiled a lack of fitness physically, thus leaving him vulnerable to mistakes and the back line falling victim to additionalpressure.

A simple appraisal of Milan’s defense shows they are thin in this area, so it will be a challenge for Pioli to bring the duo back to the form we saw much of last season and ensure a strong defensive record the rest of the way.

In the middle of the park, the general vibe is a positive one shared amongst Milan supporters. There is depth, raised performance and newcomers showing improvement week toweek.

Franck Kessie’s difficult outings against Lille and Verona may be best attributed to over-use,and that is a telling sign considering the fact the Ivorian has played virtually every minute of every match since arriving from Atalanta.

Kessie’s high-motor is vital for Ismaël Bennacer to express himself to the best of his ability, therefore Pioli must avoid running Kessie into the ground and rely on the depth at his disposal. That leads into Sandro Tonali.

The highly-touted Italian has improved marginally with every outing, but we definitely have not seen the best of what Tonali has to offer. This comes down more to acclimating rather than a lack of fitness or general playing ability which we know the 20-year old possesses in droves.

Similarly to Bennacer who took time to asset himself at the club after arriving from Empoli, Tonali should, and must, deliver match-defining performance that leaves Pioli confident to run him out there more consistently, regardless of the midfield assignments.

The refreshing play of Brahim Díaz and Rafael Leäo has garnered plenty of applause, with the duo adding attacking elements far from what we have witnessed in recent years.

Hakan Calhanoglu has picked up right where he left off in the second half of 2019-20, Ante Rebic is now ready for duty and Alexis Saelemaekers is mightily growing into a quality starter and one who can deliver a shot in the arm with his work-rate and endless running.

Unlike in previous seasons, Milan seem built to last at the moment in the attacking department.

Tired legs and fatigue, while deemed valid excuses, are realities shared by many clubs this season due to the current crisis, so Milan must not look for sympathy nor should the supporters. Management, Pioli and the squad should feel proud for the way they have handled this season so far. The seasonal objectives of finishing top four and making a deep run in Europe feel attainable, but those who have followed this club’s tumultuous journey over the past decade know better than to assume the stars have alreadyaligned.

No doubt, early days show Milan trending in the right direction, but remaining humble in theirhustle is what is important at this time.

@Matt_Santangelo

Have your say...
I have to say everybody is correct with their assessments in one way or another. But let's be realistic the man of the hour is definitely Ibrahimovic. He is the one who took them from the ashes when he returned. That is the only reason we see a lot of players improved their game since his arrival and there for asking for more money now. Hakan is real disappointment for me so far. He should definitely be out. If they keep some of the form, the new signings will eventually play better and evolve.
on the 19th November, 2020 at 1:08pm
@ Vero Rossonero Has Szoboszlai or whoever played alongside Bennacer and Kessie and behind Ibrahimovic, Rebic and Saelemaekers for the past 10 months during one of Milan's most successful runs in its history including its best goal scoring run for 47 years??? If not, then I'll take our existing players over some noob. How many times have players signed and disappointed? Just because they perform better elsewhere is no guarantee they will perform at Milan or any other club.
on the 18th November, 2020 at 9:59pm
@Maldini Cont'd. He will probably not end up at Milan, because we're dumb, and in 2-3 years will be worth 50-60m. His salary according to report would be 2.5-3m, half of Calhanoglu, a player who will be 27 in February and who only in the last 6 months has played up to expectation. Additionally, you have to question his psychological fortitude given that all these performances have come in the absence of crowds. I just have no confidence in him.
on the 18th November, 2020 at 5:05pm
@Maldini's Heir. Yes, obviously. All players are professionals. They all demand the highest wages they can. Then the employer has to determine: 1. If that demand is well valued, 2. Are there better valued options? 3. What they can afford. My view (and it looks like the club's as well) is that Calhanoglu is not worth paying 6m per year. I do not think he can get better. Szoboszlai is 20, is on fire, and only 25m. Cont'd...
on the 18th November, 2020 at 4:56pm
Although I don't like it, I don't think Hakan is being unreasonable. If he was still languishing in that CM role and not contributing much to the game I would say he is out of his mind to demand so much but in the last year he really has found his feet so it's not actually unreasonable. I feel if he went to Juve he would never be first choice. I read that Alaba would demand 15m in wages so unless Juve unload some serious weight, Hakan wouldn't be of interest to them.
on the 18th November, 2020 at 12:31pm
@ Viktor He's just doing what most footballers do in his position. Don't hate the player, hate what the game has become. The problem lies with the agents. I'd be in favour of banning all football agents and actually banning most transfers. Until that happens players goin' to play.
on the 18th November, 2020 at 3:05am
@ Pauly and Vero Rossonero Çalhanoğlu's a professional footballer acting like a professional footballer. If we don't want professional footballers who demand ridiculous wages then it might damage our competitiveness somewhat. The advantages of him remaining and the stability that that brings outweigh the advantages of selling him. We should keep him and focus on signing a CF next year and that is it. No need for January signings. They're too disruptive.
on the 18th November, 2020 at 3:03am
I feel like I never comment when I'm happy and I am happy. I'm just enjoying this moment. We simply have no idea what Milan's level was because for so many years players underperformed. Now they are performing better. Maybe they've reached their potential, maybe they haven't. When Çalhanoğlu was underperforming this time last year nobody thought he could perform like he did this year. Maybe he can get even better. Maybe others can too. Who knows?
on the 18th November, 2020 at 2:59am
So Hakan turned out to be a little snake after all... Surprise surprise..

To be honest I would rather have Diaz in that role.. so cares, let him sit on the bench at Juve.
on the 17th November, 2020 at 2:57pm
@Vero Rossonero Yes Çalhanoğlu had been in good form. But he needs to remember he has played at Milan since 2017, and his form for 2.5 years was average at best (even his free kicks are awful) yet Milan showed loyalty and stuck with him (not sure why). He had a few good months and now wants more money. Hakan should agree a slight increase and focus on playing. If his form doesn't improve the sell him next summer. Your right Diaz is a better prospect going forward and with game time will improve.
on the 15th November, 2020 at 6:59pm
@Pauly. I agree that Calhanoglu has regressed somewhat back towards his "prepandemic" form. Honestly, he can walk if he's demanding 6.5m euro. He's at 2.5 now, and 6 months of above average to good play doesn't really justify those demands. 4.5m max. Better if he goes. Milan can then try to sign Diaz permanently and give him the CAM role. He's better with the ball at his feet than Calhanoglu and hiss passing will improve with game time.
on the 15th November, 2020 at 3:45pm
Tonali joined late but from what he has shown he is timid. Yes he's 20 and young but he needs to show more desire, more hunger, more quality. No similarities to Pirlo or Gattuso. Hauge needs game time even if it is on the right wing. Çalhanoğlu had a good few months but Last few games he has been MIA. Recent reports of him being linked elsewhere is not good for him & his agent should quash them links. Top 4 is still real but will depend on the deals done in January. Lets hope. Forza Milan
on the 14th November, 2020 at 10:34pm
I have to agree with Paolo in his assessment of Milan. I have shared similar views previously. I must add that Romagnoli is not captain material. Yes he has returned from injury but player of his experience should have the maturity to not make silly fouls 2 games in a row against poor teams Udinese and Verona. Kjaer acts like more Capitano. A striker is necessary to alternate with Ibra. I don't know what Pioli sees in Castellejo he is below standard and hopefully going in the Jan window...
on the 14th November, 2020 at 10:25pm
This club has improved so much over the past 2 seasons and now are standing on top of the table. They have played many games and as the writer has pointed out seem a bit fatigued. They seem to have enough depth to withstand a tough schedule but must maintain the belief that they can win the scudetto,a tough proposition this year with covid interruptions & more competetive teams. I hope the Swede stays heathy and continues to carry this team with him, he is tough to replace and is a heroic leader
on the 14th November, 2020 at 7:46pm
Cont'd. So it's Leao and Ibra that need to rotate. Hauge seems the more natural rotation option for Rebic, and of the attackers is the one who has seen the least time at the moment. That may be because he's still acclimating to Serie A.

Generally, Conti seems to be healthy again, creating a lot of depth at RB, so that should allow Dalot to spell Theo. What we really need in the immediate term is another quality CB. That should be the absolute January goal. Everything else can wait until summer.
on the 14th November, 2020 at 2:05pm
@Chris. Rebic is the starting LW and he should remain so. Your assessment that we're a different team when he's on the pitch is correct, but he's most effective out wide as his work rate aids in defense, while Leao doesn't do much in that department. As such, Leao is more effective as a striker, and has shown it. He's excellent with the ball at his feet and is able to create the separation needed for a shot. He's shown the ability to remain calm in front of goal and finish. Cont'd...
on the 14th November, 2020 at 1:59pm
This season the clubs that manage 1. rotation and 2. keeping their players away from Covid will be the winners. Clubs (players) need to commit to a monastic lifestyle this season. It sucks, but it's also a fact if you don't want a situation where there are 10-11 players out and games every three days. It is just not sustainable. We don't want to be the next Lazio. This morning there is news that Pioli has Covid...
on the 14th November, 2020 at 1:54pm
milan are just over achieving and it is the case of reality hitting home. the problems are still seriously obvious milan lack a alternative to ibra, there is no real quality on the right flank, there is a lack of quality senior players to help the youngsters through games, milan have two centre backs who are always injured, there is probably 6-8 players who need to be sold or loaned.

if it is fatigue than milan is screwed because no one is getting a proper break until December.
on the 14th November, 2020 at 12:44pm
I don't think you're right when you say Tonali needs a "match defining performance" because he doesn't play in a position that wins the match. He just needs to be solid. Not casual, like he can be sometimes. That is all his position demands, and anything else is just a bonus. I think Rebic should be rotated with Ibra as opposed to with Leao at LW because I genuinely think when Rebic is on the pitch we are a different team. More energy, more attacking movement, less complaining.
on the 13th November, 2020 at 5:51pm
Milan just have to use their players more wisely, rather than doing blind rotation. Use Tonali on those lower tier team who is on the defence in general for the whole game.

Strategically, Milan have been using the same formation for every game this season? Why not try a Bennacer, Kessie, Tonali midfield trio that plays a bit deeper, and have Ibra fall back a bit for hold up play?

p.s. reading the national team call up, Milan could have a midfield with Cristante and Locatelli, for free.
on the 13th November, 2020 at 4:29pm
Milan's levels had certainly dropped the last few games, but we must remember that currently the club is AHEAD of its goals. The club won't remain on top spot until the end, but as long as we're no lower than 4th, it's mission accomplished for us. So please don't over-react when Milan starts dropping down. The reserves look pretty good so far and need more time to play. Pioli needs a starting EL 11 that won't overlap with the domestic 11. This way more reserves play and starters rest.
on the 13th November, 2020 at 3:53pm

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