Whether it be injuries to key stars such as Zlatan Ibrahimović, Ismaël Bennacer, Simon Kjaer or recent positive COVID tests for Theo Hernandez and Hakan Calhanoglu, Stefano Pioli’s done extremely well keeping his first-place Milan squad hungry, motivated and ready for anything.
The Rossoneri have plowed ahead despite all this and are right where they want to be here in January atop the Serie A table, despite being underdogs in the football betting odds.
The unfortunate reality though is that more injuries and positive tests lurk around the corner, posing a threat to their title push.
To combat this and ease the nerves of concerned fans everywhere who promptly called on those in charge to reinforce this month, Milan have begun arming themselves in order to meet their many objectives.
A simple appraisal of the current roster suggests there are three main areas to address this month, including the defence, midfield and attack.
Beginning with the middle of the park, the first arrival ushered through the doors of Milanello last Friday was Soualiho Meïté.
Born in France of Ivorian descent, the 26-year-old completed a six-month loan worth an estimated €500,000 with an option to buy from Torino, adding physicality and a balanced playstyle to Pioli’s midfield personnel.
While not the flashy, fledging youth profile initially desired in Toulouse’s Kouadio Koné who appears headed to Borussia Mönchengladbach, Meïté is a cost-eﬀective solution to round out the roster in the short-term that can adhere to the double pivot’s duties in a 4-2-3-1.
Plus, there must be some extra motivation to perform going from a relegation-threatened side on the brink of sacking their manager to joining a title contender mid-season. Together with Bennacer, Franck Kessie, Sandro Tonali and Rade Krunic, Pioli welcomes Meïté as another piece of the puzzle.
Then, in the defence, there is Chelsea’s Fikayo Tomori who is on the verge of leaving Stamford Bridge for San Siro on an initial loan with option to buy set between €28 and 30m.
Initially, Milan appeared to be in pole position to land Strasbourg’s Mohamed Simakan, a target Paolo Maldini and chief scout Geoﬀrey Moncada have been tailing for some time now.
But, as talks hit a snag over the transfer amount and the Frenchman sustained an injury that will keep him out for a few months, attention swiftly turned to Tomori who has been frozen out from Frank Lampard’s squad this season but is readily available for action.
The 23-year old England international, though an alternative to Simakan, brings with him several qualities that will surely be of a great use to Pioli.
Athletic, pacy and with technical ability, Tomori’s recovery speed amongst a less than quick central defensive group is a refreshing addition, even if he isn’t particularly the defensive stalwart.
Playing under Pioli, a former defender himself, could also prove to be plenty beneficial for his adaptation to the Italian game and even bring out the most in Tomori’s already strong ability to play out the back. The mystery behind Tomori and his exclusion from the picture at Chelsea, despite possessing obvious talent, makes for a fascinating acquisition and one that could prove to be yet again another shrewd deal by Maldini.
Lastly, or at least for the time being, a viable backup for Ibrahimovic is recruited from the unemployment line, yet brings the readiness, ferocity and mentality necessary to instantly provide a spark upon arrival.
Mario Mandžukić, who spent four seasons at Juventus before his recent stop in Qatar with Al-Duhail, has agreed to join Milan on a six-month basis with an option to renew for an additional year.
A serial winner and one of the fiercest competitors around, the 34-year old Croatian issomewhat of a globetrotting forward, succeeding all over Europe with Zagreb, Wolfsburg, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and more recently the Bianconeri.
Strong aerially, mentally and physical tough and a nuisance to defend against, the 2018 FIFAWorld Cup finalist adds something diﬀerent to an attack already with a fair amount of dribblers and creators.
In Mandžukić, Pioli is provided a versatile attacking player who can score goals in a variety of ways and slot into a variety of roles, evident in the many he played while employed under Massimiliano Allegri.
Mandžukić is the kind of professional who, like Ibrahimovic, can set the tone and serve as anexample for the others. Milan are getting a battle-tested footballer who has played on the highest levels, for the biggest clubs and has thrived for each of them.
To sit chief amongst the rest of Italy through December was certainly something to be proud of on the red and black side of Milan. But, as Ibrahimovic explained, “I’m not interested in getting to the end of the year and finding out I was only winter champion.”
The second half of the season promises to be more challenging than the first for Milan, presenting trials few in the squad have experienced.
However, in these acquisitions, there is aid, and a shot in the arm that speaks to the confidence management has in Pioli and a preparedness to finish what has been started: winning the Scudetto.